These are wild times we live in.
Toilet paper is suddenly a hot commodity. Professional sports are non-existent. And everyone is working from their kitchen table.
And while the outbreak of the Coronavirus may have you feeling uncertain, anxious and a little fearful about being forced into working remotely full-time to limit the spread, some of us have chosen it as a way of life. So we figured it’s our duty to provide some of our best lessons learned on how to thrive working the remote life. But before we dive into how to work well apart from your office routine, we want to provide a bit of perspective.
Because while we should all approach a viral infection with wisdom and discernment, we should also remember that thanks to modern medicine, technology, incredible human intelligence and the determination to overcome any challenge, this is a temporary situation.
Remember that this is not the first time we have been faced with this level of hardship, and each time, the world has returned to its natural ebb and flow. Businesses will thrive again, patterns and rhythms of life will return to normal, and yes — grocery stores will once again have a constant supply of toilet paper.
So take a deep breath and remember that this will be over sooner or later. Continue to embrace daily opportunities and work well to make each new day more beautiful than the one that came before it.
Now, let’s talk about your working-at-home situation.
Take it from an agency that works remotely 100% of the time — this could be one of the best things to ever happen to you (as long as you have Wifi). But there are quite a few things you’ll need to know to make this the best experience it possibly can be. So we’ve laid out the guidelines that will help you not only deal well with your time telecommuting but make your days better than they ever were in the office.
Things to Do
If you’re not used to working from home, it may take you no time at all to notice that something feels… off.
That cue that comes from walking out the door and getting into your car fully dressed for work is no longer there to clearly mark the start of your workday. You may not feel quite “at work,” and instead, feel a weird overlap between your nine-to-five and your five-to-nine. Not to worry, that’s totally normal at first.
But remedy that with some wonderful new work-life balance patterns, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the switch earlier. Let’s get started.
Set Boundaries From Distraction
We’re putting this first for a good reason. Whether you’re at home, the office, a coffee shop or anywhere else in the world, these little glowing rectangles are often a time suck, productivity killer and life-ruiner (probably not a word, but I’m going to use it anyway). Just for some self-reflection, check your screen time on your phone to see how much you actually use your phone. I can almost guarantee you’ll be shocked.
Luckily, there are a ton of tangible ways to rule your phone so it doesn’t rule you. We’ll mention a few of our top ones here, but for one of the best deep-dives on setting up your phone to get your life back, check out this article from Coach Tony on Medium.
As promised, these are some of the easiest ways to set boundaries between you and your pocket-sized beast of distraction.
- Turn On Do Not Disturb. A common, unspoken belief is that texts, emails, etc. can’t wait for an answer. And on rare occasions, that’s true. But most of the time, they can wait a few hours. With the tap of a button, you can mute all notifications so that your phone doesn’t chirp, buzz or light-up every time you get a text or email. If you really want to set yourself free, consider turning your phone off entirely and putting it in a drawer while you’re not using it. But if that raised your heart rate and made your palms sweat just thinking about it, start with Do Not Disturb for a less “drastic” approach.
- Set Specific Times to Check In. Let’s preface this with some awareness of the current situation. Especially at a time like this, you may want to touch base with family and friends pretty frequently, which is totally understandable and encouraged. But even so, we highly suggest setting clear windows of time to reach for your cell phone. The point here is that most of us pick up our phones even in the smallest window of boredom or thoughtlessness. Unfortunately, that quick check turns into 20 minutes scrolling through Instagram, Twitter or whatever new social media came out as I was writing this. And before you know it, you’ve lost a bunch of time you could have used to finish that report or push forward that project. A good rule of thumb is to set three to five times throughout your workday where you let yourself check in with your phone. And make sure to have a purpose for doing so, not just aimlessly swiping through apps.
At the office, maybe you have a snack drawer or a water cooler. At home, your entire kitchen is a few steps away. And if you’re anything like us, that’s too close for comfort.
At any dull moment, you may be tempted to take a quick “mental break” (aka snack break). But we warn you: RESIST. Not only will you constantly be distracted, but you might eat a few more cookies than you’d prefer to admit.
Pro tip: set hard times to eat and stick to them. Think about it not even being an option until those windows. For example, set lunchtime from 12:00 - 12:30 PM and don’t wander into the kitchen until then. Likewise, set ten minutes aside at 2 or 3 PM for a refreshing snack break, but it’s in and out — got it?
Or, as many people on our team have found helpful, eat more frequent but smaller meals. This helps break up the long windows of craving, and it’s something you have the luxury of doing when you control more of your time working remotely.
