As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, more and more people are finding themselves working from home. How do you stay motivated, connected, and successful? What does it take to thrive with remote work?
After working from home for more than a decade, I’ve developed some routines that keep me productive and happy. But I wanted to hear from others as well.
So I reached out to some of my remote-working friends, as well as workers who have recently been told to work from home and the executives who made that decision. Basically everyone.
Here are our best tips for working from home, curated specifically for you.
The Key to Making Remote Work: Communication
In the office, it’s easy to feel connected to your team. If you have a question or comment, you can walk to someone’s desk and ask.
Working remotely, you can’t walk to someone’s desk, but you can just as easily connect with someone or start a water cooler chat. More than likely, you’ve already got the technology. Here’s how to tap it to keep those communication lines open.
Tip #1: Think in terms of overcommunicating.
You may be working from home, but you aren’t working alone. Slack, email, and Zoom can keep you just as connected as you were in the office.
If you have a thought or need an answer about something, send a Slack right then. If you haven’t heard back from a key stakeholder on something important, call them. This is the digital version of you walking over to their desk. –Max Altschuler
Tip #2: Use Slack to Stay Connected
Slack is great for simple communications. Make sure you download the desktop app and add it to your phone as well. Then use it. Join new channels and connect to coworkers you normally wouldn’t.
TIP: Create a “remotelife” channel, where your team can share working from home tips, thoughts, and challenges.
Tip #3: Uplevel Your Meetings
Meetings are critical to staying in touch with one another. Show up. Speak up. Let people know what you’re doing and what you need.
Consider more frequent, shorter meetings for teams to virtually touch base. This may be useful first thing in the morning and/or at the end of the day.
In meetings, use video, so you can see one another. That’s going to help you feel connected and less isolated.
During a video call, take a moment to share something positive from your day or give a shoutout/thanks to someone, even if that person isn’t on the call. Remember why we are all here and make the effort to recognize others, even if you can’t give them a physical fist bump. –Danielle Bartoletti
If it’s your meeting, add the agenda and/or objectives to the invitation, so participants know what to expect. That will help them gather their thoughts, so the meeting is productive for everyone.
If you’re not getting what you need, escalate cross-functional issues to your leadership so they can help.
Tip #4: Meet Face-to-Face Where It’s Safe to Do So
If you’re working from home because of the coronavirus, it’s probably not safe to pursue face-to-face meetings. Be wise about getting out of the house for physical meet-ups.
That said, if you’re going stir-crazy, you may need some face time with another human.
Call people personally and stay in touch in ways other than in Slack channels. I’m laughing as I write this but it is true. You have to talk to people — human 2 human. I know right now is a little different but I’d normally say that you should not forget to meet up with people personally each week too. In lieu of that, get on Zoom and chat over a lunch break. End of day? Get on Zoom and share some wine and laughs while catching up. –Barbara Giamanco
Setting Up Your Workspace
What’s the best set-up for your home workspace? It depends on your situation. Ideally, you need a room of your own, where you can shut the door if things get noisy in the rest of the house.
Tip #5: Create a Dedicated Workspace
You need a space of your own that’s comfortable, properly equipped, and only used for work. That way, when you “go to work,” your brain kicks into gear, shutting off distractions and honing in on the tasks at hand.
This is less about having a fancy office and more about getting into a frame of mind where you’re focused and productive.
I WFH two days a week and the biggest thing that has helped me is having my own space. I have a dedicated area in my basement that allows me to laser-focus just as if I were in the office.
Also, set up your space to mirror your desk in the office or what you want your ideal setup to be. It will put you in such a productive mindset! –Joe Latchaw
While you can claim a corner of your bedroom, I don’t recommend it. After you’ve worked there for a while, your brain will associate that space with work, and you may find it harder to sleep at night.
If you don’t have an extra bedroom, do find a space that you can claim as office space and DO NOT clutter it with anything else! Maybe a basement area or an area of your dining room that isn’t used much.
Point is… it must be your designated workspace. AND… especially if this will be more permanent and/or a few days a week, invest in decent furniture or other equipment to maximize space and keep you feeling good. You do not have to spend a fortune.
An ergonomic chair is a must! In addition to a great chair, I have a VariDesk so I can sit/stand at different points in the day easily. Get a decent headset for conducting a lot of calls and ensuring the audio quality is good. Make sure you have enough WIFI capacity. –Barbara Giamanco
Tip #6: Minimize Distractions
If you’re home, people forget you’re working. You need to clearly communicate that you can’t be disturbed.
