Tips for Working Remotely

Man working remotely from a laptop computer. Tips for working remotely.
Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

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.

Go wireless.

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).

Extra Tips

  • 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.

 *     *     *

Is remote work part of your life? What tips would you share to make working remotely successful?

Seana's signature

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.

26 thoughts on “Tips for Working Remotely”

  1. This post is so timely, Seana. More and more of us are working from home, including me. When the pandemic hit, out of necessity, I quickly pivoted my business to working virtually. I thought it was going to be a temporary switch, but it became permanent when I realized the many benefits for my clients and self.

    So much of what you suggested resonates with me from setting work hours to intentionally getting up to move, walk, and get outside, to creating a good “Zoom” background. I use a folding screen as my background when I’m on calls. My husband built a special pocket wall in my office so I can easily store the screen when not in use. It makes me happy every time I take it out and put it away.

    1. What a terrific husband you have! A foldable screen is a perfect option for a quick and effective Zoom background. Having a space to put it away is like frosting on the cake. I can see something like this becoming a common option in new construction. Maybe you should get a patent on it!

  2. These are wonderful tips, Seana. One of my sons is working remotely, the other is working a hybrid schedule. I love the advice you give about creating good routines (morning and evening) and about the need to have time between scheduled calls or meetings. Gathering your thoughts before a call or finishing up notes from a previous call are important so you don’t lose track.

    It’s also important to note that sometimes when you are in a hybrid working situation you no longer have a dedicated desk. Knowing what you need to have with you when you go to your office is also important now.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…Feeling Sad After Decluttering? You’re Not AloneMy Profile

    1. I think traveling back and forth to an office periodically will be a challenge. It’s hard to keep track of what is where. I see an opportunity for innovation in this area!

  3. What a wonderful list of ideas! I have been helping clients over the past couple of years go from the temporary office setting at home, to the more permanent office setting at home, and now back to the hybrid setting. Each has its pros and cons.
    When I was a lead teacher of special education, I had an office for one day a week and the other days I would have some usable office space – often shared in whatever school I was in for the day. I also had a home office.
    I found it very helpful to have a crate that could travel with me. I had each school color coded. I would carry that I needed for the day plus any project that was “hot” that I might get a call about. The crate would go into my car every morning and back to my home office every evening. It was exhausting but it kept me on track.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…Organizing in 10-Minute Blocks: Household ToolboxMy Profile

    1. I think many people are looking at needing to develop a system for a portable office. One that can travel between work and home, and be opened and used in a co-working space. I’m hearing from young employees that they don’t have any space at the office to store things, and that they only work in the office periodically.

      I’m expecting to see some great product and technology innovation around this!

  4. I’ve been working remotely since 2001, and it has saved a lot of money, so my rates didn’t need to be adjusted as much.

    Some tips that help me is to make sure I do my exercise first thing in the morning.

    I found that moving around the home during the workday works well. I would move from my office desk to my sunroom dinette table to help refocus and reduce distractions since my husband works in the other room near my office.

    On Saturdays, I do not visit my office. Since my office is in the basement near the backdoor, I can easily not visit this area just by using the second-floor backdoor instead.

    Taking the time to plan out your modified routines when working at home is key to a successful home/work space.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How to Practice Self Care when Working from HomeMy Profile

    1. Wow, you were really ahead of the curve by starting 2001!

      That’s a great idea to move around the house, and also to avoid your physical office space on the weekend. That is ideal for sure. So you eyes don’t draw you back into work when you are supposed to be “off duty.”

  5. At the start of the Work From Home situation, many people adapted quickly. More people are converting spaces permanently. These great tips make it easy to create a truly productive Work From Home solution.

    1. I think we’ll see more use of the “working remotely” vs. “working from home.” I’m seeing this in young people, who are taking advantage of the option to work remotely while traveling, touring, visiting family, etc. Why not head to Florida in January and February if you can work from there? (Ok, I say this because these are not my favorite months up here in CT LOL!)

    1. I think it is actually very challenging, especially for Moms who are balancing working from home and caring for children. Those lines between professional work and family work can be blurry, and it takes a lot of intentionality to make them more distinct!

  6. Given that (except when I’m with in-person clients) I’ve been working remotely or at least from home for 20 years, I thought I was prepared for the pandemic era world of working from home. But not at all. I’m so glad I invested in a three-panel screen backdrop for my being interviewed or on Zoom just a few months prior to COVID, as it has been essential to my work life. I agree with all of your advice, and only wish I did better with taking care of my back.

    As for going outside, I often have my clients take the shower and the go out for a thirty-second commute (just walk out the front door and around to the side, or head down the driveway and back up) to signal the brain that the workday has started. Glad to see we’re on the same page. Great tips!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Organize for an Accident: Don’t Crash Your Car Insurance Paperwork [UPDATED]My Profile

  7. After working at home almost exclusively for 17 years, I’ve learned some of these tips through experience:

    I can absolutely relate to: “Many struggle to step away from work when it is perpetually nearby.” Because I started my business part-time when I still had a regular job, I was in the habit of working evenings and weekends, and once my business was my full-time job, I found myself working ALL THE TIME. The best way to prevent that was to set regular working hours, but I do know others who can be more flexible without overdoing it.

    The other two go hand in hand: “Stand up and move around.” and “Leave the house once a day.” Without the need to walk to my car, the photocopier, and all the other places you go during a workday without even thinking about it, I gained 15 pounds within the first year or two of working at home. I shed that extra weight by starting a regular walking routine with a friend. I made sure to maintain the routine regardless of the weather by adopting a rescue dog, who has been a valued family member for over ten years now.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Secrets to a Killer Sales Page that Sells More CoursesMy Profile

    1. I love that you adopted a rescue dog and got a “double benefit” from it! When the pandemic began, I noticed that my husband kept wandering into the kitchen and snacking. I called this to his attention, and he actually ended up relocated his workspace upstairs so the kitchen wouldn’t be so convenient!

  8. I love all your tips. Most I’ve thought of but there are a few I’ll consider.
    I think it’s amazing how the world has changed and how the workforce seems to have the upper hand in making the decision to go back into the office. Leads me to think that a lot of people wanted to work from home before, but never had the opportunity.
    I do agree that getting out of the house is important. I belong to a co-working space. It’s helpful for me to visit when I have work that needs to get done. Fewer distractions there than at home.

    1. I think it has been fascinating to see how many people prefer to work from home. I think it’s kind of cool that workers are getting to openly advocate for the environment in which they are most productive. Many enjoy a mix of home and a place of work, with the terms of that split being flexible. Of course, not all people get the option. My daughter works in a medical facility, and she’s gotta show up in person. She’s been noticing how this has been a bit isolating from so many of her peers who are working remotely.

    1. Congratulations on making the transition to a remote working environment! I hope it is going smoothly and that you are enjoying your new setup.

  9. I’ve worked for home for nearly 10 years and 8 don’t think 8 could ever go back to a cubicle situation.
    Great tips… especially about getting out at least once a day. It will save your sanity!
    Thanks for sharing,

    1. It will save your sanity – I completely agree! I don’t think I could work from a cubby for 8 hours a day either. I love the new options we are increasingly having. One of the upsides of the COVID challenge!

  10. Sorry it took me so long to get over here—for some reason I no longer receive email alerts when people leave comments on my blog and I haven’t been on my own blog for two weeks, so I missed you. Sorry! Anyway, you are so right about standing up & moving around when you have an in-home desk job. My butt gets numb if I sit too long writing, ha-ha!

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