30 Tips for Professionals Working from Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thanks to a host of different factors— changing norms, better technology, and, yes, a worldwide crisis— jobs where you can work from home have increased in number. It used to be that work was something you did in an office, but a changing culture is beginning to disprove that.

In 2018, a report by Freelancers Union and Upwork found that there were over 56.7 million freelancers in the United States, a number that increased by 3.7 million in the previous five years. And in recent months, concerns like the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures have contributed to a meteoric rise in people working from home.

According to the World Economic Forum, the majority of people who have access to telework are “knowledge workers”. The best work from home jobs are those that have no need for constant interaction and coordination with others. These are usually the jobs that don’t need specialized equipment or tools to get done— jobs that, at most, require only a computer and a decent internet connection.

While the conditions that motivated this global rise in remote working might relax once the worst of the virus has passed, many are wondering whether working from home is here to stay. Executive coach and OD consultant H.V.  MacArthur writes about ways that companies can begin to embrace telework, starting with embracing that a lot of work can be done anywhere and companies need to start shaming people less for wanting to work from home.

Whether the option will become more widely available remains to be seen, but there’s certainly been a shift in public perception. Working from home has definitely made its mark, and it could be that it’s here to stay. If you’re an old hand at teleworking or are just beginning to navigate this brand new world, here are thirty work from home tips that will help you maximize your productivity while minimizing the chance of burnout and stress.

Set Definite Work Hours

With better connectivity the opportunities for working from home are increasing, but that also means that the lines between work and home life can get blurred. One fatal mistake that many freelancers and digital nomads make is always staying on— answering messages right away no matter what time of the night it is, finishing projects over the weekend, and eschewing holidays in favor of your to-do list. Learn to structure your workday, and make sure your company and clients know what your work hours are. This will help you keep from burning out, and will also help other people understand that your time is valuable.

Designate a Working Space

Working from home can save you time and money on your commute, but it can be hard to concentrate when you’re working from your bedroom. As much as possible, try and designate a working space that’s only meant for working. This can be as simple as a section of your desk, or even an entire room if you have the space. Make sure that this area is just for working and nothing else, and let everyone else in the house know too. That way, you have a bit of privacy, and it’ll be easier for you to get into the zone.

Lay Out Ground Rules

Working from home may sound like you’ll have a lot more freedom to do what you want, but it’s important to set ground rules— both for yourself and your housemates. Laying out the rules early on will save you a lot of stress and frustration in the future. Things as simple as knocking before entering or keeping out of your work area will do wonders for maintaining your focus in a household full of people. And even if you live alone, setting a rule for no social media during work hours or no work in the bedroom will help boost your productivity.

Check Your Connection

It goes without saying that one of the most important parts of your work from home arrangement is your Internet connection. Online jobs will, of course, require you to be online, and even part time work from home jobs will need you to check in regularly. Before you start working from home, make sure that you have a stable connection. Get in contact with your service provider to have a better understanding of your Internet plan and familiarize yourself with the troubleshooting procedure. If all else fails, make sure you have at least one or two back-ups, like your cell phone data plan or a nearby café with accessible WiFi.

Get Dressed

Remote work might mean that you can bend the rules on officewear, especially if you aren’t required to do video conferencing, but it can actually be helpful to dress up a little. Spending the whole day in your pajamas sure sounds comfortable, but it might affect your focus and mindset. Getting dressed for work, even if it’s just a fresh t-shirt and pants, could actually help you get into the working mood more quickly. It’s also a great excuse to get out of bed and into your working area, because it forces you to get up and move around.

Invest in Quality

If you’re going to work remotely, then you’re going to need to invest a little into your working environment. A 9-to-5 spent telecommuting from home is still a 9-to-5, and you’ll have the same problems with posture and muscle strain if you don’t invest in quality work items. An ergonomic chair might be a bit pricey, but it’ll save you money on doctor’s bills in the future. If you don’t have the space to invest in a work setup, memory foam pillows for your back or wrist support at your keyboard is good enough.

Make the Most of Technology

Luckily, we live in an age where legitimate work from home jobs are becoming more popular than ever, and that means that there are tons of apps and tools that can help you be more productive at home. Explore apps and technology that can help you streamline and improve your workflow, like timers or programs like TeamConnect. A smart home device can be a helpful assistant during work, and even timers for your microwave or lights can help make your remote work experience more hassle-free. There are tons of resources you can use to make your workday better, so take advantage of them.

Create a Morning Routine

Some people might need and enjoy the time it takes them to get ready and commute to the office. It could be a period of time when they can “get in the zone” and get ready for the day. Work from home jobs eliminate this necessity, but it’s still a good idea to keep a morning routine. Whether you’re getting up earlier to get in some exercise and a shower, or simply setting aside another half hour to eat a good breakfast, these little routines can actually help ramp up your energy and keep you focused for the rest of the day. Don’t fall into the trap of getting up right before you need to clock in, and make the most of your day.

