Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, more and more companies are encouraging or requiring employees to work remotely from home, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. While occasionally disruptive, remote work serves as a great opportunity for employees and employers alike. To make the transition easy, here are some of the best practices to consider.
Set rules with household members:
It's best to start by talking to your household about what you expect when on the clock at home. If other adults will be around, make it clear to them that you need to work and ask that they treat you as if you were in the office and not actually there.
Make a designated workspace
If you don't already have a designated home office, you need to create a makeshift one to start working remotely. The best place is somewhere away from most of your house traffic where you will have minimal interruptions and can easily set up your work materials to stay undisturbed. A computer room is ideal, but other ideas are basement rooms (depending on if you have a finished basement), laundry rooms, or your kid's playroom(they'll survive having to hand over their play area for a while). If nowhere else, your bedroom works in a pinch.
When to work:
Try to work the same hours you would in your office. It's easy to get carried away and work longer than your normal hours when doing so from home. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you when it's time to call it a day. However, with remote work comes flexibility. If you are a night owl, you may benefit from starting your work hours later in the day. Inversely, if you're a morning person, you might find you are more productive and can get work out of the way first thing in the morning. Additionally, it may help to write down your schedule or things you need to accomplish that day at the beginning of your shift.
What to wear:
It's easy to get out of routine when you don't have to look presentable in front of coworkers and customers. When I first started remote work, I often sat down at my computer without having brushed my teeth or gotten dressed. As nice as this may seem, don't be beguiled by this newfound freedom.
The Wall Street Journal writes of the importance of dressing the same for home-based work as you would in the office, with the belief that "dress for success" also applies to working at home. Honestly, I don't see the true need for this unless you will be video conferencing with others. I do, however, believe that following a basic routine of getting out of your pajamas and practicing basic self-care and grooming leads to a better attitude each day.
Even if you're self-employed, take advantage of your breaks. I repeat: Take advantage of your breaks! When I first started blogging and freelance writing, I was so excited to be back in the workforce after spending two years solely as a stay-at-home mom that I often worked long hours and skipped taking breaks altogether. At first, it was easy to do–but I don't recommend it. It's easy to get carried away with work and skip breaks when they aren't being enforced by bosses or supervisors. However, walking away and taking that break can make all the difference in your work! Stand Up is a great free app to take advantage of; it sends you reminders to walk away from your desk.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is a necessity when working remotely for a company that requires access to their business network. Your employer may give you a VPN to use for work, but if not, I recommend ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or IPVanish.
Video chat with coworkers
Remote work gets lonely, even for the most solitary person. Even if you don't get along with your co-workers, I advise video chatting with them instead of emailing in certain instances. For one, emails leave room for miscommunication. And, as much as you might think to yourself "okay Karen" about that annoying co-worker in the office, you may be surprised at how much you miss socializing with the Karens of the world– if only for a brief moment.
Not everyone responds to remote work the same way. Some people relish in this type of work. People who exhibit high levels of self-discipline tend to fare better, while others loathe the idea of having to work at home. The best advice for anyone transitioning from the office to home is to know what is expected of you and find what works best for you. Everyone works differently, and what works for one remote worker may not bode well for another.
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It's a blessing and a curse to work from home or as a freelancer. On the plus side, you're not expected to fit into the prefab 9-to-5 box. Unfortunately, that means you have to create the whole day from scratch. For some, this is divine freedom. For others, it's a lot of free-floating time to eff up.
The secret to a successful work schedule is to know thyself.
The Seeker's Approach to the Work Schedule
The very notion of "time management" makes some of us want to rebel. It sounds restrictive — which anyone who has been on a crazy diet knows is a recipe for disaster. Rather than start color-coding a planner in blocks, artist and writer Laureen Marchand, says making a work schedule that works for you is about asking questions:
- What do you want?
- What's important?
- What's important enough so you can commit to it?
- Do I have goals? If so, what are they? If not, should I develop some?
- What do I want to change?
"Remember, there are no wrong answers," she suggests. "What's right for you is right. But you're more likely to know what's right for you if you ask the questions."
