For many of you, it’s likely that you’re just finishing up your fourth or fifth full week working from home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working remotely, especially for your first time, can be challenging to adjust to. Stationed in the comfort of your recliner with the fridge just a room away is appealing, but it has its drawbacks. Endless texts, calls, and remote meetings, children or pets wanting to play, and countless other distractions can make it difficult to separate your home life from your work from home life.
It’s likely that the necessity to social distance and remain working from home will continue for quite some time which is why it’s important to learn what works best for you. If you know you’ll be working from home for a prolonged period of time, it’s probably safer to assume you’re going to get distracted unless you set yourself up for success right from the start. To help you out, we spoke to entrepreneurs from the YEC. Here’s what they have to say about setting up a productive home office environment.
1. Set regular work hours
Would you walk into the office at 11 am? Unless you’ve mastered the 4-hour workweek—and if you have I want to know how—you likely wouldn’t begin your day an hour before you take your lunch. Not only is it going to mean you have to cram everything into the space of a few hours, but it’s more likely that you’ll eat into your personal time when you might have been relaxing or enjoying fun activities with friends and family.
For John Rood, the founder and President of Next Step Test Preparation, keeping more regimented work hours is key to staying on track. “Working from home creates the temptation to always be on call. That’s not healthy,” he says, “Set work hours for yourself and remove yourself from your work area when you aren’t actually working.”
This is also a good way to encourage anyone else who is home during your work hours to respect your need for space and privacy. At the same time, keep in mind that with everyone now home, an irregular work schedule may benefit your home life. Maybe you take a 3-hour break mid-day to spend time with your kids, walk the dog, etc. and you make up that time in the evening or early morning. Find what works for you and stick to it, but be sure you are able to establish a work-life balance even if it’s not on a normal schedule.
2. Have natural light
When it comes to knuckling down to work, a dark room is anything but inspiring—it’s sleeping inducing.
According to one study, both the quality and the type of lighting in a workspace can have a measurable effect on both productivity and general wellbeing.
Leadership coach and entrepreneur Brian Smith has kept a home office for the last 10 years and admits how easy it is to lose track of time when you work from home. “The most important aspect of a home office is windows with great natural light, which energizes you, provides a constant reminder of the passing time, and is a gentle nudge to go outdoors,” Smith says. “A home office is also a place for self-work, so I keep a yoga mat on the floor and space for meditation as well.”
If you’re going to be spending a fair portion of your time inside, make sure to splurge on good lighting and, if possible, pick a room with big windows so you don’t have to use artificial light in the early hours of the day. This is especially important due to the need to self-quarantine and practice social distancing. You don’t have the same social outlets to get outside that you usually would, making the need for it during your workday that much more important.
If the intersection between lighting and productivity interests you, be sure to read this article.
3. Set a “do-not-disturb” indicator
If you have a family, working from home can present a challenge. Even if you’re pretty good at keeping yourself behind closed doors in order to focus, chances are your family isn’t going to think too much of dropping by every now and then for a quick chat, to ask a question, or worse, to ask you to do something.
Hubstaff co-founder Jared Brown has figured out a workaround that works for him and his family. “My biggest distraction at home is my wife asking a question or my kids bursting into my office to show me something. When I have my headphones on, they know not to bother me because I’m ‘at work.’ My advice to anyone in a home office is to set clear boundaries with spouses, kids, and roommates by giving them a clear indicator for when you shouldn’t be disturbed.”
You don’t have to choose headphones as your “do not disturb” sign. Other indicators can work just as well if the relevant parties are made aware of the meaning. You might try a closed door, a sign on the door, quiet hours, silencing headphones, or something else. Get creative!
It’s important to also remember that it’s okay to put your “do not disturb” on for your online team as well. When working remotely we aren’t able to sneak off to different locations or closed-off focus rooms in order to show that we’d prefer to be left to work. This is why it’s important to let your teammates know (whether it’s through a Slack status update or even just a message to the team or note on your calendar) that you are blocking out some time in which you’d like to work silently. This will help to keep you from being bombarded with messages, requests, and invitations for conference calls.
4. Set goals and define the work you need to accomplish
Another way to stay on task is to set specific goals for yourself. What needs to get done? When does it need to be done? In doing this, you increase your chances of actually accomplishing these things.
Brett Farmiloe is the founder of Markitors, a digital marketing agency in Phoenix, Arizona. With five years of experience working from home, Farmiloe has learned that in order to be productive, he needs to focus on the work that needs to get done that day. “I set a schedule for myself with the work that needs to get done that day and when it needs to get done. By having a schedule and defined work priorities, I’m able to hold myself accountable to work that has been prioritized.”
In fact, according to one study by the American Psychological Association, checking in frequently on your progress toward your goals increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed. For more on this read “A Scientifically-Proven Method to Help You Achieve Your Goals.”