Put a sign on the front door of your house or apartment that says, “Do not disturb or ring the bell. On business calls.” You will thank me later. This maintains order if packages are being delivered or people randomly show up at your door wanting to sell something. People who do not work from home much often don’t realize that people are out soliciting in neighborhoods during the day. If you have a pet like I do (my dog, Lily) they will go CRAZY with door bells ringing. A sign stops that cold. –Barbara Giamanco
Tip #7: Home Alone With Your Kids? Set Boundaries
If you have children at home, you’re going to get interrupted, and you’re going to struggle to stay focused. Case in point:
This scenario is funny… until it’s you. But it’s a good reminder of what can go wrong when you’re working from home. Here are some tips that might help.
My kids used to come to the French doors to my office and push their face against it. They knew if Daddy had his headset on they weren’t supposed to open the door. Results were lots of lip and face and handprints on the glass. As teenagers they just text me. –Mark Lutz
It’s easy to feel guilty when you’re home (but not home). It’s also a good opportunity to let your family see what you do on a daily basis — and teach them a good work ethic. When my kids were young, I included them in what I was doing as much as possible. If I wasn’t on a video call or deep in a project, I let them play in the room with me. Well, actually, they got to stay in the room when I was in deep focus. I just ended up ignoring them. lol
Consider putting a few quiet toys in the room and letting your kids “work with you.” Be sure to explain how they need to behave to stay in the room with you.
Tip #8: Video-Proof Your Background
If you do a lot of video conferencing, consider turning your desk so your back is to the wall. That way your background will look professional when you’re talking to prospects — even if the room’s a mess.
Actually, you can be strategic about what’s visible behind you.
Have something interesting in your background! Use it to build rapport with your customer. –AJ Forkner
I will tell you that if you happen to play guitar… pop that thing or your amp behind you in your Zoom. Another guitar player cannot avoid mentioning it. Great ice breaker, mine get mentioned all the time and it helps with rapport. –Mark Lutz
Leveling Up Your Technology
You need high-speed internet and a reliable phone system to work from home. You can’t compromise on this.
Some remote workers routinely work in a coffee shop, but that may not be an option. The whole point of working remote right now is to avoid crowds. You’ll need to upgrade your services at home, so your important calls aren’t cut short by unreliable internet.
Tip #9: Create a Back-Up Plan
Be aware, with more people working from home, your internet service may struggle to keep up. It’s a good idea to create a back-up plan.
If your internet goes down, what is the number to your ISP customer service? if your power goes out, what’s the phone number to your utility company? if you have kids, do they have backup emergency contact #’s handy/available? Make sure it’s written down or saved to your desktop — somewhere you can access it without internet. –AJ Forkner
Tip #10: Be Prepared
If something can go wrong, it probably will. And at the worst moments. Here are a few tips for handling some common tech problems.
Make sure you communicate about your setup with your SC or other teammates — specifically around Slacking during calls, because if you don’t have an extra monitor it’s tough to send in play calls or audibles on the fly like we are used to in office. –Corey O’Brien
I know we recommend you always keep that camera rolling but I’ve noticed a significant difference in audio quality at times when engaging in a conference with more than a couple attendees that all have their camera on.
I’m sure that this is made worse by the fact that I’m sharing a cable internet connection with what I assume is a significantly larger number of people that are probably also working at home and on calls all day, eating up more bandwidth. I’m sure also is dealing with a fair share of increased traffic load too.
If audio quality becomes an issue, remember that if you turn the camera off, you can improve the quality of the call. That helps verbal communication. This is especially true if you are a passive participant in a larger call with other coworkers. This probably isn’t the biggest revelation out there but just something to keep in mind for your fellow coworkers are currently experiencing bandwidth constraints. –Matt Vargeson
Tip #11: Rely on Apps that Facilitate Working from Home
- Zoom for video conferencing
- Slack for messaging (Put the app on your computer and your phone.)
- Asana for assignment tracking
- Google Docs for doc sharing
- Loom for sharing short video messages
If you have a single monitor and always turn on Do Not Disturb, make sure you download the Muzzle App. It automatically silences notifications once you share your screen on Zoom or WebEx. –Cole Flinn
Tip #12: Slack Hacks
These shortcuts will help you integrate Slack with your other apps, saving you keystrokes and time.