For Marchand, these questions boiled down to values that could guide her days: "Almost daily time for the work that matters most to me. Enough money so I don't have to think about it. Recognition. Connection. Possibility."
The Structure-Is-Freedom Work Schedule
Some people, like Mark Wahlberg, like to schedule every hour of the day. For those who thrive in conditions of ultimate order, hand the job of taskmaster over to Google Calendar or the scheduling function of your choice. Rather than only putting in meetings, doctor's appointments, and the occasional lunch date, create a calendar that is your Daily Routine, suggests Whitson Gordon on Lifehacker.
Set up recurring events with pop-up reminders on your computer and cell phone that will remind you to shift gears. And here's the trick: When you get that pop-up to "Eat Lunch," "Yoga with Alison," "Draft Grant Proposal," drop everything and actually do it.
"Take these events seriously, and respect the calendar, and you'll find your routine becomes much easier to stick to," Whitson writes. "The key here is to set up the calendar and stick to it. Be serious about following to it. It's okay to 'boss yourself around' with this calendar. You're making these appointments with yourself b/c this is the way you want your life to be, so respect that. Don't put yourself at the bottom of all your other priorities/responsibilities. This calendar is here to remind you of that."
Create a window of time for revolving but endless errands and admin, so that you have time each day to go to the post office/drop bike off for a tune-up/call the insurance company.
"It may seem like overkill at first," writes Whitson. "Like you're scheduling every second of every day like a crazy person, but once you get it all set up, it won't seem so bad. Again, the idea isn't to interrupt your important work, just to send you little blips that remind you to shut down the distractions and get your daily routine back on track."
Know your own rhythms
Do you work best in short increments? Or will a long chunk of quiet and solitude lead to better productivity? Will getting email out of the way free up brain space for more innovative and big picture work? Or is that a form of procrastination for the real intellectual heavylifting your job requires. Again, know thyself. And then create the boundaries in your schedule that set you up for success.
We All Have the Same 24 Hours. What Can You Do With Yours?
There are real obstacles to getting our work done — childcare, meal planning, the whole great wide Internet. Feeling like we don't have enough time is such a constant many of us have adopted it as our mantra. There's never enough time!
"Of course, you don't have enough time! Who does? But then again, do you really not have enough time?" asks Laureen Marchand. "Or is it that you have lots of time and you aren't using it for what's important to you? Is your time taken with things that used to be matter but don't so much now? Are you busy doing things you don't really want to do? How can you do less of what you don't want and more of what you do?"
Defining what is enough for you — and "for you" are the operative words — means learning to silence what Jennifer Louden calls the "Hounds of More, More, More," who have endless suggestions for how to live well.
"Improve yourself! Make more money! Be more awesome! Rise to the top! More, more, mooooooooorrrrreeeee!"
The hounds also love to mess with your routine, yammering:
"Meditate first thing in the morning! No, I meant start with yoga! No, you should go to the gym! But it's summer so walk in nature! No, I meant writing, working on your side gig/sketching!"
It's exhausting. Why? Because the Hounds of More are concerned with illusory perfection, Louden writes, and are never satisfied.
But building a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment into your day is essential for creating momentum in a routine. Louden's Conditions for Enoughness help create finite and measurable action plans so that you can declare you did enough at the end of each day — even if you don't feel like you did.
Know your No's and Yes'es
We'll quote the master, here. As Steven R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People put it:
You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say "no" to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger "yes" burning inside.
But how do you say no when we've been taught that abundance in all things is about saying yes?
"One thing that helps in this process of choosing a bigger yes is knowing that you do not have to choose one 'big yes' thing forever; you simply have to choose what you want to focus on for now," writes Melissa Dinwiddie, who says that all time management problems are really priority management problems. "In other words, 'no' does not have to mean 'never;' it can mean 'not right now.'"
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In 2005, I opened up a Gmail account and received my first message welcoming me to my new inbox. Today, my account contains 39,000 messages—including the 8,700 I haven't yet opened. To say that it's a source of stress would be an understatement. Between Gmail, work accounts, Slack, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Trello, text messages and yes, the occasional phone-call, it feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole. The minute I respond to one message, another pops up, leaving me with the gnawing sensation that I will never, ever catch up—especially if I want to accomplish anything aside from correspondence. With email, "you have the false sensation of advancing toward a goal, but the moment you look away, the target shifts further into the distance as more messages roll in," Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real, tells The Muse.
