The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of people worldwide to make the shift to remote work. In the process, they have had to contend with a new set of challenges, like adjusting to working outside the office environment and finding work-life balance as the lines between their jobs, home, and family lives have blurred.
Despite these challenges, studies have actually shown that a majority of remote workers have been equally, if not more, productive during the pandemic thanks in part to fewer distractions, less commuting, and more freedom to do their jobs.1 And as long-term remote work and work flexibility become more desirable to employees and viable to employers, it’s important that you continue to stay motivated, keep consistently productive, and avoid mental health issues and burnout while working from home.2
Here are seven tips to help you optimize your productivity and potentially benefit your health and career while working remotely.
Establish a Routine That Allows Work-Life Flexibility
When you are working from home, a consistent routine will ensure productivity and create some separation that may help you avoid the health, job, and family consequences of burnout.
You can start by having a conversation with your manager to determine if they plan to ask employees to work core hours for coordination and communication. This will give you guidance on the hours you need to schedule for work. For example, after discussing the issue with your manager, you may both agree that you need to be available to work and correspond with your team for at least four hours each day.
Next, consider your family situation and ask yourself a few questions:
Do you have children who need to start online or in-person school at a particular time?
Do you have a partner or spouse in your household who can share childcare responsibilities?
Are other factors affecting the time you spend at work, such as eldercare or taking your children to school or daycare?
Once you have answered these questions, set an optimum schedule that allows you to take care of your life and work simultaneously. If you are a morning person, perhaps your workday begins at 5 a.m. and you have a solid couple of hours to work before your family wakes. Alternatively, a night person might be productive working until midnight. You may approach a flexible schedule in many ways.
By establishing routines around a flexible work schedule, you give yourself a greater opportunity to optimize your productivity and stay motivated while working from home.
Optimize Your Workspace for Comfort
Establish a physical space that allows you to concentrate and focus on your job duties. Depending on your life circumstances, this work space can consist of a laptop, desk, and a family room chair. Or, you find that you can optimize productivity by working in a corner of your bedroom or basement, or in an actual office if you have an extra room. Many people also thrive from working at their kitchen or dining room table. The best place for you to set up your “office” is where you are most comfortable working.
For greater comfort and productivity, you should also resist the temptation to set up a traditional office. How many filing cabinets or work storage spaces do you actually need? With technological advances, most people whose jobs allow them to work from home need little more than a laptop or desktop computer, a printer, perhaps noise cancelling headphones, and a comfortable chair.
Set Time and Boundaries for Interaction
Establish boundaries on space and interaction with others in your household such as your kids, partners, spouses, or parents. While you may not necessarily need to keep normal office hours at this point, you will find times when you need to concentrate without interruption. You might consider setting up blocks of time for when your family members or those in your household agree to not interrupt your work. You can also rotate blocks of available time with other adults in your household.
If your partner or spouse leaves home to go into an actual workplace, you may want to consider allowing another adult—preferably a trusted family member or friend who has also been quarantining during coronavirus—to give you a helping hand.
Another idea is to share child care with a group of neighbors who are also working from home so you can maximize your productivity during your blocks of time off child duty.
Use Productivity-Enhancing Methods Working From Home
If you find yourself spending entire mornings reading countless emails and accomplishing little else, it’s time for you to recognize the importance of employing a few standard methods to optimize your productivity. When you’re working from home on a flexible schedule, these methods can help streamline your workflow and give you a sense of accomplishment.
Create action items: At the end of each day, write down 3-5 key items you want to accomplish the next day. Select the most important item and place it where you will see it first the following day.
Focus on the most important task: Accomplish your most important task first. If you are unable to accomplish any other task in a day, you will at least have taken care of the most high-priority item. Note that if someone really needs you, they will DM, text, or call so don’t overstress about other pressing items awaiting in email.
Make use of folders and inboxes: Use folders, labels, and multiple email addresses to organize your inbox. Ideally, all of the publications you want to read “someday” go into a folder. Shopping and other sale emails should never clutter your main email. Reserve it for work email and close family communication only. While it may take time to set up an email filing system, it can certainly be beneficial when you do so.
Pay Attention to Your Physical Needs
On days that you need to devote mostly to work, make sure that you still set aside time to take a deep breath and relax. People have a tendency to blur the lines between work and home when they are working remotely. Dinner with the family is important. So is evening time if you have worked all day. You might want to schedule a family dinner at 7 p.m. every day.
Your physical health is also important. You will never optimize productivity, avoid burnout, and experience the benefits of working from home if you don’t feel well. Here are a few essential ways to stay on track with your well-being.
Eat regular meals and schedule standard exercise time each day
Make the effort to get needed health tests, and make time for telehealth appointments with your health care professionals.
Get out for a walk, take a bike ride, or go cross-country skiing. Regular exercise and fresh air helps your mental health and physical energy—both important for optimizing productivity.
Communicate Regularly With Your Coworkers
A study by HR consulting firm Mercer on how businesses are adapting to the COVID-19 workforce environment found that nearly 37% of companies said employees were experiencing mental health issues on account of social isolation and economic anxiety.3
So, speaking regularly with colleagues and practicing team building activities that pull people closer together become critically important when everyone is working remotely. For example, consider sharing pictures with colleagues of the fun you’ve had with family members when you have embraced the flexibility that working from home affords. Activities like this can help boost morale remotely and encourage other team members to do the same. By making an effort to stay in touch, you can help maintain a sense of normalcy as well as normal productivity.
If you start feeling lonely, consider setting up a weekly remote support group of friends and colleagues who are also working from home. Make plans to meet via video conference on a regular basis and share the creative ways that you’ve adjusted to the new situation.
In terms of regular, work-related communication, holding a Zoom meeting tends to be the fallback option. However, you need to habitually ask yourself, “Does my team really need a meeting?”
Zoom fatigue is real, so ask your manager to consider other forms of interaction such as platforms like Slack and workflow tools including Trello to carefully document each step in a project and keep participants just as informed as they would be through Zoom.
You will want to make certain that your programs and platforms are consistently updated to the latest versions, and that your hardware, smartphone, and other technology are all adaptable, up-to-date, and functional to support remote work.
As remote work and work flexibility have become the norm for many businesses, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future, it’s important that employees optimize their productivity while creating a sense of work-life balance. Some of the key steps to achieve this include:
Formalizing routines based around an optimal, core work schedule
Customizing a comfortable workspace—whether it’s just a laptop, desk, and chair, or a hub at your kitchen table—without the trappings of a traditional office setup
Establishing boundaries on space and interaction with others in your household
Maintaining mental and physical health through relaxing activities, exercise, fresh air, and eating right
Communicating regularly and sharing experiences with colleagues and team members through video meetings and remote support groups