The year 2020 was the year of remote working. Businesses realized during the COVID-19 pandemic that, in fact, a lot of things could indeed be done from home. At the beginning of the year, strategies needed to be established quickly for workers to do their job. Platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom became extremely popular. In addition to most jobs turning into remote roles, students also adapted to needing to study from home. However, we are now left wondering how to improve remote working.
The set 9-5 schedule started to get blurry. Some workers miss the social interactions and work pressures to be more productive because they have the added comforts of working while home. Others had trouble setting boundaries where they would instead end up working all day. Some people who were not familiar with digital platforms or did not have the right equipment to work outside of their offices or schools met a learning curve.
As the year 2020 progressed, people started to become more used to not going to their workplace and began to enjoy the benefits of working from home. I was one of those people that needed to transition to working from home. It took time for me to adapt to creating a healthy work-life balance. Even after a year, sometimes I can have trouble keeping that balance in place.
Studies on how to be more productive and the effects of working from home are being studied at the moment, but overall there is some clear consensus on some best practices to improve remote working.
9 Tips To Improve Remote Working
- Dedicate a workspace section in your home
Most people do not have access to a separate room that can be used as an office, but it is important to allocate your work to one area of your house at the very least. Avoid working from your bed and if possible, from your room. Trying to work from your bed allows your state of mind to associate feelings of being sleepy and tired, making it hard to focus. Working in your room can have the same effect; this is why allocating an area like a desk or table to do your work will help you stay focused.
If you are able to, try to define another area of your house as working space – this can be the living room, kitchen or even garage. The important factor is for you to have a desk or table that you can use for work. It seems basic, but working from a sitting or standing up position rather than laying down is healthy for the body and allows you to stay alert and productive. The desk area should be clean and organized with just your essentials laying around. This will improve remote working by stopping you from getting up to find the items that you need, and getting distracted along the way. You want to make sure that when you sit at work, you are focusing on work alone.
- Have the right equipment
Especially for those that started to work remotely because of the pandemic instead of due to choice – having the right equipment may not be immediate. Investing in basic gear if not provided is an investment upfront but can support you with ease throughout your remote journey; this is especially important if you plan to work from home for a while (or at least don’t know when you’ll be returning back to school or the office. Besides buying the equipment, you also need to learn how to use it properly. This might include learning how to work with new apps and software, as well as adapting to what would be the best way to deliver your work.
- Get ready before you begin
Changing your clothes in the morning increases productivity significantly, and therefore improves remote working. Our brains correlate dressing up with going out & being alert. Try to dress up with working clothes; it can be casual, as long as you are not working in your pajamas. Taking 20 minutes to change clothing, maybe putting on some basic makeup or fixing your hair, will help your brain get into a more serious work-like mode. The key point here is to get out of your pajamas. Have a quick morning routine where you wake up, shower, brush your teeth and get changed, even if you change straight to sweatpants. The act of getting ready is what shifts the focus of your brain from sleeping or one of rest to one of productivity. Another fantastic tip is to put on shoes. I know it might be weird to be in shoes inside your house, but putting on shoes is the last step before leaving the house. Putting on shoes will give your brain the ultimate signal that you are about to do something.
- Set daily priorities
Prioritize your work. Established categories to what needs to be done immediately, and what is not as urgent. Every day before you start working, write a to-do list; this should be simple enough that it is not overwhelming or unrealistic, but specific enough for you to know exactly what you need to do. Divide your to-do’s into two categories – what needs to be achieved by the end of the day, and what does not. You can always add some extra tasks to your list that you will do only if you finish the essentials first, or if you have enough working hours.
If you work remotely for a company, make sure that the expectations of the day are clearly defined at the beginning of the working day. Both managers and workers need to be realistic with what can be accomplished everyday considering that the employees do not have the same access and support while working from home.
- Choose an hour to stop & stick with it
A balance between work and life is something you need to constantly strive for, especially if you are working from home. The lines can get blurry and you will find yourself working at 10 pm because you can or because you have nothing else planned that evening. There are going to be two kinds of people that work from home. The ones that will overwork and those who will not be motivated and will procrastinate.
