As I set up my workspace in the new house our family just moved into, I started thinking about all my friends who are now working from home for the first time because of coronavirus closings and quarantines. I remember being overwhelmed when I started remote work five years ago. I felt there was no way I could be productive. After a week or two, though, I realized remote work from home would let me capitalize my productivity on my own terms. Now I’m pretty sure I will never be going back to working in an office.
Here are some tips I’ve learned about being the most productive remote worker and work-at-home parent you can be. Any statistics cited come from the website Buffer and this year’s State of Remote Report:
Set boundaries between remote work, home life
The biggest struggle for remote workers (22%) is unplugging after work. Set boundaries for yourself and disconnect from work when you need to. Set up different computer accounts for work and personal, so that you can turn off the work one when you’re done. Don’t answer emails on your personal time. Remember that now you won’t have to do all your work between the hours of 9 and 5 so feel free to capitalize on your productivity and do your work when you know you’re most productive. Limit access to social media to keep yourself from falling into a trap.
Connect with friends
The second-largest struggle for remote workers (18%) is social isolation. Through remote work, you have more flexibility to take a call from a friend or text anyone throughout the day in moments when you may be less busy. Leverage that and use it as an opportunity to connect with others in your life outside of just co-workers.
Get the right work-at-home tools
Several apps and programs help remote work structures. Zoom is my favorite for video calls and I couldn’t really live without Slack as my main method of communication. I have also found success with many agile methodologies like Scrum and tools that help with project management like Jira, Trello or Clubhouse. For hardware, get a second monitor if you do a lot of data or are used to a second screen. For calls, audio and video, you’ll need a pair of headphones that feel good when you wear them long-term. Finally, work from a desk, not from a couch or bed or a folding table.
Ah, yes, it’s an easy time to catch up on some Netflix shows. But put a limit on these kinds of long breaks or background noises. It’s fine if you’re doing execution work that is mundane and semi-automatic, but if you need to think through things, these will keep you from finishing. Cut ’em out.
Pick your home office location
You need a place with plenty of light. If you have video conferences, you’ll look better if you have a window or light behind the camera. (Trust me, I’ve had meetings at 4 a.m. where that trick has come in handy). Oh, and whatever room you choose has to be one that you like.
Dress for your goal
This is probably psychological, but — dang — does it help me. If I need to finish something quickly, I put on my sneakers and need to be in a sitting position. For me, just putting sneakers on makes me feel more agile. If you’re working barefoot, it may feel too relaxing — which is fine if you’re doing some easy tasks or listening in on calls. If you want to deliver a good presentation, put on a jacket; pants, however, are optional (just don’t stand up while the camera is on).
Do this often. Whenever you’re feeling burnt out, just get up and walk around. Mingle with your family or check up on your friends. Walk outside, if you have access, so you get some sun. It’s better than wasting time and talking smack around the water cooler, I promise.
Drink plenty of liquids
Keep hydrated. It keeps you from going through brain fog. If you’re a caffeine junkie, try including some teas throughout the day so it increases your water intake without overloading the caffeine.
Communicate your work-at-home schedule
Let your family know what your upcoming day looks like. I let my wife know whether it’s a “meeting day,” “strategy day,” “easy day,” etc. It’s important that everyone in the house knows what your day is like so they know how to navigate around it as well.
Time for play
The biggest benefit of remote work is the time you’re given back. No commuting, no wasteful water cooler talk, no losing time in unproductive office games. Use the time you gain to do something for yourself that you’ve always wanted to do. Learn. For me, it’s a chance to enjoy the extra time with my family: getting to squeeze my little one every time I take a break, and getting to enjoy a little break for a quick cuddle with my wife. Make the time yours.
A version of this post first appeared on Being Papa. Photo: Marlon Gutierrez.