Do you work remotely? If so, you are not alone. The COVID pandemic rapidly accelerated both the need and the ability to work from a location other than the “office.” What had been a relatively limited option for some back in 2019 became necessity for many in 2020. It is pretty impressive to think about how quickly the population adjusted. According to the third edition of McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey, 58% of Americans reported having the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week1. Furthermore, a recent survey by Slack revealed that the majority of knowledge workers surveyed—72%—would prefer a mix of remote and office work, a hybrid approach. All of this begs the question, if this is the “new normal,” what are the best tips for working remotely?
There are certainly some great benefits for employees working remotely:
- Saves time on commuting (and fewer carbon emissions into the environment)
- Saves money that would be otherwise spent on commuting
- Provides flexibility for scheduling non-work activities
- Allows for travel and extended visits with family
- Provides an alternative for working parents
Employers may also see an upside to this model:
- Happier employees
- Increased productivity (the data for this varies, depending on the study)
- Workers putting in more hours (one study found as much as 43% more than those working on site).
- Lower fixed expenses for real estate
- Reduced absenteeism
- Less turnover
- Potentially saves time and money for clients and customers
At the same time, remote or hybrid working situations aren’t always ideal. Working from your bedroom closet might have worked for a couple of months, but it certainly doesn’t constitute a desirable long-term setup. If remote work is a part of your new rhythm, here are a few tips for optimizing your work-from-home success.
Daily Schedule Tips
Get up and shower.
It can be tempting to roll out of bed, put on a “nice” shirt, and hop into meetings. If possible, it is better to have a morning routine similar to what you would do if you were heading into the office. This unconsciously gets your mind and body ready for work.
Maintain regular hours.
While flexibility is a terrific benefit of working remotely, it can also be a detriment. Many struggle to step away from work when it is perpetually nearby. Be mindful about establishing a set time to begin work, taking breaks throughout the day, eating three good meals, and deciding when to end the workday.
Stand up and move around.
Unlike working in an office or other professional location, working at home tends to be quite sedentary. We can forget the value of moving around, giving our minds a break, and taking a respite from screens. Allow yourself time each day to step away for a few minutes. If you tend to hyperfocus, set an alarm as a reminder to move.
Leave the house once a day.
During the pandemic, leaving your home might not have been an option, leaving us sitting inside for weeks at a time. Now that the world has opened up a bit, challenge yourself to leave the house at least once a day. Take advantage of any idea at all, including going for a walk, heading to the gym, getting a coffee, taking the trash out, getting the mail, walking the dog, or any other number of reasons. Seeing the sun, breathing fresh air, and remembering you don’t live in a cave helps avoid cabin fever and keeps you productive when at your desk.
Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings.
With travel time no longer “baked in,” we can forget that we still need a few moments between calls or tasks to gain perspective and regroup. If for no other reasons, remember that you will need to use the bathroom at some point.
Reset your space at the end of the “business day.”
This is a valuable habit no matter where you work, but an especially important discipline when you are working remotely. Take a few moments at the end of your day to return supplies to their storage location, make sure all devices are charging, empty your trash, and clear your worksurface. Consider this a present you are giving to your future yourself.
Physical Setup Tips
Select a designated space to work.
Many people who work remotely don’t have a complete home office. Nevertheless, it is important to work from a space that is ergonomically favorable. If possible, avoid working from your bed or the couch, both of which can undermine your posture and potentially leave you feeling physically uncomfortable. Additionally, if you don’t have a designated desk, gather your supplies into a caddy or rolling cart that can be brought to wherever you are working each day.
Aim to face a window.
Most people who work remotely these days spend at least some time on Zoom or Teams calls. Since nobody really wants to talk to your silhouette, see if you can face a window, which provides the best lighting to your face. If this is impossible, consider buying a Lume Cube, which provides instant flattering lighting.
Craft a desirable backdrop.
Similarly, it is a good idea to give some thought to what is behind you. Close blinds if you have a window at your back so that you are not backlight. If there is a wall behind you, hang a piece of art. If furniture is behind you, stage it with a few attractive pieces, such as plants or sculptures. Be sure to remove clutter and keep the space looking professional and simple.
Consider getting multiple screens.
Many people find it helpful to have multiple screens. One screen can hold your agenda or notes, while the other is used for virtual meetings. Having multiple screens also makes it easier to work on large databases or to separate one workflow from another.
Keep a pen and notepad at hand.
Even with all the technological tools available, it is still handy to have a least a small notepad and pen at the ready for jotting down quick thoughts. Often, we think of things that have nothing to do with the project at hand, but we still want to capture them.
Invest in a good headset.
Whether this is earpods or a full set of earphones, having the right tools for hearing others and amplifying your own voice are important. Don’t rely on your computer’s microphone to do the job, especially if communicating with others is a big part of your day.
Consider a camera cover.
Most computers have a built-in webcam. Ideally, this is only in use when you want it to be. However, hackers have been known to hijack a computer camera, enabling them to see you without your knowledge. If this is a concern for you, you can buy a cheap cover that easily slides open and closed to meet your needs.
Mind your back.
If you are prone to back pain, consider ways to make yourself comfortable while working from home. Many people prefer a standing desk, or one that adjusts up and down, to allow the option of standing up for part of the day. If standing makes your pain worse, consider adding a small pillow for your lower back, or even placing a stool at your feet to help minimize the tension on your lower back.
Elevate your computer screen.
Depending on your height, the computer webcam may be lower than your head. In this situation, video call participants end up looking up your nose while you end up looking down (and increasing the odds of flashing a double chin). If this happens to you, elevate your computer screen for calls so that you can look either straight on or slightly up.
To maximize desk space and minimize clutter, go wireless wherever you can (e.g. mouse, keyboard, etc.).
Up your internet.
Working for home requires the fastest internet service you can get, so explore your options. If possible, invest in a wifi hotspot. Additionally, remember to use a VPN whenever you’re connected to a network that you don’t control (e.g. if you head out of the house to work in a coffee shop or local library).
- Have a plan for pets, spouses, and kids so you won’t be disturbed when you need to be focused.
- Move landline phones (if you still have them) out of the workspace so they won’t ring while you are on a work call.
- Note how many times you are going to the kitchen for snacks. If you struggle, decide in advance how often you will snack during the day.
- Know in advance the coffee shop/alternative location you can go to if the internet goes down.
- Be mindful about where you eat to avoid unwanted spills. Avoid eating at your desk, if possible. When it comes to beverages, choose options that are easy to drink from. The last thing you want is a lid coming loose or other unfortunate accident while on an important call.
- Find ways to interact socially with coworkers. Working remotely can be isolating, especially for extroverts. Yet even for those who enjoy solitary work, it is a good idea to seek opportunities to bond with fellow workers. Relationships are often the key to getting optimal outcomes, and they help us feel a part of something larger than ourselves.
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Is remote work part of your life? What tips would you share to make working remotely successful?
1 This article is based on a 25-minute, online-only Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of McKinsey between March 15 and April 18, 2022. A sample of 25,062 adults aged 18 and older from the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English and Spanish. To better reflect the population of the United States as a whole, post hoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, region, and metropolitan status. Given the limitations of online surveys,1 it is possible that biases were introduced because of undercoverage or nonresponse. People with lower incomes, less education, people living in rural areas, or people aged 65 and older are underrepresented among internet users and those with high-speed internet access.