I may have an exceptionally daunting inbox, but my anxiety about it isn't unique. On average, Americans spend 6.5 hours a day just checking their email—that doesn't include reading or responding to messages. That kind of time suck has taken its toll. With record rates of stress and anxiety among the millennial workforce, the expectation of flexible boundaries and constant communication may be partly to blame. According to one recent Virginia Tech study, managing the barrage of work emails at all hours of the day along with personal responsibilities, "triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives."
It's no wonder we break into cold sweats when we open our email accounts. "A lot of people easily get hundreds of emails a day," occupational therapist Angela Lockwood tells the Sydney Morning Herald. "They get anxious, thinking, 'I don't know how I'm going to cope.'" The result is a very real and uncomfortable anxiety that can be paralyzing. So how do we avoid this feeling without avoiding our email altogether? Here's some expert advice I'll be taking to heart.
Turn Off Your Alerts
The first thing you need to do is turn down the volume on the noise. If you have notifications on your phone that pop up every time you get a new email or social media alert, shut it off. "Email anxiety is very much around that constant intrusion into our day from notifications," suggests Lockwood, author of Switch Off: How to Find Calm In A Noisy World. "So the anxiety doesn't just happen when you open your computer in the morning, it's constant throughout the day." In today's world we're expected to be multitaskers, but it's impossible to complete just one task if we're constantly distracted by reminders of others. It's not like you're going to forget to check your accounts throughout the day, but in order to avoid that panic of inundation, you need the ability to focus on one thing, rather than a million little beeps and buzzes that may not be a priority at the moment.
Batch Your Tasks
"To achieve maximum productivity, we should schedule, prioritize and match the most important tasks that demand the majority of our attention with our periods of high energy levels," suggests The Ladders' Mayo Oshin. "On the flip side, our least important or less demanding tasks should be matched with the lower periods of energy." That means setting aside chunks of time during the day to deal with different types of emails. Oshin suggests checking in three times a day, setting aside 30-60 minutes each, depending on the volume of emails. You should get the most pressing emails out of the way immediately when you have fresh eyes and the most energy, and set aside those less urgent ones for later in the day when you need a break.
Set Your Boundaries
Yes, some emails require immediate responses, but most can wait. (The Muse has a handy guide for lag time etiquette if you're ever unsure.) The problem is that the quicker you respond to emails, the higher the expectations become.
"Be sure to also think about the psychological messages you're sending along with your emails," suggest the folks at TrackTime24, an app designed to help you manage your tech time more efficiently. "Responding immediately trains people in a negative way and sets expectations that can be tough to maintain. Once you're known as someone who drops everything to reply to an email, delayed responses will begin to rub people the wrong way. But if you never set that expectation, taking your time to reply won't make waves."
Cognitive psychologist and improvement coach Amanda Crowell tested this theory herself, by waiting a day before replying to every email. Turns out the world didn't end, and she was able to discover which emailers required the most urgent responses and which ones were less likely to take offense. She was also able to send a clear message that she wasn't always available to everyone immediately. "We are holding ourselves in this prison of constant connection!" Crowell tells Quartz. "It's all about knowing what you really want, and then taking the small steps to get a little bit closer, and a little bit closer over time … that accumulation results in a different life."
Embrace Your "Inbox Infinity"
A few years ago, before the volume of emails in our collective inboxes grew out of hand, the idea of Inbox Zero—or a cleaned out inbox—seemed somewhat attainable. But the trend has gone in the other direction, and for good reason.
"The compulsion to empty our email inboxes is an addictive habit that makes us feel like we're making progress and getting things done, but in reality, we're wasting precious time that could be spent on our most important tasks," writes Oshin.
To remedy this addiction, The Atlantic's Taylor Lorenz came up with a new, more realistic approach to the email pile-up: acceptance, or what Lorenz calls Inbox Infinity. "One critical step in the inbox-infinity method is to publicly admit that you have too much email to handle and be up front about not responding," Lorenz writes. "You can start by messaging close contacts and family members, providing them with alternative ways to reach you."
