At the beginning of 2020, many workers would have said they’d love to work from home more. But now that working from home has become the norm for many, the novelty has worn off. If you’re struggling to make remote work a positive experience, these tips can help you make the most of this time and not just endure it.
1. Stick to Your Normal Workday Routine
We thrive on routine. The familiarity of a routine gives us a sense of control and comfort. Though our normal routines have been disrupted for some time now, maintaining a reliable routine will help calm your brain.
In an article about healthy routines during quarantine, Claire Jack, Ph.D., says that having a routine helps us know what’s coming next, which can reduce feelings of overwhelm and result in easier decision making. Continue to wake up early, eat meals at your regular times, and get dressed as if you’re going out. Act as if you’re going into your usual workplace so that you maintain a sense of normalcy now, and so you don’t have to get used to it again once you return.
If you have young kids, however, it’s likely your routine will need some tweaking. If both you and your kids are at home during the workday, try adjusting your work schedule around their online classes and meal times as much as possible. It’s easier said than done, but if you can get your kids set up for their day before you begin your work, you’re less likely to experience interruptions or have to make adjustments to your schedule throughout your day. Consider coordinating your breaks or meal times so you can save time and have a moment to reconnect and refresh together during the day.
2. Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries can be tricky when working from home, especially if you have children or roommates. To help yourself stay focused on work, designate an office space, even if it’s just a corner of your living room. If you don’t have an office in a separate room, choose a space for your working environment and separate it from other areas with furniture or even floor tape. It should feel like you’re entering a work-specific space, which will help distinguish an area for you and those around you.
Talk with your family or roommates about your needs during the workday and set expectations for how they can help respect them as noise levels will likely be the key challenge to solve for. Discuss your needs regarding talking, TV, music, etc., as well as how you can compromise. The goal is to help you function “at work” and keep your housemates happy and comfortable. You may also need to put a “Please Don’t Ring Doorbell” sign on your front door to avoid disruptions every time a delivery service, postal carrier, solicitor or unexpected visitor shows up. Establish a means of communicating with your children when you are on an important call. A hand signal, note slid under the door, or special knock could work. Practice with your kids so they remember what to do if they need to get your attention while you’re working.
Make a plan to set boundaries with your work schedule. Since your home has now become your office, it may be tempting to work at odd hours, or more hours than you normally would. To avoid burnout, it’s a good idea to designate strict start and stop times so you maintain an adequate work-life balance. Setting an alarm on your phone or blocking your calendar can help you remember when to wrap up your day and transition to non-work activities.
Now that you’ve been working from home for a while, you’ll have plenty of experience and information to reflect on, which will help you establish the appropriate boundaries to have a successful workday.
3. Use Music or White Noise to Focus
If you need to drown out the kids or neighbors, or you just work better with some sound in the background, opt for instrumental music or a white noise machine. Something as simple as a fan can also provide background noise to help you stay in the zone. Just avoid any sounds that will compete for your attention, like songs with meaningful lyrics, podcasts, and yes, your favorite show. If you prefer music, try to listen to the same playlist every day. That way your brain gets used to the lyrics and stops focusing on them as much.
For those in environments where noise boundaries can‘t be set, noise-canceling headphones are a great option, whether they’re designed for music or for ear protection.
4. Plan Breaks
Working from home is a marathon, not a sprint. To keep your physical and mental energy sustainable, you need to take breaks. Plan two or three breaks throughout your day, even if they’re only for a few minutes. Stretch, go for a quick walk, or sit outside and get some fresh air. Make a cup of coffee--and enjoy it without checking your phone. Take time to read a few pages of a book. These are also great ways to refresh your mind and not feel like your day revolves solely around your job. These little intermissions can go a long way in helping you pay attention to self-care and feel like a whole person.
Implement a 10-minute chore break every day. Turn little chores like running a load of laundry or wiping down the kitchen counter into opportunities for exercise -- you’ll meet two needs with one break. Set aside time to power through household chores to help you get up from your desk, get the blood flowing, get more done around the house, and be free to relax once the workday is done.
