Once considered a dream gig, more and more workers are getting the opportunity to work from home. Companies are increasingly offering remote work options for a variety of reasons, including improved employee retention, lower overhead and the added safety of social distancing. With these benefits for employers and the changing needs and motivations of the younger workforce, a virtual office seems destined to be the workplace of the future.
While businesses have been encouraged by studies that show employees are more productive when working from home, there is evidence to suggest those results wane over time. If you're reading this article, you probably already know that remote work brings its own set of challenges to getting your daily assignments done. So, while some of the tactics to improving productivity in the workplace still apply, we've got some additional tips to be more focused and effective in the new world of telecommuting.
1. Get the Right Office Setup
Hunching over your laptop on a sofa or at the kitchen counter may seem convenient at first, but your aching back and shoulders will soon interfere with your work. Whether you're repurposing furniture you have around the house or splurging on a cool new home office desk, having a useful and comfortable set-up is key. Don't ignore ergonomics just because you're working from home. Raise your desk with blocks if you have to, or look for an adjustable chair that will improve your posture.
2. Reduce Distractions
You can't control all the distractions at home, like the neighbour mowing their lawn or a particularly vocal bird just outside your window. Look for the things you can control, like setting your home phone or cell to voicemail to avoid getting calls from friends who just want to chat. Clear your desk of that pile of bills, the song lyrics you're working on with a friend, and any other clutter that will draw your attention away from your work. Unless you focus better with background noise, turn off the TV and try earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones if that bird really starts getting to you.
3. Turn Off Notifications
The idea that multitasking is effective is still pervasive in the working world. Research shows, however, that repeatedly switching tasks can make us 40% less productive by the end of the day. Even a quick email check causes your brain to switch gears, and it takes time to refocus when it's time to get back to work.
Randomly timed and endlessly pinging notifications can also cause stress, even if you ignore them and try to focus on the task at hand. Turn off all notifications to save your sanity and get more work done. If there are communications, you need to stay on top of, schedule specific times each day when you can batch process them.
4. Stay in Contact with the Office
One of the things that keep us productive in an office setting is accountability. Your colleagues check in to see how your part of a project is going, and your boss is right across the hall watching to make sure you're not on your phone all day. If you don't want to be a slacker at home, make an effort to contact the office every day.
Ask if your supervisor can do a video chat at the start and end of the workday with the entire team. It's a perfect way to set goals for the day and then be accountable for results by five o'clock.
5. Use Project Management Tools
One of the significant benefits of project management technology is that it keeps remote workers in the loop on projects. Software like Asana and Basecamp can help you keep track of assignments, coordinate with other team members, and log your progress.
If your company isn't already set up with its own software, do some research on the options available and pitch it to your boss. It's a simple way to combine two important implements for productivity and efficiency in the workplace – clear communication and accountability.
6. Create a To-Do List
When you have other responsibilities at home keeping you busy, it can be difficult to accomplish much work. Write up a to-do list that combines both your work tasks for the day as well as things like laundry or picking up the kids from school.
Cataloguing everything the night or morning before helps you construct a productive day. It also enables you to see if you've overcommitted, and you can immediately work on prioritising and delegating tasks.
7. Keep Yourself Busy
Ever received poorer service in a restaurant when it's half-empty than during the lunch rush? It seems counterintuitive, but people are less motivated to work when there's not a lot going on. When forced to complete a lot of tasks and meet deadlines, workers focus and prioritise better.
So, as tempting as it is to take one-hour breaks at home just because you can, those breaks can get you into resting mode and tend to stretch into a very unproductive day. Give yourself a reasonably hefty, but manageable to-do list and keep yourself in that effective worker-bee mode.
8. Break Down Large Tasks
No one wants to see a to-do list for the day that says, 'Write a best-selling novel,' or 'Create new accounting software for the department'. Your first step is to break those assignments down into parts, then break those parts further into simple, achievable steps. According to Melissa Gratias, PhD, a workplace productivity coach and speaker, 'Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks, because we simply don't know where to begin.'