You can also set an auto-reply that alerts emailers about when to realistically expect a response, and how to reach you if the matter is urgent.
"Since putting up my own out-of-office responder on my personal inbox and adopting inbox infinity, I've felt my stress about opening my mailbox decrease," writes Lorenz. "I've also found that setting the expectation that I may never see or reply to an email makes people even more grateful when they do get a response."
The most important thing to remember is that you are the master of your own inbox. We are all weighed down by the pressure to keep up, but if your unread messages are causing you major anxiety, it's time to relax, take a breath, and consider picking up the phone. Sometimes responding to someone the old-fashioned way is the healthiest move for everyone.
If you thought home offices are for people with space to spare, you thought wrong, my friend. Whether you're part of the tiny house nation or squeezed into a studio apartment, you deserve a spot in your home that inspires your creativity and motivates your inner-workhorse. So enough lounging in bed with your laptop. It's time to carve out a small but sensational space in your home that's dedicated to making your career dreams a reality.
The #CareerGoals Closet
If your closet is stuffed with boxes and cluttered with clothes, you're looking at a missed opportunity. Get yourself a bureau or a hanging rack for your clothing and then turn that space into a dream office. You can even use the racks and shelves to store your office supplies and files. All you need to do is take some measurements and head over to Lowes or Home Depot for customized shelving units, including one deep enough to serve as a desk.
Depending on the size of your closet, you may want to remove the doors and pretty up the back wall with a coat of paint or some peel-and-stick wallpaper (Wayfair has a variety of options.)
You can also paint the door-frame so that your office looks more picturesque. When it comes to lighting, swap out any overhead lights for a softer, more decorative pendant light.
If DIY shelving is daunting, IKEA's ALGOT system makes it easy to install your tiny desk wall unit.
ALGOT Wall upright/shelves - IKEA www.ikea.com
If your closet isn't very deep or wide, you can keep it simple by purchasing a narrow, laptop or "mini" desk. This West Elm version is only 20" deep and 36" wide.
IKEA's laptop desk is even narrower at 14 1/8 inches deep.
VITTSJÖ Laptop table - white/glass - IKEA www.ikea.com
The Nook Look
Is there an awkward indentation or an unused corner in one of your rooms? How about a space under a staircase or lofted area you've totally neglected? These are all ideal spots for a tiny office.
Desk nooks can be placed anywhere—even in the kitchen and can serve dual purposes as eating spots as well. One thing to consider is your light source. If you work better in front of a window, find the brightest spot in your place and set up shop.
The key is to keep your newly designated desk as minimal as possible. In addition to a desk surface, all you need is a small lamp and a few key sources of inspiration: A framed photo, a small plant, a decorative cup of pens. Make sure there's a uniformity to your look and keep the paperwork hidden away: a clean desk area = a clear mind.
If you're looking for some ready-made office nooks, The Container Store has a built-in version they'll install for you.
The Hideaway Desk
Your home office doesn't have to be on display 24/7. In fact, there's something comforting about putting your work away when you're finished with it. These days, there are plenty of ways to do just that—by blending your desk into your cabinetry or walls.
You can even disguise your desk as a cabinet in your own bookcase.
Something to keep in mind if you're hiding your desk: finding a desk chair that can also double as a side chair. You might want to skip the wheeled office versions and instead go for a cozy side chair or an extra dining chair draped in faux sheepskin that can double as seating for guests when your office is closed for business.
Depending on how much space you have for your desk area, you can score a bookcase with a flip-top desk like this one from Walmart.
Meanwhile, Wayfair's wall-mount desk converts to a wall cabinet in seconds flat.
Some desks double as armoires, which make them particularly bedroom-friendly.
Natalie Standing Accent Chest www.wayfair.com
Others, like this one from AllModern, convert from a desk console to a dining table when guests are ready to get their grub on.
So now you know, home offices aren't just for people with boatloads of square footage. Sometimes, the smaller the area the more creative you can get.
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