5. Set a designated workspace
If you are likely to be working from home for an extended period of time it is important that you create a designated workspace where you will be the most comfortable and productive. For instance, many of us eat when we’re bored, when we want to put something off for a little while longer, or when we’re feeling down. If your office is near the kitchen and your self-control is less than stupendous, you’d be better served to pick a room farther away.
Alexander Levit, President of Inspiration at Work, says, “The farther you have to walk to the kitchen, the more productive you will be because you won’t be tempted to procrastinate with snacks every hour. Along those same lines, keep other distractions like TV and video game consoles out of the general vicinity. Although home amenities are available to you, you’re better off if you pretend they aren’t.”
You’ll also want to make sure you’re comfortable. Set up your monitor at a desk or table if possible in order to keep your posture aligned throughout the day. It is also important to be able to stand and stretch when necessary! Being comfortable in a space that feels distinctly different than where you typically relax is key to staying awake, focused, and productive in your own home.
6. Occasionally get a different perspective
Even the most creative workspace can become stagnant if you’re in it 24/7. When you have the chance to move around or get out to work somewhere different, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish.
If that’s not possible, at least be sure you have a dedicated workspace at home so that you can get into the right mode.
Andrew O’Connor, the Director of SEO at American Addiction Centers, says, “If you have others living with you, make sure you have a private space designated for home office work. Feel free to venture to other spaces for a different perspective. For example, take your work to the patio, by the pool, or to the couch.”
The very act of changing your work environment can help boost your energy and productivity, and it’s a whole lot faster than remodeling your workspace.
7. Get dressed for work
To shift from sleep mode to professional mode, don some clothes that aren’t your pajamas. Not only will you be less likely to take a nap a couple of hours into the morning, but you’ll get into the right mindset for the day ahead.
Brandon Strapper, the founder of 858 Graphics, is strict about starting his day in the right clothes. “Shower and dress for work as if you were leaving your house. Put on fresh slacks, a pressed shirt, and shiny shoes. You are going to work, after all. If you stay in your bathrobe and slippers all day, you won’t feel like there’s any separation between home and work. This might just be a psychological trick, but it helps me stay focused, reminding me there is work to be done.”
And don’t just take it from us—read this article on “When a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat,” published in The New York Times.
8. Take video calls
For many people, meetings and phone calls are the bane of their existence—they seem to waste time and distract from other activities. However, when everyone’s in isolation, utilizing video calls for consistent online meetings can be an important part of staying connected and maintaining company culture. Being outside of the office severely cuts back on face-to-face contact and can negatively affect your work, mental state, and ability to collaborate.
There are several different programs through which companies choose to do video calls. At Palo Alto Software, we often use a range of video calling programs depending on the size of the call we will be making. Amongst the most popular programs we use are Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack video calls. All of these programs have the ability to see and hear who is on the call while also still being able to turn off audio and camera access.
It is important to stay connected with each other even in times of prolonged self-isolation. Being able to see one another allows for better communication, inspiration, and collaboration. If you start to feel a little stir-crazy, try designating a different part of your house specifically for your meetings. This will allow you to come to meetings feeling more refreshed and then return to your typical workspace for more heads-down work afterward.
If you’re typically unfamiliar or uncomfortable with being in front of a camera, video calls are still worth the shot; you will likely find that the ability to simply see your other employees will help you feel a lot more productive and less lonely. It may even lead to some creative team bonding exercises or remote brainstorming sessions that you wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
9. Take regular breaks
Working at home for prolonged periods of time can be exhausting; it can lead to a lack of movement, difficulty separating work from home, and can ultimately become unproductive if you aren’t taking the necessary breaks your mind and body need. Breaks are important, however, how you choose to spend your time can determine whether your break is actually successful in keeping you motivated.
Set scheduled breaks for yourself where you do something completely different than sitting at your desk. Get up and do some stretches, go outside for a quick walk, or do some at-home workouts. Socialize with your spouse or kids or call up a friend! It is good to excite your brain and refuel yourself however works for you. Taking breaks like this will allow you to take a step back from work so that you are able to get back to it with a fresh mind. This will ultimately help you be more productive and help you keep a healthy differentiation between work and home.
10. Set remote events with your team
When working remotely it’s important to still connect with your team outside of meetings and assignments. With COVID-19 and the importance of social distancing, the opportunity to grab lunch with coworkers or grab a drink after work is now impossible. However, you can still set remote events and chat channels with your team that allows you to bond and stay connected. Here at Palo Alto Software, we have continuous non-work related Slack threads to stay connected and share fun and interesting news. We also have remote happy hours and other virtual team events that allow us to video call each other and share laughs and good conversations. We have found that remembering the importance of staying connected in times of prolonged isolation helps our team stay comfortable and positive.
How does your team stay connected? I’d love to hear your best remote work tips and how you and your teams are making creative changes to adjust during the coronavirus crisis.