9. Create Boundaries at Home
If you live with family or flatmates, it's not always easy to separate your work and home life. This is why it's ideal to move your desk in a separate room as it offers a physical barrier that indicates you're at work now. You may also need to implement some house rules to ensure there won't be constant interruptions during work hours. Create whatever arrangements or time restrictions are necessary for your situation but know that working successfully from home requires everyone's cooperation.
10. Personalise Your Schedule
Whether you're an early riser, night owl or somewhere in between, you should create a schedule that capitalises on your most productive hours. HubSpot's Marketing Manager Lindsay Kolowich, for instance, takes advantage of the time gained from not having to commute and dives in to work the moment she wakes up. 'I only start making breakfast once I've hit a wall or need a break. I'm a morning person and find I can get a ton done in the early morning hours, so this really works for me.'
If you're working at home only a part of each week, you may find it useful to mirror your schedule at home to the days you go into the office. Sleeping until noon when you usually start work at nine can throw your routine habits into chaos, and you may struggle to get the same amount of work done.
11. Maintain Work-Life Balance
A study by the human resources group CIPD found that 32% of staff felt they weren't able to 'switch off in their personal time' when working remotely. Being in work mode constantly during your waking hours, including taking calls and responding to correspondence, can, of course, make you more productive–initially. Unfortunately, leaving no time to relax or interact with family and friends ultimately leads to burnout.
You may have thought that maintaining healthy work-life balance would be easier when you're at home, but it's still crucial to set time limits on when you're available to clients, co-workers or supervisors.
12. Take Breaks
Back in the 80s, entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo invented the Pomodoro technique to improve productivity. He suggested breaking the day into 25-minute units, with short five-minute breaks in between, and a longer break after two hours. These days, research suggests dividing time into 52-minute sessions of work with 17-minute breaks is ideal. However you slice your day, the prevailing wisdom is that you need frequent breaks to recharge your brain and motivation.
It's important to note is that during these breaks there should be real distancing from your work. Checking email or social media doesn't count. Push away from your desk, get a drink, chat with your spouse for a couple of minutes. Since you're home, this can be a great time to start a load of laundry or wash a few dishes. Then, dive right back into work.
13. Stay Organised
When there's downtime at a conventional job, you might fill the time by clearing your workspace and setting up new time management apps. Your home office tends to be more cluttered and disorganised; however, as there are other responsibilities or more entertaining ways to pass the time than cleaning your desk.
Add an entry to your to-do list to get things in order. If you have an exclusive work-at-home job, take the time to create an organisational system that works for you. Whether it's establishing a hierarchy for your browser bookmarks, separate files for different projects or a binder for your invoices, the effort will save you time looking for things or trying to organise on the fly. If you're doing remote work part-time or temporarily, make use of cloud-sharing organisation apps and other methods of connectivity to tap into your already-organised calendar and files at the office.
14. Choose the Right Wall Colour
Another perk of working from home is that you have control over your environment and choosing the right wall paint can even boost your productivity. Studies have shown there is an actual psychological effect to colour, where red creates excitement, yellow stimulates creativity and blue has a calming effect. Blending the colours can give you the best of both worlds, like a matte burnt orange that keeps you creative and energetic without being overwhelmed.
Choose a shade that inspires you, whatever the psychology behind it. Consider selecting a colour scheme that's different from the rest of your house, to further set it apart in your mind as the space to get to work.
15. Do It Your Way
'Learn from what others are doing, but don't try to be them,' says Kit Whelan, social media strategist and co-founder of remoter worker conference 7in7. It's an important lesson to remember as you look for ways to become your most productive self. Take the ideas you think will work for your personality style and type of work, experiment with them, and create your own unique programme. Only you can know for sure what methods will help you achieve success.
We hope these tips have given you some good ideas to rethink your strategies and boost your productivity as you work from home.
What methods do you use to focus, organise and manage your day while working remotely? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!