Working from Home: Tips for Successful Remote Work

These simple but effective tips will help you master the art of working from home toward more focus and productivity.
Susan Fourtané
Remote work is not only at homecdwheatley/iStock

An increasing number of global companies around the world have announced during the past months their plans to continue the option of working from home for anyone who wishes to do it so after the pandemic. 

According to a Norwegian University of Science and Technology study published by the Journal of Praxis in Higher Education, the arguments for this include --but are not exclusive to-- the following:

  • Greater flexibility in organizing work and family life situations seems to significantly reduce stress for many people, which in turn improves their health

  • Time that was previously used for commuting --especially long commuting-- or travelling between meetings can now be used for other things, which in turn may lead to higher productivity and quality of the work (some people's commute may take two to four hours of their day, in cases even longer, and shorter distances may be doubled due to traffic jams in big cities)

  • One common argument that has repeatedly been discussed is that a home office situation provides fewer distractions and can make people more efficient 

  • Employers, for their part, see and welcome the opportunity for reduced travel costs and less need for office space

All in all, a typical win-win situation that carries the potential to make everyone happier, healthier, more productive, and more efficient. 

If you are working fully remote or in a hybrid model --some days from home, some days from the office), following some simple tips while working remote from home may keep you motivated, healthy, productive, and overall successful in reaching a perfect work-life harmony and balance. 

Maintain boundaries between work and life 

work-life balance
Maintain harmony in work-life balance. Source: AlSimonov/iStock

You can work from home whether you are freelancing, are hired by a company, or are your own boss. When you work from home it is important to maintain boundaries between your work and your life. Working from home you can tailor your working space according to your needs and preferences. You skip the commute and lunch is always fresh and homemade. 

With more flexibility also comes more responsibility. If you don't set clear boundaries soon you could find yourself working twice the hours you worked in an office, with no breaks, no lunch hour, and basically no time for anything else. 

The best way to set your boundaries is by establishing some routines and office rules that you must follow, and anyone living with you must respect as well. The following are some tips that will help you set some of those boundaries. Once you understand how important maintaining these boundaries is, you will be able to create some more personal ones. 

Set a comfortable dedicated workspace

home office
Home office. Source: PeopleImages/iStock 

It is paramount to create a comfortable and dedicated workspace if you are working from home. This space must be inspiring and tailored to your needs to spark productivity all day long. This is a place you really enjoy working from. Unlike a conventional office, which may be too impersonal and off-putting for some, your home workspace can be your sanctuary where you retreat for the day to emerge triumphant after advancing your daily tasks at the speed of lighting. Yes, that's the difference that a happy workspace makes. 

If possible, start by upgrading your chair and desk. Choose carefully prioritizing comfort but respecting your style. Go for ergonomics. Long days can have a negative impact on your spine and circulation if you do not pay attention to it.

Setting up your desk by a window, or in front of one can help relax your eyes during those few seconds you need to look away from your screen. 

Bringing some plants and flowers to your workspace is refreshing if you feel the need to balance the devices and cables that surround you with some life form, a reminder that you are not a robot in the room.  

Invest in a good pair of bluetooth headphones. Your video meetings are going to increase and you need good sound at both ends. This is also a way to keep your meetings private if you have family members around. Although, it is highly recommended that you always add a sign on the door saying you are working to avoid family members from interrupting your work or team meeting. Remember, the workspace has changed but you are still working. 

Your own home workspace now can be the best you have always imagined. 

Pay attention to ergonomics 

standing desk home office
Consider buying or creating a standing desk if this is something this could work for you. Source: AJ_Watt/iStock

Your working chair must be comfortable. If you have started working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you may need to upgrade your desk chair to a more suitable one for working long hours. 

Paying attention to ergonomics is paramount. Your home office must be designed or adapted for efficiency and overall comfort in your working environment. This will eliminate discomfort and risk of injury, especially back or neck injury. 

It is important that you pay attention to ergonomics. When you are working you have to avoid getting your body stressed by an awkward posture, extreme temperature, or repeated movement that could negatively affect your musculoskeletal system. Consider buying or creating a standing desk if this is something that could work for you.

Follow these simple ergonomics tips to improve comfort and productivity:

  • Watch how you sit in front of your computer. Slouching is a bad habit that puts more pressure on the discs and vertebrae of your back. To correct this, use the lumbar support of your chair, avoiding sitting in a way that places your body weight more on one than on the other. Move your chair as close to your work as possible to avoid leaning and reaching out

  • Watch your head position; try to keep the weight of your head directly above its base of support, which is your neck. Do not crane your head and neck forward. When you make good posture a habit, it becomes natural 

  • Your monitor or laptop screen should be placed directly in front of you, with the top no higher than eye level. The keyboard should be directly in front of the monitor if you are using a desktop computer, so you do not have to frequently turn your head and neck to one side. This may be a little more difficult to achieve if you work with two, three, or more monitors. Try your best and be gentle to your neck