5. Stay Visible, Stay Connected
Though you’ve been working from home, that’s no reason to lose touch with co-workers. Technology means we can continue to have meetings and brainstorming sessions or even casual chats from the comfort of our homes. Turn your webcam on for these meetings to keep you visible to your colleagues and maintain a sense of connection among teams, which benefits you both professionally and personally.
According to a Mayo Clinic article, those with social support have a reduced risk for health issues like high blood pressure and high body mass index. Social connections can help you live longer, even if you’re only connecting virtually. Get as much virtual facetime as you can, and don’t forget to keep getting to know your co-workers. Even if you’ve worked together a while, check in often to see how colleagues are doing, ask what they did over the weekend or on vacation, or just chat about non-work topics over lunch together.
No matter how hard you try to stay connected, it’s harder when you’re not face to face. To help mitigate this lack of interaction, be sure to communicate more frequently and clearly about projects and needs. Use internal communication apps to bring up new ideas and help coworkers stay engaged. This visibility goes a long way in keeping folks aware of your work, and in setting a productive tone for the rest of the company. It may even provide you an opportunity to show your leadership skills.
Make the most of times you do connect by being as collaborative as possible in meetings. Send out an agenda prior to the start of the meeting to help attendees prepare in advance. Have files up and ready to screen-share so meeting attendees can get a visual of what you’re discussing. Consider turning your phone call into a video call by using the camera. Make a point to elicit feedback from everyone on the call so each person is acknowledged and has the floor to share ideas.
6. Remember to Take Personal Time
Though you’re working from home, you’re still dealing with workday stress, and possibly more stress at home now as well. Though we need routine, we also need a little variety here and there to keep us engaged.
According to Payscale, workers who take occasional time off from their job report feeling less stressed, anxious, or depressed. Regular vacations can lower the risk of heart disease and have a lasting impact on general wellbeing. Continue to plan vacation time and get away from home, or at least from your desk.
Finding balance is not just about vacations, though, it’s also about the days in between. When working in the office, you likely take time for breakfast or coffee before heading out or listen to music or a podcast on your morning drive. These are important rituals that help us prepare for the day and give ourselves some care before focusing on work. Instead of rolling out of bed and heading straight to your desk, continue your morning rituals as much as you can to set up for a more fulfilling day.
7. Keep Tabs on Your Health
After working from home for months now, your health may be taking a hit. Stay on top of your physical health by making time to move throughout the day. Give your eyes a break and your neck a stretch if you’re staring at a screen for longer amounts of time, follow the 20-20-20 rule; every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Get up and move throughout the day. Drink plenty of water and keep nourishing snacks on hand to limit reaching for quick junk food options, and make sure to get enough sleep. It’s also a good idea to see what ergonomic adjustments you can make to your workspace, such as with your office chair or computer placement.
Your mental health is equally important. Spending time outside, staying in touch with others, giving yourself healthy outlets, and making laughter a priority can all help you stay balanced and refreshed.
8. Let Technology Help You
If you have a device like a smartwatch, let it help you stay on track. Set reminders for things like “Drink water” or “Take a 10-minute break.” When we get caught up in our work, it’s easy to forget these simple but necessary tasks that keep us healthy.
Use technology to audit yourself. Use a time-tracking program to help you see where you’re actually spending your time. Are you really focused on work during the day, or getting caught up in the news or social media? Or, are you having the opposite problem: working at night when you should be relaxing? A time tracker will give you reliable data on how you’re spending your days so you can optimize them for better performance and work-life balance.
Bonus Tip: Set Goals to Return to the Office Stronger Than You Were
To avoid the work-from-home slump, look toward the future both professionally and personally. Set goals for yourself to stay motivated and keep your mind and body working. Aim to learn something new or achieve a goal so you can come back to the office with even more confidence and knowledge to share with your team.
New professional skill ideas:
- Learning to code
- Mastering spreadsheets
- Updating your website
- Taking a course pertaining to your industry
Or, you could aim to improve your personal life with goals such as:
- Running a mile every morning
- Starting a garden
- Joining a club
- Reading those books sitting on the shelf
Don’t feel any pressure to achieve, though. Do your best to make working from home as healthy, productive, and sustainable as possible for you and your family. Use and share these tips with those around you to help offer friends, family, and colleagues ideas for improving work-from-home lifestyle.