9 Easy Ways To Optimize Your Remote Work
9 Easy Ways To Optimize Your Remote Work
Imagine if you could go back in time to January 2020. Given the upheavals we collectively lived through in 2020, what advice would you give yourself? Well, you know what advice I would give myself? I’d say: “Make sure you prepare to stay at home for a long time!” Specifically, optimize my equipment and environment for remote work.
Working from home has taken the world by storm. Most industries felt the whiplash of the effects of the pandemic going at full speed. To cope with social distancing recommendations, companies decided that employees should stay at home and work from home. Many of us were grossly unprepared for this sudden shift and it took months, even a year later for some, to fully adjust to the dramatic changes we experienced in our professional environment.
These nine tips are sure to help you improve your remote work experience at home. If you’re still adjusting, this list is sure to help you identify adjustments you should make. Even if you feel like you’re fully up to speed working from home, we all could use some optimization.
Physical Environment: Setting the Stage for Work
1. Create an Office Space at Home
Don’t fall into the temptation to work from your bed, couch, or reading nook. Remember, this is your home and whether you are aware of it or not, you’re conditioned to feel or react a certain way when you’re in any given space in your home. Say you love watching movies at nights after dinner; well that’s going to produce a feeling of relief, relaxation, and satisfaction. All great things to feel when you’re winding down your day, right? This routine works so well that you do it almost every night. Well, what do you suppose happens to your body when you sit on that same couch to work? Eventually, your body is going to want to relax and turn on a movie.
The best way to harness the power of the office environment is to recreate one at home. Don’t stress about recreating your office space. Simply do the best you can with what you got. If you have the budget and the space, then get a desk, chair, organization tools, and/or a lamp. Feel free to personalize it and make the space your own. If you have limited space and are unable to get supplies then claim a section of your dining table to set up your space. Creating an office space at home, will help your mind get switched on for work and shift from a “home” body to a “work” body. Explore home office ideas here.
2. Take up Janitorial Duties
At the office, you didn’t need to worry about trash, vacuuming, dusting, etc. After you run out of the office everyday, a nice lady or gentleman would clean up after you. Unfortunately, they can’t do the same for your home office. This means that you must build up the routine of tidying up your space every day, cleaning your floors at least weekly, and cleaning your restroom more often as well.
Many studies show that we perform better when our environment is clean and tidy. Messy and unorganized environments distract us and tempt our minds to stray away from the task at hand. Due to the fact that you’re probably at home for much longer periods now, it is advisable to revisit your cleaning schedule so that you increase the frequency of certain chores and get them done before and/or after work. Here’s a sample of cleaning routine checklists to keep your space on track.
3. Limit Office Visitors
Unexpectedly, your doorbell rings or the home phone rings and the knee-jerk reaction is to go tend to it…right? Oh, but it’s my friend and she stopped by with lunch! Well, what would happen if you were at work? No one would answer! If you get unexpected visits or calls during your work time, don’t interrupt your workflow to tend to it. Set the stage for work by ensuring that roommates, children, pets, relatives, etc know and understand that when you are working you mean business and the space you work in should be respected. Help yourself by telling your friends and relatives that you’re not available at home during working hours. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a pickle if a friend stops by while you’re in a work meeting.
Mental and Emotional: Getting our Frame of Mind Right!
4. Enjoy Your Flexibility and Get Inspired
Does blasting your favorite song get you pumped up and ready to go? How about a quick dance session? …These are all things you can freely do at home to keep your energy high and spirits up. Enjoy and take advantage of the flexibility and privacy that working from home provides you with. Do more of the things that perk you up like:
Music - It’s all about the brain waves. When your brain waves sync up with a beneficial sound wave then you have a winning combo that can help relieve stress, manage symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, and help people cope with other hardships of life.
Plants - Studies have shown that houseplants improve concentration and productivity by up to 15%, reduce stress, and help put you in a good mood. Now you know why the office has all those plants.