  • Avoid eye strain. Making sure that your monitor is not too close. Your monitor should be at least an arm’s length away

  • Take steps to control screen glare. Make sure that the monitor is not placed in front of a window, or a bright background. Using a black background rather than the usual while may help. You can change this from your settings

  • It is advisable to rest your eyes periodically for several seconds by looking at objects at a distance to give your eyes a break. This avoids eye strain. It helps if you can set your desk in front of a window; looking through the window for a couple of minutes helps your eyes tremendously. If your eyes get badly strained and they hurt you will be forced to stop working for at least a couple of days, get some prescription eye drops, and you will have to rest your eyes until they recover

Find tools for more productive telework

digital tools
Digital tools for productivity. Source: abluecup/iStock

There are plenty of productivity applications that you and your team can use when you work remote. A minimum set includes a chat application, a video conference environment, a screen-sharing application, a cloud-based project management solution.

From there, you can discuss with other members of the team what other productivity tools would help each individual or team. Here is a sample of some selected digital productivity and collaboration tools you can use

Make a daily schedule and set work hours

to do list
Set your daily schdule first thing in the morning. Source: Roydee/iStock
“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.” -Charles Dickens 

The Most Important Task (MIT) method focuses on what is essential first. If you can complete the three most important tasks for your day you can continue after with the others. In other words: First, the urgent, then the important, finally everything else. 

By focusing on your most important task you can achieve productivity every day. It is safe to say that the MIT method can easily work well for most people. Of course, there are a plethora of task management applications that can help you. 

Here again, it is important to note that there is no perfect schedule or method that works the same for everyone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to time management and productivity.

Starting with the time in the day when we sleep better to the times when we are best at creative work, what works for one person could be a total disaster for another. 

Connect with your team

connect with your team
Connect with your team respecting preference and individual choices. Source: agrobacter/iStock

If you are a team leader you know that the success of your team members as a team depends on how well you are able to communicate and connect with them as both individuals and as a team. 

Frequent and crystal clear communication is paramount. You want to avoid misunderstandings since they only set things one square backwards. You achieve perfect communication with your team members when you are in sync with them.

Get to know them and become truly interested in their preferences to be able to respect these as much as possible. Happy team members will always perform better. There is no secret there. Anything is more disruptive in a team than unhappy members. 

The lack of motivation, enthusiasm, and overall sense of 'what am I doing here?' can negatively impact the performance of the company. But do not get confused: As a team leader, it is your responsibility to make sure your team is happy, motivated, and rewarded for their efforts. We all love an extra golden star, don't we?  

They look for your guidance and will appreciate that you respect their individual needs and opinion as well. It is your job as a team leader to help each one of your team members to reach their goals.

They work hard and continuous recognition is encouraged in order to keep the team's spirit up. Celebrate and never underestimate the work they do which you perhaps do not always see. A great connection with your team can go a long way.

Set goals and share your progress

goal setting
Set your goals, ask a member of your team if you need a buddy to keep you accountable. Share your weekly progress. Source: Ong-ad Nuseewor/iStock

If you lack self-motivation or need an extra push to accomplish a goal ask someone from your team if they can hold you accountable. By following the progress of what you have done toward reaching your goal, you are forced to stay on track by pushing yourself a little more. This will give you the confidence to stay positive when you have to respond to those questions from your accountability buddy.

On occasions, sharing your goals with someone else makes the goal more real since you need to talk about it, sharing your thoughts, and listening to feedback. External motivation becomes a positive reinforcement and encouragement toward reaching some of your most important goals. 

Do not worry if you do not feel the need of an accountability buddy. Once again, we are not all the same, and we all have different needs and ways of doing things.

Dress professionally -- You are working, after all 

work from home dress code
You would not go to your comapany in your sleepwear. Working from home is no excuse not to dress properly. Source: Burin Puchai/iStock

Are you one of those who think working from home is an invitation to never get properly dressed? Do you feel tempted to stay in your nightwear all day, or wear clothes some people would not even consider appropriate for the gym? Then it is time to pay attention to the work from home etiquette

You certainly would find it embarrassing if your team members catch you wearing inappropriate clothes when you have to accept an urgent video call. There is no time for changing or layering anything. You have to answer that video call now! Or, they will think you are not there. You panic. You think that saying there is a technical problem with your equipment will save you. 

In reality, they will know you are not properly dressed. Or, if you thought wearing something suitable for work did not include your lower body, someone may ask you to stand up for some reason, this is known to be a common practice in online interviews, and some bosses like to play this game, too.

Dressing professionally when working from home can be simple and easy. A simple and comfortable dress and a pair of indoor flats are enough for women, you can add a jacket if there is a more formal meeting or you need to have a video call with a client. For men, slacks and a shirt will make you look professional. After all, that is the minimum you would wear when you go to the office for a business casual Friday. 

