Nearly 4 million Americans worked remotely at least half the time in 2018 (compared to only 1.8 million in 2005). These numbers are expected to continue to climb, with hiring managers predicting that 38 percent of employees will work remotely in some capacity within the next 10 years.
To those of us who already work remotely, this is hardly surprising. There are a number of benefits for both employees (increased productivity, greater work-life balance) and organizations (bigger talent pool, lower office space costs).
Working remotely, however, is very different than working in an office. It can take time for some people to adjust, and others simply do better in an office environment surrounded by camaraderie and continuously flowing company coffee.
Find yourself working remotely one day or more a week and struggling to adjust? Over the past six years, I’ve discovered several ways to remain focused, improve productivity, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
- Create a dedicated workspace.
Whether it’s a home office or a makeshift workspace that consists of a desk in the corner of a room, it’s important to establish an area where you can sit down, get into the right mindset, and go to work. Another benefit of creating a dedicated space? When you’re finished working for the day, you can leave work “at the office.”
The basic principles of creating a good home workspace are the same as in an office environment:
- Pick a desk and chair that are comfortable (“tech neck” is real; work these ergonomic exercises into your day without leaving your chair!)
- Make sure you have a reliable internet connection for uninterrupted work
- Keep your work area free of clutter and any distractions
- Make sure there’s a good balance of natural and artificial light
Controlling noise levels at home can actually be more difficult than in the workplace. It’s important to create the right environment — and boundaries — to shield yourself from distractions by pets, kids, personal email, and so on.
- Get organized.
If you haven’t already — or if it’s been awhile — create or clean up your filing systems, review your schedule, and organize your action items. Place your work calendar, task trackers, and anything else you tend to reference regularly in open view. When it’s easier to find what you need, you’ll spend less time digging through digital and paper files searching for the right documents.
I take a few minutes at the start of each day to review what’s on my calendar and create a focused, manageable to-do list that I want to tackle before day’s end. I can update the list as necessary as the day progresses, but it gives me a solid starting point. By investing this time upfront, I can prioritize my work and check items off my list, both of which make me feel (and actually be) productive.
I also make the time to prep and plan for the upcoming week. By taking 45 minutes or so on Friday, I can hit the ground running on Monday. This way, when I shut down on a Friday afternoon, it’s not at the expense of Monday morning. This lets me transition into the weekend confident that I’m setup for success the following week.
- Set office hours and create a regular routine.
Some people think working from home means you can tackle all of your home life duties during the workday. After all, if you’re home all day, surely you can take care of the laundry, load the dishwasher, run a few errands … all while saving money on childcare since you’re home anyway, right?
Um, not so much. Working from home requires just as much uninterrupted focus and concentration as working in an office. It’s important to maintain a relatively consistent schedule. Wake up at the same time every day. Have a set start time, always take lunch, and have a set end time (with some flexibility when you’re working on a big project or under a tight deadline). It’s all too easy to work late each day simply because it’s more convenient to do so.
Beyond these start and end points, create a time slot for each of the day’s activities, including penciling in breaks to make sure you step away from your desk every now and then. When you work remotely, it’s very easy to go from one extreme to the next. It’s important to create these kinds of boundaries for yourself so you can stay focused, keep your momentum, and not get burned out.
- Dress for success.
Since you’re not leaving the house to go the office, it can be tempting to just stay in what you wore to bed. It’s easy to dismiss what you wear as unimportant when you work from home, but it’s all about getting into right mindset to be productive. After all, you wouldn’t wear shorts to the symphony, and you wouldn’t wear a suit to your weekly softball game.
If you’ve been sporting pajamas or sweatpants, and need to re-focus or re-energize, I strongly recommend changing to business casual attire. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t go to the grocery store in what you’re wearing, consider changing.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important whether you work in an office or not. When you work from home, though, it’s all too easy to let it fall by the wayside. Without a change in scenery, it can be very easy to stay in work mode all day and not take care of yourself.
In the office, you can’t continually munch on snacks from your pantry. When you’re at home, it’s easy to mindlessly snack all day. Make sure you keep healthy snacks around, drink a lot of water, and schedule time for regular exercise so that you have both the physical and mental energy to maintain a good work-life balance.
- When in doubt, overcommunicate.
When you work remotely, your colleagues can’t just walk over to your desk to ask you a question. They can’t even physically see you, making “out of sight, out of mind” a legitimate concern. It’s also easy for things to get lost in translation when they’re communicated digitally.
Fortunately, with all of the technology available to us today, it’s easier than ever to stay connected. Make yourself readily available via email, phone, text, instant message, and conference call. Take advantage of any additional technologies, such as Glip or Slack, that your organization uses. Install the apps on your mobile phone for when you’re away from your desk but want to be available for urgent questions (but remember to maintain those boundaries after office hours!).
Even simple things, like sharing your calendar, help others know when and how to best communicate with you. That way, even though people can’t walk up to your desk during the workday, they know they can reach you with ease.
- Get creative.
Below are a few additional tips and tricks that have worked for me:
- Be inspired. Make a list of your favorite motivational quotes and keep them in plain view as a constant reminder. It may sound corny, but when you actually do look up from your computer, you’ll continually be reminded of what motivates you.
- Keep some stress relievers nearby. At DemandGen, we acknowledge the importance of fiddling. Seriously, it’s a great stress reliever. Whether it’s fidget spinners or desk toys, having some simple gadgets you can fiddle with can relieve stress while helping you stay focused on what you’re working on.
- Create music playlists. If you need to get energized, create a high-energy playlist. If need to buckle down and focus, maybe classical or instrumental is what you need. You can look to Pandora or Spotify for some ready-made playlists to get you started. For me, it’s helpful to have some white noise in background. For others, noise-canceling headphones do the trick. Find what works for you.
- Consider the coffee shop. When I hit a wall, so to speak, I like to change up the scenery. For me, it’s the local coffee shop. The presence of other people can fool your mind into thinking that being productive is the only proper thing to do and can create a sense of community. Being around other people helps me reenergize and refocus, and it also reminds me why I love working from home so much.
These are just a few of the strategies I use to keep me focused and productive when working remotely. I’d love to hear what works for you!
Kate Iafolla is a seasoned Client Engagement Manager credited with combining demand generation expertise, operations implementation best practices, and a strong marketing automation skill set to drive quality products and deliverables of all DemandGen services. With years of experience in campaign execution, she has helped her clients build up a solid set of standards, and enabled them to set forth on a better and more profitable execution strategy.