The COVID-19 Coronavirus has many of us suddenly working from home or other remote location. And for those of us whose jobs permit it, we are of course thankful to have that option.
However, you might be quite surprised to find that your productivity can take a major hit. But it doesn’t have to. With a little planning, the right mindset, and a bit of discipline, you can be extremely productive when working remotely. Here are seven experience-based ‘How To’ tips that will help.
The human psyche craves routine. We really are creatures of habit, and getting out of your daily routine can make you less focused—and more stressed. Since you’re not going to ‘the office,’ it’s tempting to relax your routine and appearance. Don’t. A critical step in maximizing your productivity while working remotely is maintaining ‘normal’ as much as possible. Get up at the time you usually do. Wear the clothes you’d normally wear to the office. Eat breakfast at the same time. Take a normal lunch. Finish work when you would if you were physically in the office. The more you look and act as if you we’re actually in the office, the more productive you’ll be. Keep those routines up!
One part of your routine that, by definition, will change is your location. And while you’re not going to your ‘normal’ location, you need the right workspace to become part of your routine. Ideally, create a space that is exclusively for work; co-mingling personal space and work space almost always introduces distractions.
Whether it’s a dedicated office space, a spare bedroom you can transform or just a corner of your dining room, invest the time and energy to create a space that’s 100% devoted to work. A good desk with a comfortable, ergonomic chair and the right lighting are vital. You’ll be spending a lot of time in your workspace, and if you’re not comfortable, you won’t be productive. Or happy. Invest what you can to make these right. It will pay off.
Keeping interruptions during work time to an absolute minimum is crucial. Working from home when there are other people or even pets nearby can present a challenge to your productivity level. A good option, if possible, is to schedule several blocks of time each day that you’re ‘off limits.’ Maybe a two-hour block before lunch and a three-hour block after lunch where everyone knows that questions and minor issues have to wait.
Everyone’s situation is different, but clearly the more you can eliminate interruptions in your workflow, the more you’ll get done. This can be one of the most difficult parts of working remotely. Setting clear expectations up front can help. Another attention-zapping interruption? TV. Few things can steal your focus like TV, so avoid the temptation and make sure there’s not one nearby.
It’s absolutely essential that customers and coworkers are able communicate with you as usual. When communication suffers, trust and loyalty do too. Fortunately solutions exist that allow you to make and receive phone calls from your actual ‘work’ phone number, send and receive text messages as usual, chat regularly with both customers and coworkers—regardless of your location. And even though you’re remote, there’s still nothing like face-to-face communications to create and strengthen relationships. ‘Being there’ may not be practical or possible, but that doesn’t mean you can maintain face time. Use video chat to make your connections much more personal.
Having a single source to manage all your communications can really reduce the time and complexity to keep in touch with everyone. (Full disclosure: Bridge is one such solution that provides all of these.) Done right, your out-of-office communications can be virtually indistinguishable from ‘normal.’
Fast internet is essential. Chances are you’ve already got that, but test yours here to be sure. You want a minimum download and upload speed of 6Mbps. But faster is better, so upgrading your internet speed might be needed.
Is your computer up to the task? Many relatively new computers can be if they have enough memory, 8GB RAM or more, and a relatively fast processor like an Intel Core i5 or equivalent. Portable devices like tablets, budget computers, and outdated computers generally just won’t cut it. They’re fine for checking email or browsing websites, but work requires multitasking and typically more power than these can deliver. Fortunately, computer prices have dropped significantly; an upgraded computer is a fraction of what it was a few years ago.
A laptop can be used for working remotely if it has the processor and memory, but … don’t use it as a laptop. They’re small and not ergonomic. Hours on a laptop keyboard is a good thing—said no one ever. Instead connect a full size keyboard, mouse and external monitor. A laptop stand will allow you to use the laptop screen as a second monitor. And when it comes to second monitors, do it. With the number of things we’re all juggling at any time, two screens is no longer a nicety, it’s a requirement.If you’re using software that allows you to make and receive calls through your computer—and you should, $35-45 will get you a USB headset for professional sound quality. A webcam is a must to connect in a personal, more meaningful way with customers, prospects and coworkers. Seriously, this is the time to embrace video.
For your ‘office’ software, if you’re using Microsoft Office 365, you can download it for your remote location. Or use the online version. There are alternatives if needed, including Google Docs and open source options like Open Office, LibreOffice, etc. that can do the job but may require a slight learning curve.
Consider creating a separate user account on your computer that’s just for work. Personal emails and social media are tempting distractions; this separation can really help you maintain focus. At the end of the day, log out of your work account and into your personal account. Or, just give that thing—and yourself—a much needed break. ;-)
Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
Having daily goals is always important, but even more so when working remotely. For some of us, it can be much easier to get off track when working from home. A smart way to prevent that is to make a task list of items that must be completed, every day. Make the list realistic; there’s no point in having a To Do list if it can’t possibly get done. But once your list is reality-based, make it a top priority to get to everything on it. Start your day with it, refer to it throughout the day, and at the end of the day, review it and give yourself a pat on the back for taking care of business. We all know there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishing your goals, even the small ones.
Take Care of You
Yes, we all want to be super productive, but it can be easy to overdo it. Just because your office, for the moment, is just down the hall doesn’t mean you need to work around the clock. Think back to how important routine is; your work-life balance is as important now as ever, and getting burnt out is a surefire way to be 100% unproductive.Take short, occasional breaks. Go for a quick walk if you can, or at least do a little stretching. Sitting all day is not healthy no matter where you are. And remember your eyes, they need regular breaks too. Force yourself to focus on something across the room for a minute, then a little further away for a minute, then far away for a minute. Your vision will thank you.
Keep your brain at peak performance by eating healthy and staying hydrated. It can be especially challenging when you’re home and have easy access to snacks and soft drinks, but keep them at bay. Both dehydration and excess sugar have been shown to cause a decline in cognitive ability.
Finally, when things go sideways a bit—and they will—take a deep breath, smile and remember … we’re all in this together.
Now You Know 7 Ways to Be More Productive Working from Home
The truth is, we can all struggle with some of these when we’re working remotely. While these seven tips aren’t rocket science, they can help you maintain your focus and boost your productivity when you’re working from home!