Once the exception, remote work has quickly become the rule for anyone whose job can be tackled through a screen. With around 60% of Americans now wanting to work remotely in one form or another, we’ve come to a point where any employer who demands their workers return to the office (hello Apple), or who treats remote workers differently to those who travel to HQ (hello Google), find themselves playing a dangerous game.
It’s no longer a matter of whether remote work is here to stay. It is. The question that both employers and workers should instead be asking themselves is how do I make the most of working from home?
These 8 tips are a great place to start.
The most important step in maximizing the pros and minimizing the cons of remote work is to clearly delineate your work life from your home life. The best way to do this is to set up a home office with a closable door. When you step inside, you’re at work (and should only be interrupted when absolutely necessary), and when you step outside, you’re back at home. If you don’t have the spare space for a dedicated office, consider purchasing a lockable desk that you can close at the end of the day, and a set of noise-canceling headphones to act as a work refuge.
Creating that clear line between your work and home lives also demands sticking to a schedule. Just as there’s a temptation to check work emails on your phone after hours, when your desk is sitting right there, it can be tempting to attend to ‘urgent’ items as you remember them through the evening. But for your own sanity (and productivity), it’s wise to choose your hours and stick to them religiously. If your role isn’t one that fits neatly between nine and five, keep careful track of your hours, and fold the laptop away when you tally up eight.
When we were first sent home at the beginning of the pandemic, we made do with whatever we had lying around, pulling that old chair up to our dining table and firing off endless emails to keep our co-workers up to date. If you or your company haven’t already, you need to invest in equipment befitting a now permanent working situation: a supportive chair, a desk of an appropriate size and height, and smart software that offers organic communication and collaboration.
With no manager leering over your shoulder, and no in-person huddle to outline the day’s plan, remote work can be more autonomous than the office equivalent. A remote worker, therefore, needs to be disciplined to remain productive, and one of the best ways to do that is to start every day by creating a prioritized to-do list. Write down everything that needs to be done over the following eight hours, then order it from highest priority to lowest. If your team doesn’t conduct a virtual huddle, but you feel as though you’d benefit from one, suggest it to your team leader.
When COVID first struck, and people hurriedly transitioned to working from home, we weren’t familiar with the collaboration tools that we now know and love. This meant meetings were hard to both organize and conduct, leading to far fewer being held. And surprisingly, the sky didn’t cave in. In the office, meetings were organized almost reflexively, but at times they were about as productive as a group email would’ve been. This truth still stands for remote workers: before you organize that virtual meeting, ask yourself: do I really need to take an hour of everyone else’s time?
Communication happens organically in an office setting. With your colleagues and leaders only ever a few steps away, you can easily and instantly offer advice, ideas, and updates. You can help those who are struggling, and you can celebrate those who succeed. Despite the wealth of smart tools that are available, all this becomes more difficult in a remote working situation. And when people are faced with a lack of information, they’ll often draw inaccurate conclusions. The key to overcoming these hurdles is to communicate constantly and candidly. Use your collaboration tool to keep everyone up to date with your work and your feelings toward it, and ask everyone else how they’re doing too.
The need for clear communication leads us neatly into another need: to feel part of a group. Another major drawback of remote work is the lack of social interaction; without a watercooler to gather around, remote workers can tend to feel more like a cog in a machine than a member of a team. Committing time to get to know your colleagues and building rapport is important. Try setting up a daily video call with a different team member, or organizing Friday night Zoom drinks to get to know everyone a little better.
Finally, being the best remote worker you can be is about treating yourself right. There will be times when you need to take a break from the screen, and that’s OK. Whenever you feel physically or mentally fatigued, step away from your desk, and when possible, out of your house. Spending Monday to Friday moving between your home office and your living room isn’t the healthiest of lives to lead, so add some structured self-care to your day – begin with exercise or mindfulness, go for a walk at lunch, and spend quality time with family or friends in the evening. These things help to revitalize your body and mind, ensuring you’re ready to perform at your best when work rolls around.
Remote work is here to stay, so there’s no better time than now to get great at it. By following the tips above, you’ll not only be more productive as you work from home, you’ll also feel a whole lot better while you do it.