As schools go virtual for a little while, it means that if you have kids, they’re likely never more than a room away. You love your kids (we’re speculating), and this is an excellent opportunity to spend more time with them. But you still have to get work done! So take some proven tips from some of our Chief Children Officers:
- Is there a space that offers a door you can close? Even the small signal of closing off an area can give you a better threshold for uninterrupted time. Consider converting a closet or spare bedroom into an office for the short or long term.
- Do you have noise-canceling headphones? Or can you borrow/purchase some? Many of these magical headphones mute sound so well that you can work in the corner of a busy room and not even notice anyone is there.
- If both you and your spouse are working from home, consider trading off shifts in 2-hour blocks of time so you can each have dedicated time to be optimally productive.
- Remote working doesn't always mean you have to be at home. If you still work from home when things return to normal, coworking spaces, such as WeWork, can provide a flexible option for meetings or when you need some time away from home to focus.
There are many ways to adjust well to having kids around. Just be creative and find what works best for you and your family members!
Block Your Time
A methodology that has become a universal key to productivity is working in “blocks” of time. This is true for any situation, but especially when working from home where distraction lies around every corner.
Generally, following this format means that you trade off the constant task-switching to focus on completing (or at least making much progress on) a single task. I’ll go on the record as swearing by this approach.
For example, I set three dedicated blocks of time throughout my day for email and internal communication. Now, I remain available to team members through direct messages and the like at other points of the day in case something urgent arises. I even try to communicate in advance with project managers regarding pressing tasks. But for most normal matters, I get to them at one of these three times.
This allows you to turn off all the dings and pings that continuously pull you away from what you’re working on at the moment. In fact, I set my email to manual refresh, so I only get emails when I intentionally open the app and hit refresh.
To briefly state how this has helped: it has changed my life. I get so much more done, and working from home feels more productive than any day in an office. Because without people swinging by your office every ten minutes, you can focus on tasks without interruptions!
Get Into a Flow State
Getting into a flow state, also known as being “in the zone,” is the mental state in which you’re so immersed in a task that you feel optimal energy, focus and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In short, it’s productivity bliss.
When working from home, getting into a flow state is one of the best things you can do. Here are a few tips on how to achieve it:
- Jam Out. Okay, probably not best to “jam out” per se. But listening to repetitive-type music you’re familiar with can help block out distraction and create a rhythm for work. Something with minimal lyrics or none at all has become ideal for me. Or, check out coffitivity.com — ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.
- Mark the Starting Point to Work. Whether it’s with a cup of coffee or taking a deep breath, do something that signals to your brain, “Okay, it’s time for us to focus and get stuff done.” You’ll be surprised at the tremendous effect this has on your productivity.
- Take Breaks. Remember, the brain can only focus for so long, so don’t forget to set timers to move around. Sitting at your desk and staring at your computer screen day in and day out will put you on the fast track to a crazy train, and actually become counterproductive. Doing something as simple as taking time to stretch, walking around the room, or getting some water can increase productivity.
You can also read more here for more information on how to bring on the flow.
We’d be lying if we said working from home wasn’t a blast. Do something that you love to do that breaks up your day that you normally wouldn’t have the luxury of doing from the office!
In the words of our CEO, Tyler Pigott: “I try to have lunch when my wife and kids sit down for lunch. I’ve got to schedule it on my calendar, but that’s something I always look forward to that I could never do from the office. Lately, we’ve been playing an endless game of scrabble on our dining room table. So we all make lunch and keep playing for 15 - 20 minutes. It gives my mind a much-needed break and allows me time to spend with my family.”
Also, since our team has chosen the remote life as a more permanent solution, we’ve created what we like to call #lunchculture. It’s pretty much the adult equivalent of sitting in the lunchroom in second grade, saying, “What you got today?” Except it’s a lot more fun and creative.
We use emojis, weird descriptions and sometimes even riddles to describe our choice of dining for the day. It’s not only a way to have a bit of fun, but you’ll wind up learning a lot more about the people you work with and creating a rich culture. (To learn a bit more about our culture, take a peak at this other fun blog we wrote).
We could go on forever about food, but there are tons of ways to add fun and exciting things to your day that might be difficult if you were at an office.
- Go on a post-lunch walk to get some fresh air! Maybe take your dog too.
- Do a midday workout. Getting your blood pumping and working up a sweat works wonders for picking you up from that midday lull. (Just make sure to leave time for a quick shower — for everyone’s sake).
- Cook lunch on the stove! In a culture of busyness and rushing to the next thing, microwaves have become the go-to for heating up food at the office. But I think we can all agree that any food tastes better fresh off the skillet or out of the oven. So we challenge you not to use your microwave; it’s a treat, believe us!
- Take a nap. Yep, I repeat: take a nap! This probably won’t take much convincing, but in case you're skeptical, read a bit about how naps are a not-so-secret key to productivity.