Explore Your Productivity Periods

Research has shown that not periods of peak productivity can vary among individuals. Working remotely can expose these periods, especially if you’re easily tempted by the promise of bed or leisure activities. Try to pinpoint when you work best, and construct your daily schedule around those periods. Identify those “when I work best” hours and maximize them, and you’ll probably find that you’re able to do more in less time. It can also help to arrange your to-do list so that you’re increasing the complexity of tasks up to this time, as if you’re doing warm-up exercises.

Schedule Breaks (And Follow Them)

Like it or not, office life brings structure, and it’s actually easier to let yourself get carried away working at home than it is in the office. If you’re spending too long on the computer or at your desk, this not only leads to possible health problems, but might also contribute to burnout. Make sure you have a schedule of when to work and when to rest. Set aside time for lunch and a couple of smaller breaks within the day, and as much as possible make sure you don’t work during those times. This can help you rest your mind and look at your work with fresh eyes, especially if you’re working on a tough project.

Update Your To-Do Lists

Work from home jobs mean that you’ll be having a lot more free reign in planning out your to-do lists than you might in an office setting. While this can be good in terms of setting out a schedule that’s comfortable for you, it can be hard to keep track of what needs doing if you’re the only person thinking about it. Make sure to keep an updated to-do list of tasks that need to be done within the week, day, or month. This will help you avoid unfortunate incidents such as showing up late to video conferences, as well as keep you on task for other activities throughout the day.

Plan Out Your Day

When you’re home to work, making sure you have enough time for work, family, food, and self-care can be tough. It’s important that you take the time to plan out your day, not only from a productivity perspective, but also for your own physical and mental health. Don’t spend your days working from sunup to sundown; set aside time for exercise, chores, meals, family time, and relaxation. The more focused you are on just work, the easier it is to succumb to burnout and stress. Your “me” time is just as important as your work time, so be sure to strike a healthy balance between the two.

Use Project Management Apps

It can be tough figuring out how to work from home online, especially if you’ve never done it before. The structure of an office and quick catch-ups on projects and meetings can be hard to wrangle at home, so try to take advantage of project management apps to help you touch base with your team. Apps like Basecamp and Asana help keep project information, deadlines, and comments easy to access, and help you minimize confusion and maximize your time. They can also send helpful reminders, which you can use to keep on track or even work ahead during free periods in your workday.

Maintain Healthy Sleeping Habits

Eliminating the need for a commute and other potentially draining activities can free up a lot of energy. It’s a slippery slope to workaholism, especially if you’ve got a big project or pitch coming up. You can also get behind on sleep by doing things that aren’t related to work, such as spending the night playing video games or reading. Try to avoid a schedule that cuts down on your sleeping hours for no reason. Even if you’re working from home, you still need to keep your health and morale up, and sleeping well is a huge part of that. Set aside enough time in your day for waking up and winding down comfortably.

Exercise Regularly

Working onsite or in an office means that you have more time outside, and it’s relatively easy to pack up your things for the day and head to the gym before going home. Working from home can make going out seem less appealing, which in turn might mean that you aren’t getting enough regular exercise in. Make sure to set aside time during the week for physical activity, whether it’s an early morning yoga session or an exercise routine right after you clock out. Your health is important, and maintaining that even while you’re out of office is doubly essential.

Enjoy Your Meals

Make sure you’re setting aside time to enjoy yourself— especially during meals. When you’re distracted by work, it can be easy to set aside proper meals in favor of takeout or something quick and easy. However, having the right fuel is essential to maximizing productivity. A lot of people find cooking soothing, and there’s nothing more comforting than sitting down to a meal you enjoy. If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of cooking a full meal during the work week, then do some meal prep during the weekends so you have something good to eat during breaks.

Avoid Social Media

Since you’re not in the office and there isn’t anybody around, it’s basically up to you to keep your focus on the task at hand. It can be easy to give in and check social media while on the clock, but that’s an easy path to distraction and can interrupt your flow. Try to keep your social media breaks to a minimum and time them together with your lunch break or other small breaks throughout the day. If you can avoid looking at your accounts until you clock out, then so much the better. Remember, if you wouldn’t do it in an office, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it during your work hours at home either.

Pick the Right Background Noise

A lot of people might take for granted the comforting hum of background noise in an office once they’re stuck at home working alone. Many people play music while they work, but that’s not the only option. You can look up white noise or background sound playlists— anything that’ll help you keep your focus. Whatever it is, make sure that you’re playing it just so you can stay on track. And if you happen to be doing teleconferencing, it goes without saying that whatever background noise you have on should be on pause.

Keep Communicating

One thing that people tend to overlook when they’re thinking about how to work from home is the loss of easy access to your workmates. Sure, the peace and quiet might be much better, but keeping yourself and your team updated is going to be a lot harder. There’s no more popping around a cubicle to ask a quick question, so it’s more essential than ever that you’re actively communicating with your team during your remote work. Make sure they know what you’re working on, when you’re working on it, and whether or not you have any questions. Overcommunicating is better than undercommunicating, and will save you a lot of headaches in the future if you do it properly.

