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How to Work From Home Like a Pro

Hannah Michelle Lambert
19 Mar, 2020

The Coronavirus's impact on work, and the world in general, is massive now. It's clear that the only way to limit the spread as much as we possibly can is to stay inside and practice social distancing, or "deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness." But this is nearly impossible when you work in an office with tons of people stuck together for 9+ hours a day.

The solution: work from home.

Many employers have made the smart decision to go remote if they can, but that's now leaving workers all around the country fumbling around trying to figure out how this whole WFH thing is done. At first it's exciting to be able to work in your jammies, but eventually it can be anywhere from boring to distracting to lonely. Luckily, there are a handful of steps you can take to make the transition a little easier. 

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You're at home, but you're at work

When you're at work, your brain knows that it's grind time. But when you're at home, there are so many distractions calling your name — your bed, Netflix, pets, family members. In order to make WFH work for you, you have to find the things that can help you tell your brain, "it's work time now."

Simulate a "home office" 

trying to work from home when a cat jumps on your desk

If you have a spare room that can be your home office, awesome. But there are probably a lot of people out there who aren't so lucky. Just because you don't have a whole room, though, doesn't mean you should be working from your bed or your couch.

Whether it's your dining room table or a desk you set up in your bedroom, make sure you dedicate a single area as your workspace. You don't move your desk around at work, so don't do it at home. If possible, bring home your full setup — monitor, keyboard, desktop — so you keep things as close to normal as you can. Want to laugh at some makeshift workspaces

One of the main things that will make you feel like you're at home instead of work is all of the familiar noises of the TV, your kids playing, pets doing zoomies, etc., so try to do your work behind closed doors, or if that's not possible, with noise cancelling headphones.

Maintain your boundaries

Although you can sleep in a little more now because you've cut out your commute (one of the major bright sides), don't just roll out of bed and stumble over to your computer. 

Don't abandon your morning routine, and still try to allow yourself time to wake up fully and get ready. Sure, wear some comfy clothes, but don't wear what you wore to bed. Wash your face, do your makeup or hair if you usually do, and make yourself a nice breakfast and coffee to start the day. Act like you're going to the office, and you can trick your brain that you are, even if it's just on the other side of the room.

penguin tricks himself into jumping off a cliff

Before, physically entering and leaving the office signaled the start and end of the work day. Keep that rigidness with fixed start and stop times. If you set a hard line between work time and home time, it's a lot easier for you to take your work seriously and maintain focus. Also, it will allow you to actually relax after a day's work and not succumb to that work assignment calling your name at 10pm.

Communicate these boundaries to people in your household, too, so they know that just because you're physically at home, it doesn't mean you're available. 

Communication with your team

Communication is the most important part of collaborative working. But it will also be one of the hardest things to facilitate when going remote. You can't just ask a question to someone on the other side of the desk anymore, so you've gotta make sure you're all on the top of your communication game. Your chat platform, i.e. Teams, Slack, is going to be your lifeline. 

Don't make it hard to reach you

Don't be the one person who holds up the whole team on a task because you didn't see the message. Keep your notifications on so you're always up to date on any new tasks or changes to the team's plans. And if you're going to step away from your workspace completely, either for lunch or a meeting, send your team a quick message so they're not sitting there confused for 30 minutes about where you could've gone.

bueller...bueller...bueller...

If you're working on something that requires intense focus, give a heads up that you won't be responsive for the next X minutes, but still keep an eye on the chat.

Make sure that all team members have access to each others' calendars, and update them constantly. Input your working hours, meetings, and any other pre-planned activities that will render you unavailable. But again, it doesn't hurt to also send them an update in chat as well. 

Everyone in the loop, all the time

Something that our CEO told us in our meeting before we all went remote (yup, this is all new to us, too) is that it's always better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. You won't realize how much those little off-the-cuff conversations at work matter until something falls through the cracks. So if you have an update you want to share, a question you want to ask, or just want to check in to see if everyone is doing okay, do it.

