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Best Practices for Working from Home

Business professional working at home office

The contemporary office space is no longer limited to the office. Working from home – often referred to as “telecommuting” or “working remote” – is becoming more popular due to geographical differences and the proliferation of web-based collaboration tools. 

Employers have also discovered that remote work can yield a healthy work-life balance. In some cases, this contributes to greater job longevity.

So, what’s the catch?

Working from home presents some unique and unexpected challenges when it comes to motivation, focus, and productivity. What follows are some helpful tips for tackling the challenges you might encounter while working from the comfort of your home. 

Working from Home – Structure

Working independently affords you the freedom to work at your own pace. You can take breaks when needed, or work for longer jags to capitalize on sudden bursts of momentum. That said, many remote workers find the lack of a formal daily schedule challenging when it comes to staying on track.

Make It Official

Your morning routine can help kick-start your daily structure. Maybe it’s breakfast, maybe it’s a workout, maybe it’s walking the dog – whatever can be done with regularity can generate structure. If you have children who need assistance getting ready for the day, you already have a built-in routine that helps get things started.

Just make sure to transition from your personal routine to your work routine with some degree of formality. Try to be seated at your workspace and “clocked in” at a set hour that’s compatible with the rest of your team.

Personalize Your Productivity

Pay attention to when you’re most productive. Remember that it’s not just the volume of your work that matters, but its quality. The ability to work without interruptions is great, but if typos and errors become frequent, you might need to take more breaks.

Set Work Hours that Work for Others

Even as you learn your ideal hours for productivity, stay aware of the rest of your team. Make yourself available and alert your coworkers if you’re going to be working independently for a stretch.

For those doing global business, your work hours might be dictated by an entirely different time zone. Whatever the typical hours of your job are, do your best to adhere to a schedule that respects those hours. 

Carve Out Some Space

Not everyone has a designated home office, but that doesn’t mean you can’t designate space for work. This can be temporary – your dining room table, for example, where you can sit upright, as you would at a desk. Though it’s tempting to lie down and relax while at home, doing so can affect your focus and energy, so avoid working from the couch or bedroom, if possible.

Set Boundaries

Remember to touch base with family members or roommates in advance of the workday about the hours in which you don’t want to be disturbed. If you need additional help tuning out the world, try a white noise app or noise-cancelling headphones.

Working from Home – Etiquette

Avoiding distractions while WFH can be challenging – particularly during conference calls and online meetings. Anything from a dog barking to the doorbell ringing can be disruptive not only to you, but to your coworkers. Mute your surroundings – including your personal cell phone, home phone, and computer – until it’s your turn to talk.

Mind Your Presentation

One of the most important best practices for remote workers is to create a professional work environment for video conferencing calls. Make sure there will be no family members walking in and out of frame and be aware of what’s in the background. A few family photos are fine, but everything visible should be suitable for work. 

Keep the area tidy – your workspace is an extension of the professional image you wish to project. Consider your lighting options, too; avoid anything too dark or shadowed.

Perennial jokes about only dressing from the waist up for video conferencing are as apt as they are humorous, but dressing well from head-to-toe puts you in a better frame of mind so dress for success!

Clock In and Out

If you’re on your own timetable, be mindful of putting in a full day’s work. This might necessitate being “on call” during regular business hours or taking time off officially – even if only a half day – to go to a doctor’s appointment or run a personal errand.

Without your typical daily commute home, you might find that unwinding from your workday is not as simple as closing your laptop. If necessary, create a transition – listen to a podcast or take a jog around the block. Engage in something that helps you ease out of work mode.

Working from Home – Cybersecurity

Get up-to-speed on the preferred suite of software and sharing tools your company uses. Oftentimes, an organization has signed on to a platform like Google’s G-Suite or Microsoft’s Office 365. Familiarize yourself with other online collaboration tools that might be useful: 

  • Slack: Chat software
  • Time Doctor: Time management tool
  • Zoom: Video conferencing tool
  • Asana: Collaboration and project management tool

Secure Your Home Office

Check with your IT department to assure your home workspace aligns with your company’s security protocols. This might entail signing on to a secured VPN (virtual private network) that mirrors your company’s on-site network. In some cases, a VPN can operate more slowly than your usual in-home internet speed, so test in advance and make adjustments to accommodate. 

Keep files secure and backed up, and make sure you use the right email address to communicate to your team if you’re using a personal computer that has other mailboxes adjacent to your work mail client.

Working from Home – Staying Present

Being off-site does not have to mean being out-of-mind. Continue to build team rapport and reinforce your unique value through regular contact:

  • Check in regularly – by email, Slack, or whatever messaging platform your team or supervisor prefers. 
  • Let people know in advance what your response times will be. Maybe it’s within the hour for emails or by end-of-day for assignments.
  • Take initiative on new projects and inform your supervisor you’re doing so.
  • Speak up during teleconferencing – make your voice heard!
  • If you’re a manager, gather everyone for a call at least once per week to keep your group cohesive and connected.

Personal conversations should never be the bulk of your workday communication, but they are a key part of a healthy work life. It’s perfectly okay to check in with coworkers on how the weekend went or what they’re doing for lunch.

Make Breaks Meaningful

Being away from the office doesn’t mean you won’t feel stress. In fact, some remote workers feel more stress and anxiety due to feelings of isolation or being “cut off.” This can cause some workers to avoid taking breaks for fear of “slacking.”  

Even if your breaks are short, make them meaningful – take deep breaths, meditate, or ground yourself by some other means that energizes you. Keep your lines of communication open and formalize check-in times to decrease your anxiety. 

Maximize the Opportunity

There is no perfect way to work from home – so long as you focus on productivity and presence, you’ll stay on track. See which skills you can improve or which back-burnered projects can now be tackled. Catch up on postponed email responses and build some new relationships with people in other departments. 

This is an excellent time to explore your strengths and interests, and redefine your distinct contribution to your team.