In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, many companies are asking employees to work from home. Though working remotely can have its perks (comfy clothes, need I say more?), this type of flexibility may make it difficult for some to focus and be productive.
Working from home brings up a host of questions: How do I maintain work-life balance? How can I ensure my productivity is at its best? What about avoiding distractions? As work needs differ from person to person, at-home employees are learning how to resolve these issues in ways that fit their individual needs.
Whether you’re one of those work-from-home naturals or you need a bit of help adapting to your new norm, having a toolkit of resources available is always a plus. Here are 9 tips to help you improve your at-home work environment, making it more productive, focused, and enjoyable.
#1 – Create a Schedule and Stick to It
When there’s no literal clock to punch or office building to frequent, you may find it more difficult to adhere to normal working hours. If this is the case, creating guidelines for when to start and stop work can help maintain work-life balance. Setting alarms on your phone or computer can remind you to begin and end your day on time. Utilizing time-tracking apps, like Rescue Time, can aid in knowing when in your day you’re most focused or distracted. Exploring this information may help to structure your workdays in ways that are most productive, helping you to get the most out of your set hours.
#2 – Safeguard Your Time
For those who haven’t worked from home, images of bingeing your favorite episodes and taking long, leisurely lunches may come to mind. However, the opposite is usually more realistic. Working from home may make it hard for many to call it a day because it’s more difficult to “leave” work. To avoid this issue, communicate your work hours with both colleagues and family.
#3 – Build a Routine
Stumbling from the bedroom to your home office might not be the most motivating way to start work. Building a routine that gently starts your day can help. Make a list of your favorite morning-time activities. This could be sipping coffee, stretching on your yoga mat, listening to a podcast, or making a healthy breakfast. Use your list to create a personalized morning-routine map to follow. Adhering to a routine can help to set you up for a more positive start to your workday. If work doesn’t begin for you in the morning, this advice can be applied to any “start” of a workday.
#4 – Schedule Breaks
This is a big one. How many times have you found yourself in the zone, not even realizing that several hours have gone by without taking a break? I applaud you for your focus—but plain and simple, we all need breaks. Fitting regular breaks into your workday has been found to increase productivity, improve mental well-being, boost creativity, and offer more time for healthy habits (like eating a nutritious lunch or snack, standing and stretching, drinking water, etc.). Apps like Time Out can help you schedule thoughtful breaks into your day.
#5 – Designate a Place to Work
This doesn’t have to be a fancy office in a separate wing of your home. It can be as simple as a small desk and back-supportive chair (your posture will thank you), a laptop connected to a larger monitor (again, your eyes will thank you), and a mouse and keyboard. Stock your drawers with paper, pens, highlighters, and whatever you need to move through your day with ease. Find ways to decorate your office that will motivate you. Maybe this means framing an inspirational quote on your wall or posting your goals somewhere you can see them.
#6 – Communicate Regularly
Something as simple as picking up the phone to voice your needs and ideas, and making sure your team knows how to reach you in return, can go a long way to help ensure tasks runs smoothly. Your company may already have virtual communication tools in place. But if not, conferencing apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack are other options that bring team communication to new heights, allowing you to move projects forward by combining the people, discussions, and information needed.
#7 – Don’t Forget to Socialize
Wait, what? Socialize? Yes, socialize. Working from home means there’s no more chatting with people in the breakroom or the elevator. Yet, this type of interaction is important to maintain. Make time every day to check in with your co-workers. This may mean joining a virtual meeting a few minutes early to see how everyone’s weekend went or sending a quick DM to say hi. Doing small things like this can help to bring teams together—even when working apart.
#8 – Stay Active
Working from home in a pandemic means we have to get creative about how we stay active. During work, set a timer that prompts you to stand and stretch. Have a yoga mat nearby as an extra reminder. Take advantage of apps, like this 7-Minute Workout one, that encourage short bursts of daily activity that can easily be done during your breaks. Walking in place during meetings is another way to avoid sitting all day. If you miss exercising after work, try virtually running with friends or an online yoga class.
#9 – Learn to Share Your Space
For those of us who live with family members or roommates, there’s no better time than the present to make clear your work hours. In addition, be proactive about incidences in your day that can interrupt your work flow, such as the arrival of maintenance personnel during an important phone call. Try to schedule these types of appointments outside of work hours or request someone in your household be available to take care of what’s needed.
Working from home takes adjusting, so be kind to yourself as you navigate this new part of your life. Change takes time. However, using every situation as a way to learn about yourself can help you to create your perfect at-home work environment.
Director of Talent Acquisition, US and Global, Merit Medical