Special lighting - Happy lights are a thing now. These are lights that provide full spectrum light to mimic natural light and help trigger important signals to the body to help you relax, focus, and sleep. There are also light strips in a variety of colors that can be utilized for decorative purposes.
Neck/back massager - A good neck or back massage helps you relax and ease any tension you may have accumulated during the day. Alternatively, you can invest in a massage gun with different attachments to use on a variety of muscle groups.
Aromatherapy - Inhaling the aromatherapy (or essential) oils not only engages your sense of smell, but it also stimulates your brain. The molecules you inhale eventually reach the brain and stimulates your limbic system. The limbic system is linked to the emotions, the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress, and hormone balance. Essential oils can help with a variety of things like sleep, relaxation, mood, or even pain/cramping.
Leveraging these tools that are not easily accessible at work, may help you balance out the challenges you could experience when working from home.
Flexibility in your environment at home can translate over to flexibility on how you approach the tasks you have to do for work and for home/personal. Talk to your manager about flexible working hours and the degree of flexibility you have at your disposal. For example, let’s say you have a doctor’s appointment to go to. Instead of taking that day off, you can take an hour or two off to go to the appointment and make the time up by working after hours. This way the work gets done and you satisfy a personal obligation.
5. Continue a Routine: Dress the Part, Act the Part
Ditching the commute is a fantasy of many commuters. However, commuting give us structure and routine. For example: “The 7am train gets me to work at 8:30am, so that means I need to wake up at 6am, leave my home at 6:40am, and make it to the train station by 6:50am.” This type of routine happens continuously 5 days a week and about 260 days a year. Can you imagine what happens when a routine structure like this suddenly disappears from your day-to-day."? Losing the routine of getting ready and commuting can get confusing and for some, down-right depressing.
With this in mind, it’s important to readjust yourself and make your own routine when working from home. Let’s take the example of the train commuter: “I need to clock in by 8:30am, so I’ll get up at 7am, get ready for the day and at 7:30am I go to my local coffee shop to get a drink or a bite to eat. I get back home by 8:15am and settle in to start my day.” For the commuter who drives in, perhaps taking a drive to a local park and going for a quick brisk walk before work is a way to appease the impulses of the commuting routine.
Keeping a routine by getting ready for the day will help keep a sense of normalcy for work days. You still need to get up and go! If going to a coffee shop is out of your reach or not your thing, then utilize the time that would normally be a commute to do other things. You could make breakfast, make a smoothie, prep lunch, read the paper, or anything else you enjoy doing in the morning.
Part of that morning routine is getting dressed for work and it is easy to transition out of that. It is tempting to ditch the work clothes (even if they’re casual clothes). So, if we usually dress formally for work with a suit, then we may want to downgrade to business casual. If we dress casual at work, then we may be tempted to stay in our PJs. Don’t do it! Keep your work clothes routine because it helps you keep that work mindset and it signals to others that you’re not playing the ‘homebody’ role.
6. Take a Break and Don’t Skip Lunch
Due to the fact that no one is around to take note of your every move at home (like in the office), it may feel odd to take a ‘break’. With this in mind, you may feel pressure to be available 100% of the time when anyone from work tries to reach out. This pressure is natural because your boss and colleagues no longer can see you physically in the office to ‘verify’ you are working.
Being readily available is the next best thing you can do to ‘verify’ to others that you are doing your part. This inner dynamic causes unhealthy expectations and leads to stress. So, resist the temptation to be “on” and available all the time by setting expectations with your manager and your colleagues.
Create a schedule that works for you and is in-line with expectations at work. List your start time, lunch time, break times, and end time. Go over your schedule with your manager and have it be approved. Once you get the okay from your boss, communicate it to your colleagues and put it in your calendar so that others won’t be able to book your break time. Use this strategy to maintain the daily routine we mentioned above.