If you tend to overwork, you will have to be strict with yourself about stopping working. If you live with someone, ask him or her to help you not work. Create a wellness routine to follow the end of your work schedule for every night. For example, finishing work by 6pm, cooking dinner, showering, doing some light stretches, reading a book or watching a movie and then going to sleep. Having a routine to follow will keep you distracted from working, and will shift your brain into rest-mode.
If you are that type of person that procrastinates, your focus needs to be on staying motivated. You cannot allow yourself to go late into the hours just because you are at home nor because the task is pending. A great technique is to use a timer. Set a timer for 30-45 minutes and during that time you have to stay focused on working. When the timer goes off, take a 3-5 min break (walk around, listen to a song, or have a coffee). It might seem simple, but having this time stamp will ensure you are more productive.
Another important factor is limiting the days that you work. If you want to have Saturday and Sunday free, you need to ensure that your work throughout the week reflects that. Having days off is essential for your mental health, and will improve remote working. So, work hard during the workdays and relax on the free days.
- Limit social media
Since you are working from home, it can be very easy to get carried away with social media use. Even though the original intent of social media platforms was to help us stay, connected studies show how these platforms are detrimental for mental health. Excessive social media use can lead to anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
Additionally, social media can be addicting and before you notice, it can take away a lot of your work time.. Keep your phone away from your working space or even room, so that if you want to check it, you need to stop working, get up and get it.
Another tip is this – if you feel like you cannot control the impulse to check your favorite social media platforms, there are apps that can help you block these apps on your phone and computer for a certain period during the day like the app Offtime and Freedom.
Resting is just as important as working and when you work remotely, your sleep cycle can be altered. These changes in your sleep cycle are even more prominent if you work independently and can choose your own schedule. Make sure that you go to sleep at the same time every day, and that you get 6-8 hours of sleep on most days.
Sleep hygiene means establishing a routine that you follow every night before you go to bed, this will help your brain slowly switch from working to sleeping mode. Your nighttime routine can be as long, or as short as you wish; the important part is to be consistent and practice sleep hygiene every day. Humans are creatures of habits, and having a set routine will help you fall asleep faster and have better sleep quality.
- Organize social virtual events
If you started to work remotely in the past year, chances are that you miss your coworkers. Humans are social creatures and working alone can be challenging. Extroverts will feel this burden even more since they need human interaction to recharge and feel their best. Introverts will hammer out working alone better, but at the end of the day, all humans need social interactions. When it comes to work, we all need that ability to share and receive feedback – or the water cooler moments.
A way to help maintain social relationships is by organizing group meets with your co-workers after work. Get together online, talk and maybe even have a drink. Talking about work and venting is going to be very beneficial and will help you stay motivated.
These virtual events are very easy to organize. If your employer is not facilitating virtual social interactions as a team, try to take the initiative yourself. If you live in an area where these interactions can be in person, try to get together once a month with your colleagues for a meal.
If you work for yourself alone from home and do not have any team, try having social interactions with friends and family, at least once a week. Lack of meaningful social interactions can make you feel lonely and loneliness can heavily affect your mental health. Do not disregard the importance of your social interactions especially during busy days.
- Leave the house
When working from home it can be very easy to forget to leave the house. Finding the time to leave the house every day is essential. Whether going for a walk, or going to the gym, or grocery shopping, leaving the house is extremely necessary for our mental and physical health.
Walking around nature has proven incredible benefits for mental health. Walking in general, 10000 steps a day, is comparable with a full body workout in the gym. Working from home can make you become sedentary; this is why leaving the house is essential.
If you live alone and work from home, you should go out every day at least for 30 minutes. Interactions with nature and with people will improve your mental health.
If you are an extrovert and are home during your days off, make sure that you are not home. This will help you relax better and keep your mind off work; if you struggle with working too hard, getting out of the house is a great way to stop you from working on your off days.
Working remotely imposes many challenges. When you first start it might seem great, but then you will notice that it is not as easy as it sounds. Just like when you start to practice a new skill, working from home takes time to adapt and perfect, so if you feel uncomfortable at first just give it some time.
Try to keep in mind the best practices for improving remote working, and try them one by one. See what works and what does not, and adapt to move on from there. With time, you will see that working from home has more benefits than disadvantages. The key is to identify your own rhythm.