Working remote tends to polarize people - some get freaked out at the thought of working from home, while others champion it as their prime method for increasing productivity with decreased stress. I happen to fall into the latter category. In fact, I’m such a proponent of working from home that I’m going to share tried and true tips on how you can learn to make it work in your favor too.
Working from home gets a bad rep. It’s difficult for me to understand where the disconnect is - If you can use a laptop to work, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the office or not. The amount of time you spend actually talking to people face to face is minimal.
Despite the stigma behind working from home, the concept of remote work is spreading. There are plenty of studies proving that being in the office doesn’t necessarily equal being productive. Not surprising. At home, you cut out the useless meetings and chitchatting. Talking to coworkers is great for creating culture, but not so much when you want to boost productivity. Culture isn’t even a good excuse for prohibiting remote days - there are dozens of 100% remote companies that have outstanding company culture.
If your company doesn’t offer a remote policy yet, it’s certainly something you can push, especially with how common it is. Last year, 23% of employees worked remote for some hours during the week.
A Quick Rant
My commute to work takes me only 10-15 minutes, but I still find that it’s the most unwelcomed part of my day. I can only imagine how you feel if your commute is in the 45 minutes to an hour range. Essentially, you’re spending up to 10 hours a week just getting to the office. I don’t care how amazing the podcasts and audiobooks you listen to on the way there and back are - this is still 40 hours a month that you could have been doing something productive that you actually enjoy. You can still listen to that podcast or audiobook, but while relaxing in bed at night or working from your desk.
Yes, you still have to put in your hours. Yes, you still need to make yourself available to clients. No, this is not a free PTO day. It’s your new most productive day of the week.
My Best Tips for Remote Work
I only typically work one or two days a week from home, but it makes a huge difference. It started when I noticed that Fridays were my least productive day at work. Don’t get me wrong - Fridays in the office are great. But I find that my productivity wanes in the ‘TGIF’ environment, and if I’m going to work on Fridays, I’d rather make it worth it.
If your productivity also struggles on Fridays, or your energy is zapped on Wednesdays or Thursdays, you can flip that around with a remote day. How, you ask?
What I’m not going to give you is generic advice like ‘turn off your cell phone,’ or ‘avoid working in your bedroom.’ The same strategy and routine doesn’t work for everyone, but there are a few important tips I’ll share for you to try out.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Most of what I do is no different from getting ready to go to the office. Below are some of the things I do the night before to set myself up for a productive telecommute:
- Set 2 or 3 MITs (Most Important Tasks) for the day - Write down the two or three high priority things you need to do the following day. When tomorrow rolls around, tackle them before doing anything else (also popularly known as eating a live frog).
- Make a (healthy) lunch for the next day - If you eat well, you’ll feel good. And if you feel good, you’ll work well.
- Clear off the home desk - Do it now so you can get down to business right when you get up.
Break Up Your Day
One of the reasons we feel tired around 3pm every day and get burned out at work is because we work straight through each day with maybe a quick break for lunch. This is due to a lot of reasons that we won’t get into, but when you work from home, you have more opportunity to chunk your day. This can help you concentrate better, boost productivity, and make you a happier employee. In fact, research has shown that the ideal work-to-break ratio for maximum mental stamina is work for 50 minutes then break for 17 minutes. While not practical for every professional, try taking a quick breather every 60 to 90 minutes.
Here’s an example of my ideal ‘chunking’ of the remote work day to get you thinking:
7AM - Wake up
730AM - 9AM - Work
9AM - Eat breakfast
915AM - 10:45AM - Work
10:45 - 11AM - Go for a walk outside or read a chapter in my book
11AM - 12:30PM - Work
12:30PM - 1:15PM - Go for a run, shower, eat the lunch I prepared last night
1:15PM - 3:15PM - Work
3:15PM - 3:30PM - Break
3:30PM - 5:15PM - Work
I don’t always follow a strict schedule, and will break earlier if needed or later if I’m in the zone, but it can be helpful to use a timer when you’re just starting to see what works for you. And as you can see, even with the breaks in between, I’m still getting in over 8 hours of work.
Bonus Tip: Working out or even just going outside for some fresh air can give you a boost if your energy levels are slumping.
Test Out What Works for You
As a marketing person, I’m a huge advocate of the test, measure, optimize, repeat method to find what drives the best results. The same strategy works for daily routines.
One major factor to test is environment. I’m not going to tell you not to work from a noisy coffee shop or the cozy confines of your bed, because some people might find these to be productive locations. But you should try working from a variety of locations - even if these are just different spots around your house.
At the office, I like to switch up my spot - sometimes you can find me on the couch, at the standing desk, in an empty conference room, or working outside at the picnic table. Therefore, at home I replicate this by having multiple spots I like to work at. It’s all personal preference and where you feel the most productive.Night and Day
Most people already have an idea of how productive they are in the morning compared to later in the evening. When you work remote, chances are that you’ll have a bit more flexibility with your hours. As long as you make yourself available during the regular 9-5, and communicate with your team when you’re stepping offline, it’s okay to put in a couple hours early in the morning or later in the night instead.
Your energy levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day. Pay attention to how you feel at different points, and take a ten minute break if you need to. For example, I like waking up early to do an hour or two of work. Then, in the afternoon when I start to hit a wall, I can pause for a bit and take a walk or run outside to reenergize. Test out different routines and apply the winners.
Measure Your Productivity
It can be difficult to measure productivity if your company or position has a more abstract way of measuring it. Come up with your own indicators, and share these with your manager so you’re both on the same page. At the very least, you know when you’re falling below or exceeding your own expectations, so use your own judgement to determine what works.
Obviously, working remote isn’t for everyone. Some people prefer the connectedness of working directly with people every day in person at the office. Still, the results are in, and the option to work from home one or two days a week can increase employee retention, boost morale, and raise productivity and job satisfaction.
The next time your boss offers you to take some hours from home, use these tips and give it a try. You might discover your new secret weapon for getting things done.