And do it publicly; only send private messages for confidential information. It doesn't hurt for everyone to understand the full picture even if they're not directly involved. 

That being said, your chats are going to be flooded, and that's okay. Try to utilize threads or create new channels to keep content organized and accessible. 

Like you never left the office

Try to meet "face to face" (or screen to screen) multiple times every day. Our team is doing a kick-off video call at the beginning of the day and a wrap-up meeting at the end. Actual spoken conversations can lead to a lot more productivity and brainstorming, which is more crucial now than ever. 

Try having your webcams on for a little bit each day when you're all working on independent things that may benefit from some collaboration, but don't necessarily need a meeting. You can feed off each other's energy while maintaining focus, and if you have a question or idea, just say it instead of having to type it out. 

Maintaining focus: the hardest part

Distractions are everywhere, and motivation can be fleeting as the day goes on. Set yourself up to push through it and keep your performance up whether it's day 1, hour 1 or day 20, hour 6. 

teenager trying to keep his eyes open while reading a book

Minimize distractions

A lot of this will hinge on how efficiently you set up your "home office" space that we mentioned before. But it's also about habit. 

Although your boss isn't looking over your shoulder and you technically could watch TV, that doesn't mean you should. That makes it much too easy to get sucked into a plot line and out of your work.

Keep your browser strictly business, and save the personal pages for your breaks or after work. Just close them altogether so you're not tempted to just take a "quick" little browse through your favorite online store. 

Put on some white noise or some nice, ambient music that can drown out any distracting background noises. I personally love this lo fi hiphop playlist, but Spotify has a whole slew of focus playlists depending on the genre you like. Just try to avoid something with a whole lot of words that can basically be as distracting as a movie or TV show.

Be organized and be intentional

spongebob 'imagination' meme replaced with 'intentional'

You won't have someone sitting next to you to hold you accountable, so you need to hold yourself accountable. 

Make a plan at the beginning of each week of what you need to get done, then break that into daily tasks, leaving room for unexpected things that will inevitably pop up. Organize this however you want, whether it's a simple checklist or a management tool like Monday.com. But however you do it, use that to keep your momentum throughout the day and keep you aligned with your goals. 

We all have our peak productivity hours, and for most people, that's in the mornings. According to Daniel Pink, many people hit their trough, aka the worst time for productivity, around 3pm. If you're one of these people, knock out your most strenuous tasks in the morning. Then, let yourself focus on more menial tasks later in the day. 

Part of being intentional is also intentionally disconnecting at some points in the day. When you're feeling drained, take a break by fully walking away from your workspace. Make a coffee, take a short walk, make a good sandwich. If you happen to be working at the same table you eat at, sit on the other side so you still have the psychological disconnect between work time and you time. 

Most importantly: take care of yourself

animation: girl kissing her shoulders

Things are a little uncertain right now, not just where you are but in the whole world, and that can be a little scary. And being stuck in your house everyday doesn't help. So you have to make sure that you're taking care of yourself, mentally and physically. 

Things can get lonely when you don't see your coworkers faces every day like you usually do. So make sure you're taking the time to catch up as humans, too, not just coworkers. Usually have happy hour as a company or a department? Make it virtual where everyone shares their weeks over a glass of wine or beer.

Stay active, too. Before work, small breaks throughout the day, or after, make sure you're moving your body in some way. It will boost serotonin in your brain (i.e. make you happier 🤗) and keep you healthy. Here's a quick 10 minute (non-sweaty) workout you can do when you need a break from your brain.  

And last but not least, embrace the benefits of WFH! It brings a lot of hardships, but there are a lot of good things too: no commute means more time for yourself or with your family, your pet can sit in your lap all day, and maybe this is the excuse you've been looking for to finally revamp your home office. 

We hope these tips can help you stay on track while you work from home. Need more? If you want a weekly update in your inbox with an amazing book recommendation to fill your free time as well as some valuable WFH tips from the author, click here to sign up. 

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