Work from Home Tips for First-Timers
First things first: the world is a bit crazy right now (at least at the time I’m writing this). With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to city-wide quarantines in some areas and strongly recommended “social distancing” elsewhere, the lives of many have been directly impacted and severely changed. Among the adjustments that some companies are making during this time is allowing the bulk of their staff to work from home. While, in my opinion, that’s a good thing overall, there’s no doubt that this may be a bit of an adjustment for those who have grown accustomed to working from a traditional office for most of their professional lives.
When it comes to working from home, it’s all about balance — namely a balance between working and enjoying the benefits of home. Moreover, there may be some perks or drawbacks to the home office life that you might not have considered before. So, whether you’re currently working from home thanks to unforeseen circumstances or just happen to be jumping aboard the remote work revolution at an interesting time, here are a few tips for getting the most from your experience.
Tips for Increasing Your Efficiency When Working From Home
Explore your software of choice and understand the options
Whether your team is used to operating remotely or not, chances are you’ll be relying on some sort of software to communicate throughout the day while working from home. On the whole, these programs can be useful for a number of reasons — from file-sharing to project updates — but they do have some quirks as well. That’s why I’d recommend taking the time to explore the platform you’ll be using and better understand what your options are.
Perhaps most notably, this includes learning how to both receive and mute notifications. In some cases, there may be channels (using terminology from the popular tool Slack, which is what I’m most familiar with) for which receiving constant updates would be more distracting than helpful. Meanwhile, you still might want to know immediately if someone is addressing you directly. Also, as we’ll discuss more later, you might also want to make it so you stop receiving notifications after a certain time of night.
Such customized options may be available to you — if you know where to look! You can start by looking at any tutorials your software’s site might offer. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to ask your co-workers or friends if they have any platform-specific tips. Finally, YouTube is always a great resource for these types of things. If there’s something in particular you’re wondering if your service can do, try giving it a quick search and you may just come across a how-to video walking you through the process.
While this may take a bit of extra time at the start, you won’t regret it in the long run as your productivity (and sanity) can be greatly enhanced.
Stick to your routine but don’t be afraid to mix it up
Making the transition from office life to home office life can be a bit disorienting for some while being liberating for others. Thus, this next tip will depend on which side of that spectrum you fall. However, on the whole, it may be helpful to more or less replicate your morning routine even when working from home — up to the point where you leave the house and start your commute, of course. This might mean waking up at (about) the same time, having your breakfast/coffee, showering, and getting dressed before heading to your computer. By following the same routine, your mind will be set to work mode, which will hopefully lead to a more productive day.
On the other hand, maybe you want to make the most of your new-found freedom and live the dream of working in your pajamas. That’s fine too! Or, at least it is for some people. Remember: when you’re new to working at home, you need to find what works for you. Thus, if after a couple of days of rolling out of bed and grabbing your laptop, you find that you need some more structure, it’s not too late to make changes — just as it’s not a problem if you decide to ditch the daily showering (tip: consult your cohabitors about this) after a few days and pad your would-be commute with a little extra you-time. Whatever works.
Have a workspace but change the scenery when needed
Once again, this one can also vary from person to person. But, for me, I never understood how Carrie Bradshaw was able to write columns while sprawled out, stomach down on her bed. I. Cannot. Instead, I need a dedicated workspace — and a desk/table — in order to properly function most of the time.
Keep in mind that your home office doesn’t need to be fancy. Maybe you just need to clear off a kitchen or dining room table and commandeer that for your workday. That said, if you do have available space in a private room, that might be the better option.
Of course, even if you do have a great home office, it can be nice to mix things up every once in a while. Therefore, maybe on one of your pajama-only days, you decide to set up shop on the couch instead. Personally, one of the ways I jump-start my productivity when I feel myself slipping is by spending a few hours at a coffee shop nearby (sadly, that’s not really an option at the moment). Although your choice of scenery may be limited for the time being, don’t be afraid to experiment from time to time and see if that helps your work at home experience.
Take advantage of being home
There are many great things about working at home besides not having to commute. Besides the obvious and aforementioned lack of dress code, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of your homebody status. For example, maybe you want to take the time to make a nicer breakfast or lunch during your day. After all, you would normally take a lunch break anyway, right? As for those with pets, feel free to give them a little extra love while you’re around. Let them join you on one your couch days, go for a mid-day walk if it’s nice out, etc. Also, if you typically avoid ordering items online because you’re not usually home during the day and fear the dreaded porch pirates, now may be a good time to arrange for deliveries.
Don’t let work creep past business hours
For all the great parts of working from home, one potential downside is that it makes it too easy to continue working even when it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) required. What’s more, as a friend of mine who typically works a hybrid work schedule explained to me, oftentimes when she works from home, she feels the need to be overly productive out of fear that others will perceive her work-at-home days as being “days off.” Ultimately, all that really matters is that your work gets done — so don’t feel like you need to extend your workday or “prove yourself.”
Instead of fretting about not doing enough, make a point to keep boundaries between your work life and your personal time. Take your full lunchtime, end your day around the same time you normally would (and mute those non-essential notifications!), and allow yourself to take regular breaks, using the time as you see fit. Like I said at the top: it’s all about balance.
Video chat if you need a little social time
If you’re used to working in an office, staying at home can feel lonely sometimes. Luckily, today’s technology makes it super easy to find a friendly face. Not only are most team software options equipped with video chat/conference capabilities but you might also consider calling a co-worker (or whomever) one-on-one — whether you have a business-related question or just want to talk. Again, consider how much of your day is typically occupied with such socializing and don’t feel bad for making this a part of your work-from-home life as well.
Consider whether you’d want to do more in the future
Lastly, while many may currently be working from home by no choice of their own, it’s worth considering whether or not the arrangement is something you might want to continue down the road. Depending on how these experiments go, it’s possible that more companies might be open to allowing employees to work remotely either full time or letting them adopt a hybrid schedule. Thus, it’s probably good to weigh your interest in such opportunities now.
On top of that, if you find that you love that home office life and never want to go back, you might want to start inquiring about whether your employer would support that change. If they don’t and you’re still dead-set on working from home, maybe it’s time you pursued other options. That said, given all of the uncertainty at the moment, it may be wise to let this all blow over before making any major life decisions — but it’s something to at least keep in the back of your mind.
For as much as I personally love working from home and the flexibility it offers, I understand that those not used to this routine might be hesitant or slow to adapt to the adjustment. Plus, as I noted, finding success in remote work can be a bit of a balancing act. With that in mind, hopefully these tips will set you on the right path toward finding what works for your work-from-home setup — and perhaps even gets you thinking about doing more remote work when the option presents itself again.
Also published on Medium.