How to work from home effectively

With Covid-19 keeping us all at home, many of us are struggling to keep working productively. Follow our tips to get yourself back on track.
Apr 15, 2020 • 7 minute read
Kym Dunbar @whiteshepherd
Technical Co-pilot
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Working from home is a big adjustment. Here's how to do it successfully

Before the onset of Covid-19, a lot of people dreamt of working remotely. No commuting to the office or office politics. Working the hours that suit you, taking breaks when you like, or working from any location. You're in control of what you do. Ideal, right?

Not necessarily. Now that most of us are working from home, we're finding the dream doesn't necessarily match the reality. Working remotely is a lot harder than we thought. It's easy to blur the lines between home and the office without the structure of a normal workday. And with so many distractions at home, you're at risk of becoming unproductive.

While working remotely can be rewarding, you need to get it right to be productive. It isn't complicated, but you need to plan and make adjustments so it works best for you.

So, how do you make the most of working remotely? Read on and we'll give you some ideas to set you up for success.

Create a schedule to maintain regular hours

Create a schedule that works for you. It makes sense to make a schedule that helps you maintain regular working hours. Setting clear guidelines for how many hours a day you work helps to maintain a work-life balance.

There are times when you may work longer hours to get a project finished or to talk with a team member in a different time zone. When you do, make sure you start later the next day or quit earlier so you don't burn out.

Try to ensure your schedule works for how you work best. You may be a morning person and start at 7 am. Or, if you do your best work late at night, try to set your schedule accordingly. Or mix it up. Work a few hours in the morning with a break during the day before you start working again after dinner. Work when you're most productive, if your company allows for it.

Have a routine before you start work

It's all well and good to say you will start work at a certain time. Having a routine before you start work to guide you into the chair. What in your routine defines starting to work? It may be taking your dog for a walk or going for a jog. Or it may be dressing for the day and grabbing a coffee before you sit down at the computer. Maybe you turn on the computer as soon as you wake up to check what's on the agenda for the day while waiting for the coffeemaker. Whatever it is, have a routine that leads you to start work.

Act like you're going to an office

Acting like you're going to an office can make you more productive. Do everything you would do each morning before commuting to work. Set your alarm, get up and have a shower. Get dressed in work clothes, have breakfast and grab a coffee before starting work in your home office.

Set ground rules for others at home

When there are other people at home or in your work space it can be distracting. And with most of us on lockdown at the moment, odds are you're surrounded by people 24/7. This can disrupt your train of thought and focus so productivity drops.

Set ground rules so there aren't constant interruptions all day. This is why having a home office is so valuable. If you have a private sanctum, you're much less likely to be disturbed than if you're working from the couch or the kitchen table.

Set up a dedicated work space

Speaking of a home office, you should try to set up a dedicated workspace to get you in the right frame of mind. While working at the kitchen table may be easy, you need to clear away your work for dinner.

Not everyone has the space to set up a home office. Look for somewhere you can put a desk dedicated to work in an unused corner of a room.

Consider a change of scenery. Try working from your back porch on nice days. Changing up your working location can give you a whole new energy and boost productivity.

Plan breaks and take them

Plan regular breaks throughout the day and take them. Try to take at least a half hour lunch break and two 15 minute breaks, one in the morning and the other after lunch. Taking time out is good for productivity. You come back to work feeling refreshed after time away from the computer screen.

Take time out when sick

Working from home doesn't mean you have to keep working when sick.

Take time out when you're sick. Work becomes a tedious chore when ill. It's difficult to focus and the quality of work can suffer. You're better off taking the time to let your body recover than pushing yourself to the point of burn out. Burning out means you will need even longer to recover, which means more time away from important tasks.

Avoid social media

Social media is distracting and steals your time when you're meant to be working. It's tempting to quickly check what's going on. Avoid social media while working. Turn it off during work hours and resist the urge to take a quick look except in your breaks.

To make it harder to connect, remove the shortcuts to all social media accounts. Even log out of all your accounts as it takes longer to quickly check what is happening online when you have to log in every time.

Set up meetings close together

Try to schedule meetings close together so you have more uninterrupted time to work.

When you set up meetings half an hour or an hour apart, it's not enough time to get anything done. If you can, organize meetings with only a short space of time between them. Once your meetings are done, or before them, you can work without interruption or distractions.

Add one distraction to keep up momentum

We all know that if you want something done then ask a busy person. So how does that work?

The busier you are, the more productive you are. Busy people are always in motion and have the momentum to achieve anything thrown at them.

You may not be so busy when working from home, so your motivation can decrease. Add one thing like your favorite music or a news channel playing in the background as a distraction to keep up your momentum. Just make sure your distraction is something that can fade into the background without grabbing your full attention.

Plan ahead

Plan a day or week ahead, if you can. If you start each day planning what you are going to do that day, it wastes a lot of time.

Check your to-do list at the beginning of each week to plan what you need to achieve. This helps you stay on top of the workload while fitting in personal and social obligations. This makes work less stressful.

But be flexible. Be willing to change your schedule around to accommodate client’s needs or unexpected developments.

Work with reliable technology

Every remote worker needs reliable technology. You need access to an internet connection that you can rely on and that doesn't constantly drop out in the middle of a video call. It also needs to be fast enough to upload completed work.

You also need a good computer setup that can handle the workload without slowing down for hours every day. An extra screen, a wireless mouse and keyboard may also be essential for you to work efficiently. And noise canceling headphones can be handy so you can work anywhere at any time.

Devise processes that work

As a remote worker, you don't have anyone looking over your shoulder to tell you how you should do your work. Devise processes that work to boost your productivity. Blast music while you work to block out the rest of the world or exercise between tasks. Do it if it helps.

The point is to do whatever it takes to keep you motivated. There is no one stopping you doing it. There is no one to criticize, judge or stop you doing anything that helps your productivity.

Have a positive attitude

Deal with your team using a positive attitude. Remember that you no longer have the benefit of face-to-face interaction, and communicating online can be easily misinterpreted as it's hard to read emotions. So, keep communications to the point, relevant, polite, clear and positive. Ask clear questions when something needs clarifying. Use emojis to add emotion.

Cut yourself some slack

Successful remote workers have discipline. But it's not easy to work full-time from home, and there will be times when you focus wanders. When you find yourself taking a little unplanned time out, cut yourself some slack. After all, anyone working in a traditional workspace does the same from time to time. It can help clear your mind and boost productivity.

Choose a time to end your work day

It can be difficult to establish a good work-life balance when working remotely. You can get so caught up in what you are doing that you lose track of time.

Without others packing up for the day and leaving, there are no indications the work day is ending. Choose a time to end your work day. Even set an alarm to remind you. You don't have to stop work then, but it signals it's time to wind down for the day. Or, at least take time out for dinner or spend time with the family before you start working again.

End the work day with a routine

You start the day with a routine, so end it with one. It's a good way to end each day. Shut down your computer, go for a walk, watch your favorite TV show or prepare a healthy meal. Spend time with the kids listening to them talk about their day or make a call to chat with a friend. Do it consistently to mark that it's time to relax.

Final words

Working remotely requires discipline, but it's not hard to develop that discipline. Organization is key. It takes planning, and it helps if you set up a work area that inspires you to spend time there.

Turn off social media to minimize time wasting distractions. Log out of your accounts to make it more difficult to quickly check them.

Plan breaks and take them. This allows you to get back to work refreshed and boosts productivity.

Start and end each working day with a routine to give each day some structure. And remember, do not take on too much work if you cannot complete it on time.

Take our advice to get the most out of remote work. When something doesn't work, make adjustments where you need to.

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