Six months ago, it would have seemed wild that so many of us would now be working from home with no clear end in sight, joining work calls from our home offices and kitchen tables.
The remote work shift has crystallized into a long-term reality, with many workers accepting (and even looking forward to) this new way of life. Research shows that the longer workers operate remotely, the more likely this habit will stick. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, anticipates 25-30% of the workforce will be working at home multiple days a week by the end of 2020.
“The demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building for decades,” says Lister in a post-COVID-19 forecast. “While the experience of working at home during the crisis may not have been ideal . . . it gave people a taste of what could be. The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not likely to go back in.”
For companies, the upside includes lowering of costs of business travel and office space. And for employees, the benefits include more control over their time, as well as reducing costs on childcare and transportation.
But as anyone who has worked from home knows, it’s not as easy as it looks. Remote requires a different time management and communication, as well as additional resources. Distractions—from kids, roommates, or that sink of dirty dishes—abound. Technology can be clunky, as can your office set up. (After all, using an ironing board for a makeshift standing desk only works for so long.)
So if you’re struggling to remain productive, you’re not alone. Here are some of the most successful ways to reframe your work day:
1. Take strategic pauses
One of the main challenges of working from home is clocking more hours than usual, or feeling your days run on an endless loop, shifting between work and sleep.
To fight this sensation, make sure you’re taking appropriate breaks. It can be tempting to put your head down and continue to grind away for hours, but the brain needs small pockets of respite to do productive work. It’s also important to know how long your break times should be. In order to get the most out of a quick recharge, “listen to your internal cues,” Juliet Funt, CEO of Whitespace at Work, tells Fast Company.
2. Strengthen communication
When working remotely, communication between colleagues must not only happen more frequently but improve in quality. Communication must be more intentional, also. In a traditional office setting, you wouldn’t barge into your manager’s office without advance notice. The same applies rule applies to the remote work environment, where you and your colleagues each have your own preferred workflow, responsibilities, and deadlines. Make sure to consider the “new rules of engagement,” as Fast Company contributor Melissa Gregg describes it, and set new boundaries around your work day.
If you’re working on addressing a batch of emails or engaged in a planning, change your Slack (or other chat tool’s) status to reflect you are occupied. Similarly, extend patience and consideration to your coworkers, and their varied schedules. While remote, it is impossible to physically peek over your coworker’s cubicle wall and grab their attention. Instead, you can turn to alternate modes of relaying information, like asynchronous communication.
If you’re in a leadership position, make sure you’re actively communicating with your employees, too. “It can be tempting to cancel All-Hands meetings and dial back events,” points out Fast Company contributor Aytekin Tank. “[I] use town hall meetings to discuss what’s happening inside the company—even when those details seem obvious. Introduce new hires, explain important initiatives, tell stories, and share the impact of specific projects to help employees stay motivated.”
3. Create a calming space to work
To create a relaxed feeling in your workspace, incorporate some natural elements, such as green plants, relaxing imagery, or other design features that evoke the outdoors. Adding a subtle amount of noise, such as birds chirping or sea water moving, may help make you more comfortable working from home, says Greg Watts, a professor of environmental acoustics.
Other tips to optimize your home for remote work include setting up a strictly “nonwork area” for breaks, as well as creating a few work spaces you transition between over the course of the workday. For instance, you could start your morning working through pressing tasks while seated at your kitchen table. In a few hours, transition to standing upright at a counter or standing desk. After lunch, you may choose to return to working at the table or even outdoors, such as on a porch or sitting in front of an open window.
4. Get your tech together
We all know the feeling when we’re scrambling to get things done because our technology is glitching or we are unfamiliar with the functions of a new tool. Make sure to take time to prepare beforehand, so you’re not left in a panic. When you’re about to make a virtual presentation, the last thing you want to be doing is fumbling with slide progression or adjusting the view of your camera. As Fast Company contributor Judith Humphrey puts it, “If your tech breaks down, your relationships will, too.”
5. . . . But also stay mindful of your usage
Grant yourself the permission to log off and take some time to work on yourself. As Gregg points out, before this shift to remote work, taking our devices and work tools home with us was a demerit against maintaining work-life balance. Now, our laptops and smartphones have evolved into our window to the outside world.