- Take a creative break. Play your guitar, draw, go on a photo walk, write poetry, etc. These types of leisure activities not only slow your mind and create calm and peace, but they can actually trigger creative thinking.
- Invite your team to a happy hour via video calls. Even if the bars in your area aren't closed yet, it's likely a good idea to stay close to home. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun with your work friends! At Lone Fir, we have happy hours over Zoom all the time! One of our team members hosts a game or something, and we all eat our own snacks and drink our own beer — it's a blast!
Create a Dedicated Workspace
The biggest hesitancy people have about working from home is that it doesn’t feel like an office space, which is totally accurate. That’s why it helps to create a space that you feel like you can be productive in, as well as walk away from when you’re done.
When you had an office, you had a chair, a desk, drawers and cabinets to stay organized. Likewise, at your new home office, you need to try to create a similar productive feel of an office. It can be the corner of a room, a section of the house or your own dedicated office room. Whatever it might be, you’ll be more productive. The point isn’t to recreate your corporate office, but to create one that works best for you.
A workspace helps separate your remote job from the rest of life, but if you’re the kind of person that can work one day sitting on the floor, the next from your garage and every Wednesday from your kitchen counter, be our guest! The entire point of working remotely is flexibility. If that doesn’t mean a desk for you, go crazy! We’re just saying having a dedicated space helps you stay organized from all that random work build-up.
This is where our CEO Tyler runs the ship from. And if you look closely, you’ll see his dog Lucy working hard.
Things Not to Do
Alrighty, so now that we’ve covered some practices to help your productivity and sanity while working from home, we need to discuss some pitfalls to avoid as well. Trust us, you’re much better off gleaning these lessons from folks like us who have learned them the hard way, rather than going down the path yourself.
So, we strongly advise you don’t do the following:
Get Sucked Into Doing Chores or Errands
Yes, the benefit of working from home is that when you need to do something, you can. But making it a habit only robs you of getting your work done during the hours you intend to. Whether you're freelancing or your company has been forced to transition into a team of remote workers on the fly, time management is a crucial skill to sharpen.
It might take some practice of saying no. Lots of people think since you work at home, you have unlimited flexibility and your own schedule. But you might also be expected to observe the exact same hours as the rest of your remote team, adjust to different time zones, attend meetings and meet deadlines. Get used to communicating the same way as you would if you were in an office.
Let Yourself Work Too Late
One of the easiest mistakes to make when working from home is not setting regular work hours. Since you’re now working where you live and living where you work, it becomes challenging to find the line between the two. So we seriously suggest setting a hard start and stop time on your workday. Then stick to those hours.
When you’ve accomplished your to-do list for the day, put your work away. Take the opportunity to decompress your mind with a hobby, learn something new or spend more time with family. Sometimes at the end of the day, I even go outside and walk around the block, so it feels like there is a break, and I’m “traveling” home. This commute by choice helps my mind transition out of work and into the rest of my evening.
Be a Bum
Most people believe a big benefit to working from home is working in your slippers and pajamas all day. But that is a dangerous path to being unproductive. And especially in a time such as this, where all you hear on the news is talk of a devastating virus, it’ll become all too easy to become down and depressed.
Start your morning with an activity to get your blood pumping: run, bike, do yoga, jump rope, etc. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just do something that is quick and convenient but gets your heart pumping.
Be sure to freshen up in the morning too. Get ready for the day as you would going to the office. Okay, maybe you get to wear jeans and your favorite t-shirt instead of the usual polo or button-up, but you get the point. Trust us, nothing good comes from lounging around in pajamas and not showering.
It’s likely best to stick to your usual work routine anyway. That way, when things return to normal, the transition back will feel seamless.
Tools to Use
Likely the most significant test that this sudden remote work life will have on businesses is communication and productivity. But we know first hand that maintaining communication and productivity is not only possible when working remotely, but improves when done right. And to do it well, we rely on a plethora of tools on our utility belt.
Batman has grappling hooks and batarangs. We have Zoom and Slack.
As many try to quickly navigate how to make the most of their time working from home, our team has done a full breakdown of the tools we use that help us thrive remotely. Whether it's Google tools or how to set up a video conference or video chat, learn more here about the tools we use to make remote life the best life.
To try and be good humans, we are also offering free training for any of the tools we use, just let us know if you’re interested in that here. And you better believe we'll show you using video conferencing!
Any Other Questions?
We sincerely hope that this helped you view working remotely as a perk, not a burden! Either way, please contact us with any additional questions you might have, and know that the remote employees that make up our team are more than willing and glad to provide answers as we can. As seasoned veterans in working remotely, it would be our joy to help you out during such a difficult time.