With the continued spread of COVID-19, many companies have asked their employees to work from home. More will likely do the same as we continue to see the effects of the virus. While it can seem like a simple transition, working from home can be challenging, especially when it comes to productivity, communication and motivation.
Here are some best practices for working from home including staying motivated, productive and healthy.
Staying productive while working remotely
While working from home has its perks, it can be distracting. Errands, chores, family, housemates, TV, social media and pets can easily shift your attention. Here are some ways for eliminating distractions and boosting productivity while working from home:
1. Dress for success
It can feel tempting to roll out of bed and over to your laptop in your pajamas. If you’re dressed for sleep, it can be much harder to get your brain in productivity mode. Try maintaining your regular morning routine to set boundaries between working and living at home.
In place of your morning commute, you might try another activity to boost productivity, such as a walk, light workout or meditation. Then, get dressed and ready for your day and make a healthy breakfast. Dressing for the tasks ahead of you will make you feel more motivated, and is also a helpful practice in case of unexpected video meetings.
2. Set and follow a schedule
It is important to set your working hours apart from your personal home time. For transparency, tell your manager when your working hours are when working from home and indicate on your calendar when you are available.
Here are a few tips on managing your daily schedule to optimize productivity:
- • Start each day off by reviewing the tasks you need to get done to make progress towards your goals that day and throughout the week
- • Prioritize your tasks by understanding the time investment, complexity and impact of each
- • Provide key status updates to your manager and other team members at an agreed-upon cadence
- • Take regularly scheduled breaks to stretch, get outside and rest your brain
Health and productivity suffer when we don’t build in regular breaks for our brains and bodies. The brain is like any other muscle—it needs to rest. These breaks can take any form, including:
- • Meditating
- • Reading a chapter of a book
- • Listening to a podcast
- • Doing a short yoga video
- • Taking a walk
3. Create a workspace
If possible, it is best to set aside a separate space in your home for work. This will help you separate your home and work activities, and boost productivity when you’re working in your designated space. Communicate with your friends, roommates that even though you are at home, you are off-limits during your scheduled work hours.
Video technology is also an incredible tool to leverage when working remotely. It helps us to stay connected even when we are very far apart. To optimize your video meetings, you should:
- • Test out your computer microphone, speakers and camera before important meetings to make sure they work
- • Be conscious of your physical background when in meetings, change to something more professional when needed
- • Use your video camera whenever possible—keeping your camera on can improve understanding and communication
4. Pay attention to burn-out
The fusion of workspace and home space can lead to a lack of boundaries and breaks. Align with your manager and team on expected work outcomes so you are focusing less on how much you work and more on what you achieve.
If you still feel overworked, create work start and stop rituals, forced movement moments (such as walking the dog, scheduled stretches), and gamified breaks. For example, try the Pomodoro Method by focusing for 25 minutes, then taking a mandatory 5-minute break. Here are some additional ways to create boundaries around work and home time:
- • Shut down your computer at the end of day
- • Avoid opening your email or online chat after you’ve decided to sign off
- • Identify an activity that starts around the time you need to disconnect, such as a workout class, errand or appointment with a friend
Communicating with remote teammates
When working from home, in-person communications are limited. That means you’re not as able to rely on building rapport through small talk, body language and facial expressions. To maintain healthy communications with colleagues while working remote, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Schedule daily or weekly stand-ups
For software teams, a stand-up is a daily meeting that involves the core team, highlights progress, and helps flag blockers. In the standard format of a stand-up, each team member comes prepared to answer these questions:
- • What did I work on yesterday?
- • What am I working on today?
- • What issues are blocking me?
The daily reinforcement of sharing individual successes and plans keeps everyone excited about the team’s overall contribution to the organization.
2. Make online chat your “main office”
Many companies and teams use online chat to stay connected both personally and on work-related topics. You might consider creating light-hearted channels where people can share updates about non-work-related subjects such as cooking, exercise or pets. You should also use chat regularly to communicate as frequently as possible around key goals and progress towards them.
3. Combat miscommunication
Communicating at a distance can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. This is partly because the rich texture of face to face communication (including body language and facial expressions) tends to collapse in written format.
If you notice back and forth messages or negative tone creeping in, use it as your cue to use phone or video. If you find yourself feeling offended or annoyed at someone’s message, remember that we tend to perceive neutral written messages as negative. When in doubt, talk it out. Ask questions to understand your colleague’s intentions.
4. Keep the team spirit
When working from home, it is more important than ever to create spaces to interact with your teammates beyond projects and status updates. Working remotely can bring feelings of loneliness that might catch some people off guard. Here are some ways to connect while working from home:
- • Use online chat as your office water cooler and happy hour
- • Set up an optional lunchtime video chat to discuss fun topics, such as a book you all choose to read together or your favorite homemade work from home meals
- • Virtual team building can help replace valuable in-person forms of communication that are missing from the remote office