- /zoom – sets up a Zoom meeting
- /asana – for creating new tasks
- /lucid – for a diagramming or whiteboarding session with colleagues in Lucidchart via Slack
Tip #13: Zoom Hack
Zoom has a whiteboarding feature and annotation tools! Whiteboarding lets you collaborate real-time on a virtual whiteboard and annotation tools allow you to highlight and draw on another person’s screenshare session. It’s a great way to guide someone through a process virtually! Read more here. –Ylan Muller
In reality, working from home is no different from working in the office. You just have a shorter commute. Here’s how to 100% professional from home.
Tip #14: Start Work on Time
To succeed at working from home, consistency is key. It’s important that you set up a routine that’s similar to your office routine. Aim to start work at your usual time. Then settle in just as you would in the office.
Every morning, I carry my phone and tablet to my workspace. I fill up my water cup and get a bite to eat if I’m hungry. Then I “go to work,” which essentially means sitting down to my computer and starting my routine, just as I did when I worked in an office.
Treat work time as work time and stick to it. No laundry or any other chore you think you can sneak in between work projects and calls. Basically, if you can’t do certain things when you are at the corporate office don’t do it during work hours at a home office. Trust me, you will think you can multi-task and save yourself time, but I can guarantee from experience I learned early on that your work will not get done. At the end of the day, shut it down and forget it until the next day. –Barbara Giamanco
Tip #15: Dress for Work
At home, technically you could get away with wearing your PJs all day, but don’t do that. You’ll feel and act more professional if you’re dressed for work. And since you’ll likely be having video meetings with prospects and team members, your dress code still applies.
Get dressed like you’re going to work. It’s very easy to stay in clothing that you’d normally lounge in, but it doesn’t get you in the mindset. –Cole Flinn
Tip #16: Structure Your Days
Just as you do in the office, you need to proactively manage your time.
Block off time certain times of the day for meetings. Create other blocks of time for phone calls and emails. By taking control of your calendar, you’ll find you can be doubly productive working from home.
Don’t forget, you also need to carve out time for lunch and short breaks. I often get up to fix my lunch, then eat at my desk. But it’s important to pay attention to your body. If you’re feeling stiff or stressed, get away from the computer. Take a walk or just sit on the porch and soak up the sun for a few minutes.
Then, when you’re online, be online. You need to stay accessible through Slack and email.
Manage Your Work-from-Home Lifestyle
Working from home, you will find it harder to draw the line between work and home life. That’s one of the reasons I recommend working in a room with a door. At the end of the day, you can turn out the light and close the door, which signals to your brain (and your family) that the workday is over.
Currently, I have an office with no doors. Fortunately, it’s separate from our living room, so I consciously shut off the light and leave my office when the workday is done. In our last home, I took over the game room that opened into the living area. I found it much harder to turn off at the end of the day because work was right there.
Tip #17: Separate “Work” from “Home”
It’s important to clearly divide your work time from your free time. An easy way to do that is by turning off the light and closing the door. But that isn’t always possible.
If that’s you, consider using a room divider. Or slip your laptop into your backpack at the end of the day, so it’s not visible. Whatever it takes to tell your brain it’s time to stop working.
Tip #18: Stay Fresh, Stay Balanced
Working from home, the silos in your life will start to crumble. Depending on your personality, you can become a hermit or go stir crazy. You need balance. You need to stay “human.”
Here are a few working-from-home tips from my team:
- Take a shower, brush your teeth, have a self-care and personal life routine.
- Make your bed.
- Get fresh air. It’s easy to roll out of bed and get online but you’ll start to regret it and feel unhealthy. You have all of that commute time back. Put it to good use!
- Don’t let home get in the way of WFH. Keep the TV off, tell significant others or roommates that you’re not available during “work hours,” etc.
- Consider a lock on your office door if you’ve got kids who are home too.
- Don’t let work get in the way of home, either. It can be tempting to work 24/7 when the work is so readily accessible.
- If possible, shut off the light and close the door when the workday is done.
- If you’re in a role that provides you some downtime in between calls, etc., consider taking a course from LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy, or any other online courses.
Bonus Tip: Be Flexible and Have Fun
The truth is, we don’t know what to expect. Coronavirus has set off a ripple effect of disturbing events and news — all of which are out of our control. The best thing you can do is relax, go with the flow, and try to have fun in the midst of it.
Sure, the world has changed. But the sun will come up tomorrow. And with the tips you’ve read in this article, you’re fully prepared to handle just about anything.