How to Productively Work from Home
The past few months have brought much discussion about the value of working remotely versus returning to the office. While some companies have opted into a back-to-office policy, many have decided that their employees can work remotely on a hybrid or full-time basis. This means that any work from home arrangement you may have cobbled together over the past few years could probably now use some updating and refinement. Here are some tips for optimizing your work from home situation, staying productive, and finding a healthy balance.
Rethink your physical space
While some of us have the good fortune to have a beautiful home office with a polished background (think subtle artwork or a tastefully styled bookshelf), many of us have been working out of our dining room, bedroom, or in a makeshift office alcove for the past three years. If this is you, and your plan is to remain there, this could be a good time to update that space. Maybe add some shelving, a plant or two, or whatever it takes to make it feel more yours. Been delaying the purchase of that ergonomic chair? Now may be the time, in order to improve your quality of life and comfort.
Remember that while moving locations around the house can be fine, you should always have an appropriate background for meetings, meaning no visibly messy rooms or unmade beds. A simple wall will always suffice, and of course there are a plethora of virtual backgrounds to choose from, if that’s your thing.
Find your uniform
Get dressed for the day, every day. Maintain a professional-looking wardrobe for meetings, at least from the waist up. One too many Zoom calls in your old college hoodie and wet hair becomes a slippery slope, and next thing you know you’re taking meetings from your bed with a hair towel on. What you wear impacts your mental state, and helps project an air of confidence, even over video. We all know the quintessential work from home uniform is a blazer and sweatpants or joggers, but find whatever works for you. A decent top and comfortable pants, that you could leave the house in, should be just fine.
If you have young children who are home during work hours, whether they are sick, or it’s school vacation, or early release (and it will always be one of these three things), come up with a plan for how to manage. Be okay with that plan failing, but still come up with one.
For example, reserve the very favorite movies/tv shows for the important meetings, and don’t neglect to communicate with your kids when you’ll be in those important meetings. It may not always work, but it also may make them think twice before Charlie bursts in screaming because his sister looked at him the wrong way. And there are always lollipops.
If they are internal meetings and your workplace culture allows it, it should be okay, and even welcomed, to have a kid pop in every so often. Kids are part of life!
Get your systems in place
James Clear famously wrote: “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”. Nowhere is this more important than in designing your systems to optimize a work from home arrangement. Want to tackle that laundry pile? Take a few minutes in the morning before starting work where you sort and throw it in. Switch loads at lunchtime. Take it out at 5. Simple systems like this prevent a massive pileup at the end of the day where you are left thinking: “I’ve been home all day.. why didn’t I get any of this done?”
Another system- place guardrails around your time. You may reach for the stainstick to tackle the grass stain on your kid’s soccer shorts, only to realize you’re running low, so you open your Amazon cart, at which point you realize you never placed the monthly household order and need to add ten more items. This becomes a slippery slope that cuts into productive work time. Instead, allocate a certain number of minutes to the task (try setting your phone timer!) and if it’s not completed in that time frame, finish it later. Want to chop some veggies to prep for dinner? Go for it. But once it’s done, don’t start whipping egg whites for chocolate mousse.
Get out (of the house)
Move your body, do some stretching and get out! Carve out time everyday to get outside, take a walk, and get some fresh air. This is ideal no matter where you are working. Around lunch is often a great time to do this, and you won’t have to worry (as much) about responding immediately to 20 direct messages from your boss. Tip – while you’re out, put your phone away and embrace a few minutes of quiet.
Optimize your calendar
Block your calendar in a way that works for both you and your company. This means different things to different people. But if you don’t currently manage your calendar in a way that feels helpful or productive, talk with your manager about what their expectations are, and what your desires are, and try to find a meeting place. Simple upfront communication can solve a lot of headaches or avoid missed opportunities.
Meeting overload is a real thing, particularly in the virtual work world. It has become so common to go from meeting to meeting without a moment’s break, that people consider it a point of pride to pull up their calendar and show a solid block of color indicating they have not a single white space of break time from 8am-5pm. This is generally not ideal. Meetings and collaboration are wonderful, but don’t be afraid to protect your actual work/productivity time and block time on your calendar to accomplish specific tasks. And if it makes sense, maybe have a few talks with your team about doing a meetings audit.
Have a log-off point when it’s time to put work away and focus on the rest of your life, whether it’s time for yourself, making dinner, or being with your family. This does not mean you cannot read your email until the next day, but try putting away the laptop at a certain time and checking back in a couple hours, maybe after dinner or when kids go to bed. A designated box for family cell phones at 5 or 6pm can also be a great idea.
The gray area
Finally, a key tip to working effectively from home is not being too black and white about any of it. The pendulum will swing both ways- some days there will be a little more work at home, and other days a little more home at work, and that’s all part of working from home. Like so many things, finding and embracing the gray area is where you will be most successful long term. So find your area. And while you’re at it.. go ahead and throw those gray joggers in the wash.