When you work from home, it is paramount that you remember that you are at work, not going to spend a lazy Sunday in front of the television eating popcorn. Dressing professionally when you work from home tells your company that you care; but most importantly, makes you feel and act professional. It will make you feel better about yourself as well. If you do not believe this, I defy you to try and experience the difference.

Take breaks and stop working by the end of the day

Stop working by the end of the day, close your home-office, and relax. Source: Mizina/iStock

Taking breaks when working from home might seem obvious to some, yet, you would be surprised to learn how many people working from home must force themselves to take breaks by setting themselves reminders, or by having an accountability buddy who will nudge them when it is time for a break.

Breaks can be taken together with other members of the remote team in the form of a five-minute virtual break and it works wonders. Yes, there is an application for that. Actually, many. Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? 

The Pomodoro Technique is a useful and quite trendy time management method that was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. This technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals. To be effective these intervals must be the same length. This will create an inner cue in the brain. After a while, your inner timer will tell you when it is time for a break. 

Traditionally, the work intervals in the Pomodoro Technique are 25 minutes of intense, no distraction productivity. This can be doubled to 50 minutes of intense, no distraction work. To keep track of your time you need to use a productivity timer that will track your productivity time and your short and long breaks. 

Ideally, taking a power five-minute-break every 25 minutes of intense productivity segments or 50 minutes of intense productivity segments --depending on what works best for you-- can reset your brain, rest your eyes to avoid eye-strain, and overall this practice boosts your productivity. You can take a longer 15-minute break after completing a task.

Your lunch break should be 15 to 30 minutes. There is plenty of scientific research out there to back up the fact that when your brain is tired you become sluggish, less focused, more prone to distractions, and you are more likely to make mistakes. 

Some things you can do during a five-minute break can include: 

  • A quick yoga routine that will power you up with energy. You can do three sets of Sun Salutations in five minutes. If you do this every hour by the end of the day you can get between 40 to 45 minutes of exercise without too much effort

  • Do five-minutes of breathing exercises, or try a short meditation from your favorite guided meditation app

  • Go out into nature if you have the possibility

  • Make yourself a hot drink. Pick from your favorite tea, coffee, or hot chocolate for a quick pick-me-up 

  • Make yourself a healthy snack

  • Take a short walk around the block at a fast pace or do a quick sprint. It takes that little time to energize yourself. Alternatively, go up and downstairs for four minutes and rest the last minute

  • Stretch for five minutes

  • Water your plants 

  • Clean and disinfect your workstation and screens

Avoiding the negative consequences of working without taking short breaks of five minutes or long breaks of fifteen minutes is simple. You will almost immediately notice how you become more productive during your productivity segments, your focus improves, you accomplish more in less time, and you feel less tired by the end of the day. It will take a few days for your mind and body to adjust to the new routine. 

Last but not least, when you have completed your last productivity segment (also called Pomodoro), it means the end of your day. Now it begins your resting time. Close your home office and treat yourself to enjoying some time without worries or time pressure. If you can follow and master this time management technique you will be able to see the results of the new productive you very soon.

Socialize and meet friends

meet friends
Meeting friends for dinner, or even for virtual drinks at the end of the week contributes to a healthy work-life balance when you work remote. Source: fizkes/iStock

Perhaps one of the most notorious challenges that some people face when working from home is the barrier to developing friendships. Having friends at work means that those who are more socially oriented and outgoing will have the chance to meet with teammates outside the office after work hours. Those more introverted, solitary, or who prefer to rush to their quiet bubble will not be affected as much. 

A Fortune 500 technology firm's study found that effectively virtual teams find it more difficult to cultivate new friendships. In order to understand this and overcome the problem, the researchers conducted over 100 interviews with employees; they also observed a virtual meetup. 

The researchers found out that for some team members it was not difficult to find ways around the virtual world, being able to develop positive working relationships as well as valuable friendships. Once again, everything will depend on individual considerations without putting everybody in the same box at the time of making decisions for the teams or company as a whole.

Exercise and keep a healthy lifestyle

yoga at home
Yoga at home. Source: yulkapopkova/iStock

Staying physically active while working from home is paramount. You are not running to catch a train or bus any longer. You do not go up and down in the subway. You do not walk to meetings. Walking to the kitchen to fill up your cup does not count as exercise. You need to move or you will soon have a muffin top resembling that of Homer Simpson. 

Schedule your exercise and stick to your routine. You need to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes daily. One hour a day is ideal. Adding extra movement by getting up from your chair every hour or every ninety minutes will help your circulation and will let you stretch your body for a few minutes.

Being sedentary for long periods of time is not good for your health and wellbeing. Go for a walk, a run, a sprint, jog, dance, do ballet barre workouts, play tennis, do yoga, go to the gym. Whatever you choose to do, do it with enthusiasm. Exercising will not only keep you fit and energized. It will keep you healthy and youthful along your life. And of course, have fun!