As of an October 2020 Gallup poll, 33% of U.S. workers were working remotely all the time and an additional 25% were working remotely sometimes. If you’re one of the 58% of workers that are working from home at least part of the time, you’ve now had nearly a year to adjust to this new normal — but you might still be struggling with it. And with many now working from home permanently — or at least for the foreseeable future — it’s not too late to take steps to optimize that experience.
From setting up an ideal home office to making the most of available technology and learning to balance parental and office duties — all while staying sane — here are 15 ways to work better from home.
Last updated: Feb. 18, 2021
How To Set Up a Home Office
If you’re still taking your meetings and sending off emails from your bed every day, you probably don’t have the most efficient setup. Now is the time to create a home office that will enable you to function as well as — or almost as well as — you would in your usual office. Here’s how to do it.
1. Have a Separate Workspace
Your home may now be your everything space — where you work, where you relax, where you eat and where you exercise. Having a designated space to work will help you separate your work time from your leisure time.
It’s important to set up your home office in a space that has good lighting — because spending eight hours of your day in a dimly lit space is just depressing. Working near a window where you can get natural light is ideal, especially since many of us are spending more time indoors than usual, but if that’s not possible, set up a lamp or other light source.
2. Invest In a Comfortable Desk Chair
The more ergonomic your work setup is, the better. A comfortable and supportive desk chair can make all the difference. If you’ve been working on a kitchen or dining room chair this whole time, now may be the time to upgrade.
3. Let Other Members of Your Household Know That That’s Your Workspace
Once you’ve established where you’re going to set up your home office, make it clear to whomever you live with — whether it’s a partner, roommate or family member — that that area is now your workspace and they should respect it as such.
Ideally, you can set up an office in a room with a door that you can close when you need to take meetings or concentrate on the task at hand. If not, find other ways to create a boundary, such as putting a sign on your desk chair that you are not to be disturbed.
How To Make the Most of Technology
In addition to having basic office equipment, there are other pieces of tech you should invest in to complete your home office setup. There are also a number of programs and apps that can help you connect with others, stay on track with tasks and allow you to work as efficiently as possible. While you’re probably already a pro at using Zoom by this point, here are a few of the ways you might not be aware of to use technology to your advantage in this new work environment.
4. Use a Digital Whiteboard for Collaboration
Digital whiteboards are the next level of screen-sharing. They enable you and your team to draw, annotate and interact with the screen in real-time, adding a visual element to your remote collaboration. There are a number of online whiteboards you can use, including Miro and Stormboard.
5. Use StayFocusd To Control Your Social Media Use
If you know you’ll be tempted to spend your workday scrolling through social media feeds, get the StayFocusd Google Chrome extension. Lori Cheek, CEO of Cheekd, said that the extension is one of her “favorite productivity hacks.”
“When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction,” she said. “StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites, with a 10-minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.”
6. Use Apps for Your To-Do Lists
The Trello app allows you to make boards and to-do lists that help you to organize and prioritize your daily tasks.
“I use Trello to keep myself organized, taking inventory of all my tasks the night before and getting my board ready for the morning,” said Dan Bailey, president at Bailey’s Lawn and Landscape. “It helps immensely to tick those boxes, and it keeps me focused on what needs to be done.”
Asana, Basecamp and Freedcamp are other options for project management. They are particularly useful for prioritizing tasks as a team.
Read More: Here’s How Much Teachers Make in Every State
How To Work With Kids at Home
Getting into a work-from-home groove can be challenging for anyone, but adding kids to the mix can make it seem impossible. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make this juggling act a little bit more manageable.
7. Ask Your Boss for a Modified Schedule
If you know there are times during your usual workday that you will need to dedicate yourself to child care, let your boss know. Working 9-to-5 might not be the most efficient work hours for you in the current circumstances, so find out if there is flexibility available.
8. Put Care Time Into Your Daily Schedule
You can’t predict how every day will flow, but scheduling time dedicated to child care can help you feel like you’re staying on track.
9. Incorporate Quality Time Into Your Breaks
You won’t be able to give your kids all your attention when you’re in the weeds of your workday, so make sure you dedicate at least some of your break time to spending quality time with them. Eat lunch as a family or take an afternoon walk around the block together.
How To Stay Sane
Working from home can be mentally and emotionally draining — you’re isolated from others, and one day can easily bleed into the next with no clear differentiation between your workspace and your home space. Try these tips to stay sane while working from home.
10. Have a Morning and End-of-Day Routine
Don’t just roll out of bed and start your workday. Create a morning routine that energizes you and puts you in a good headspace for the day. This might include a workout, reading the morning paper, meditating or drinking a cup of coffee on your porch. Whatever it is, come up with a routine and stick to it.
The same goes for the end of the day. In addition to shutting your laptop or turning off Slack alerts, have a routine that separates your workday from the rest of your evening. This can be anything from lighting a candle to taking your dog for a walk.
11. Get Outside at Least Once a Day
Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul. Even if you just spend a few minutes in your own backyard, try to get outside at least once a day.
12. Take Sick Days and Vacation Days
When you’re sick, you should take a sick day. Working from home doesn’t mean you should force yourself to work if you’re not feeling up to it.
You should also use your vacation days — even if you’re just using them for a staycation at home.
Tips From the Pros
You might be relatively new to working from home, but some people have been doing it for years. We’ve gathered some tips from work-from-home veterans that you can implement to work more efficiently and positively.
“Out of sight, out of mind can be a real problem for remote workers,” Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a remote job listing site, told BBC. “The very best remote workers will reach out to co-workers and managers regularly.”
It’s always better to over-communicate than to not communicate enough.
14. Step Away From Your Computer During Your Breaks
Monica Eaton-Cardone, COO of Chargebacks911, recommends getting away from your computer and phone during your break times.
“Rather than checking social media or browsing the internet, it’s important that you give yourself a rest from being in ‘work’ mode,” she said. “I enjoy going for a short walk, but for you it might be doing yoga for 10 minutes or throwing a ball for your dog in the backyard. I’ve found that a change of scenery clears my head and enables me to return to work refreshed.”
15. Try Time-Blocking or the Pomodoro Technique
Time blocking is the idea of dedicating a specific block of time to a specific task. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk reportedly use this method to work efficiently. Another option is the Pomodoro technique.
“What helps me the most to stay efficient and get work done is the Pomodoro technique,” said David De Haan, owner of Stand Up Paddle Boards Review.
This technique involves working on just one task for 25 or 30 minutes followed by a three-minute break. After the break, you work for another 30 minutes — either on the same task or on another one — and so on.
“I used to struggle with distractions all the time,” De Haan said. “The Pomodoro technique helps me work focused for short blocks of time while permitting myself to be ‘unproductive’ in the break time.”
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