Create Boundaries

One of the most important things you can do for yourself, for your family, and for your workmates is to set boundaries. Make sure it’s clear to everyone, including yourself, what kind of behavior is appropriate during certain periods. If it’s time to work, make sure that your housemates and family members know it. No bending the rules to watch a quick show or take out the dog. If it’s time to rest, make sure your team and clients know it. Remind them what your working hours are, and if possible keep a separate work number so that the boundaries during off-hours are clearer. Setting limits on work and relaxation will help you prioritize and stop you from overworking yourself.

Remember Security

Companies will often have elaborate security systems to keep their files and information safe onsite. You might have an encrypted work laptop, or a password on your desktop in your office. When you’re working offsite, keeping things secure can be a little more difficult. If you haven’t been provided with a password-protected work laptop, then it might be a good idea to invest in a VPN. This will keep your login information and other important data safe, especially if you’re the type to work in cafés or other places with public WiFi.

Don’t Forget to Socialize

You might not be seeing your workmates every day, but it’s still important to forge healthy relationships with them. Make sure you’re setting aside time to socialize, whether it’s with your friends, family, or with your work friends. Catch up on what your officemates are doing in their free time, and try to build genuine relationships with them. This can help you communicate more smoothly during work hours, and boosts morale among employees. You can even set up a groupchat where you can kick back and unwind online together— just make sure you aren’t doing it during work time.

Be Proactive

Working from home could mean that you have fewer distractions, and it might be easier for you to finish projects or tasks earlier. When that happens, try not to let productive time pass you by. If you feel like you have the energy for a little more work for the day, then be proactive and volunteer to do more. Sign up for projects, take charge of tasks, and show that you’re enthusiastic about your work. This will help you make a good impression on your clients and bosses, even when you’re offsite, and might even encourage the rest of your team to do the same.

Look For Opportunities

If you’re out of the office, it might be harder to find learning opportunities outside of your daily work tasks. Try to make the most of the time you save on your commute and enrich your skills and knowledge. Look for online seminars that might be useful for your job, or ask your boss if you can sit in on a videoconference. Make sure you’re letting yourself be heard, even if it’s just giving encouragement or praise during a team meeting. Maximize your time and opportunities, and you’ll find that doing so can only benefit you in the long run.

Take Vacation Days

It might be tempting to see working from home as a sort of extended vacation from the office, but work is work. You’re still going to need some dedicated time off, whether you’re doing remote work or not. Make the most of your employee benefits and take time off when you need to, even if it’s just a free day to lounge around and rest your brain. Entrepreneur Magazine found that taking time off actually increased productivity, which is definitely a win-win situation no matter how you spin it.

Keep It Streamlined

The freedom of working from home might mean you can decorate your workspace however you like or use as many productivity apps as you think you need, but a lot of that can be extra mental or physical clutter. Try to keep your work life streamlined— identify what it is that you need to work at your best, and get rid of the rest. Even doing a virtual spring cleaning of your emails and to-do list items might help you clear your mind and get you ready for the tasks up ahead. Try to identify what works for you and what doesn’t, and use that information to make yourself better and more efficient.

Be Understanding

Doing remote work obviously means that you won’t be communicating with your team and with clients face-to-face. Online communication, while convenient, can also mean that there are subtleties and cues that can go unnoticed or send the wrong impression. It can be hard to parse tone through an email or Slack message, so try to be understanding of the people you’re working with and assume best intentions. In case you do feel misunderstood or slighted, clarifying and communicating is always a good idea.

Set Goals

When you’re spending most of your time in your home, it can be pretty easy to let the days just melt into one long, unbroken stretch. To avoid this, try to set personal and professional goals for yourself. Where do you want to be in two to five years? What skills do you want to learn? If there are things you can do to improve yourself during your free time, take advantage of the opportunity. Sign up for online classes or teach yourself a new hobby. Working from home can free up tons of time for you, and making the most of that is an excellent idea.

Don’t Overdo It

Staying focused and working hard is always important, but one thing you need to keep in mind when you’re working from home is to not overdo it. Whether you’re a freelancer or somebody who’s working in a team, taking the time to understand the limits of your abilities is always a good idea. Being productive is always a good feeling, and can lead to some great results, but it also has the very real danger of overwork and burnout. Understand your limits and take breaks and time off work when you need to, and you’ll be able to work better for longer.

Learn To Prioritize

Working from home means you’re a lot more independent than you would be in a regular office setting. While this does have its benefits, it can also have its downsides. Without guidance, you might be wasting time focusing on one task when you could be maximizing your hours and working at several at once. Learn to prioritize what is and isn’t important, both within work and outside of it. When it’s time to work, work smart and hard; when it’s time to rest, make the most of your time off. Figuring out the system that works best for you will only lead to you being healthier and happier in the long run.

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