If you give yourself a guilt trip about taking breaks while working from home, then simply think about your actions when you’re physically at work. It is very probable that at any point during your day at work, you ran into a colleague and engaged in conversation (regardless if it was work-related or not).
Those interactions were not part of your job description, they were additions to your workflow as a consequence of your environment. Now that you have a new environment, let's reframe the office chats. Reimagine going to the kitchenette at work and end up engaged in a water cooler talk, to now calling a colleague or a friend, reading a chapter from a book, or even working on a personal project at home. Stepping away from the screen is very important for your eyes and moving around helps your overall health. Make sure to take a break and don’t skip lunch!
Balancing Act: Structuring personal and work
7. Separate Work Time and Home Time
By creating the daily routine we suggested above, including scheduling breaks, you end up with a much clearer picture of how you spend your day. Start the day by identifying what needs to be done on the work front and on the home front. Let’s say on the ‘home front’ list, you need to book a vet appointment, well you can do that during your scheduled break. Another scenario could be that you have a big project you need to spend overtime on, so you sacrifice your break that day to make sure you get more work done.
The key is being flexible with your time, while also creating and sticking to your schedule as much as possible. The schedule you have for yourself provides the framework for your day and this puts you in control of your routine. You’ll be less prone to the volatility of the work day if you already have a guideline for your day.
For example, something urgent comes up at work and you need to be called into a meeting. Well, the colleague booking the meeting can already see that you have time blocked out and will only pick from the time you actually have available — preserving your break and lunch time. To manage interruptions at home, create a notification system to communicate when it is okay to interrupt. Put up a white board near you or at your door and write to tell others of your status. If you have children around while working, then make it fun by creating a traffic light system (you can use lights, colored paper, or you can buy a ‘red, yellow, green’ light LED tower): Red light meaning “Do not disrupt at all”, yellow light means “interrupt only if it is important”, and green light meaning “it’s okay to interrupt”.
8. Get out!
Eating, working, entertainment, shopping, and ‘socializing’ has been relegated to the home because of the pandemic. This situation can make the home environment get old quickly! The stresses brought about because of the pandemic has impacted us in more ways than we can fathom, and this has the potential to negatively impact our work productivity and our relationships. To counter these stressors, go out and get some fresh air by:
- Going to a local park to walk.
- Hiking on a local trail.
- If you have access to a yard, doing some yard work.
- Going to a local coffee shop or eatery.
- Going outside and jump rope.
- Exploring your city/town and taking pictures with a camera.
- Riding a bike, rollerskating, or skateboarding.
9. Plan your workflow
There is enough evidence and research to suggest that working from home can create fatigue, burnout, or even more stress. This is especially so among those of us who must juggle multiple roles, like caregiving. Creating a productive flow begins with the foundations of self-care: eating well and sleeping well. Make sure to prioritize healthy eating and enough sleep in your routine.
The second step is creating routines and structures which has already been discussed throughout this blog. Lastly, employ tools/technology that will help and support you plan and execute your day. Project management tools, time management tools and communication tools, should all be provided by your employer, but if you don’t have access to them, you should research options for you to help you do your job more efficiently.
On a daily basis, make an emphasis to be clear and transparent with your team and your manager regarding your plans, time, and communication. This method of approaching work is collaborative and is very effective at preventing bottlenecks and problems before they arise.
It’s always good practice to look at the brighter side of life. The pandemic has brought about many inconveniences, but working from home doesn’t have to be one of them. The vital components to making working from home sustainable for you is flexibility, structuring routine, and adaptability. This recipe, however, applies to life in general and is something you have direct control of. Managing relationships and dealing with others is a different story. To effectively manage others while working from home, it is super important to over-communicate. Make sure your peers are crystal clear on your work status, your friends know when they can access you, and/or your housemates/relatives with you at home know when to interrupt.
The workplace landscape has changed drastically and it requires for us to adapt and change as well. Using these tips can help you be productive at work and manage your life more efficiently during these strange times. Do not get discouraged, you got this!