It’s no secret that over the past year and a half, businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations both across the United States and globally turned to working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As variants circulate and hard-hit communities work to prevent spreading the virus, many employers are making the switch to allow employees to choose where they want to work and when they’ll be in office, if at all.
Organizations of all sizes have realized that not only are people productive while working remotely, but when there’s no residency requirement, their field of candidates deepens. Suddenly, highly qualified candidates who can’t or don’t want to move to big cities are a meaningful part of the applicant pool. Additionally, executives are realizing that allowing flexibility in how and when people work can be a competitive advantage and help employees find their ideal work-life balance. Some companies are even going entirely remote, “remote first,” or “digital-first,” while others are simply lifting their in-office requirements and offering hybrid models.
Add to the mix a cohort of entrepreneurs who started a business and don’t have the need for an office and those who already worked remotely, and a majority of Americans are working in some type of alternate work arrangement一whether it’s entirely remote or a mix of in-office and remote. According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Pulse Report, 41.8 percent of Americans remain fully remote, while 56.8 percent of Americans are working remotely at least part of the time. Upwork predicted that 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, an increase of 16.8 million people from pre-pandemic rates.
While working remotely may be on the rise, that isn’t to say it’s without challenges. For many, a less structured environment can make it difficult to stay productive, especially when your focus is split between the demands of your job, family, and other obligations.
Below are some helpful tips as to how you can be productive while working from home.
- Have a designated workspace. Working from your bed or couch may be tempting, but studies show that people are more productive in a designated workspace, even if that means working from your kitchen table. If possible, try to work from a space with a door to shut out outside distractions and remain focused.
- Wake up early and dress for success. Getting up early, dressing, and keeping a normal morning routine can be good strategies to help stay productive if you are struggling. While you don’t have to go all out, research has shown that people feel more competent dressed in business clothes. If you have children at home, it may help to set an alarm for an hour before the kids get up for focused work. You may be surprised how much you can get done in a quiet house.
- Keep a consistent schedule. If you recently transitioned to working from home or started a job that is remote, keeping a routine can help you stay on track. Try to maintain regular work activities when you’re working from home, like exercising before work or eating lunch at a specific time.
- Log off at a reasonable hour. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2021 report, employees cited the inability to unplug as the biggest challenge to remote work. It may help to set physical boundaries such as keeping and using your laptop and equipment only in your office and having a separate phone for work. Don’t be on call 24/7.
- Have a family schedule. This is especially important if you have children who are home during the workweek, no matter their age. Creating a clear schedule for you and your family can help you coordinate things like child care needs, work around important meetings and calls, and juggle home routines. For some families, finding a balance may mean alternating childcare with a partner who also is working from home. No matter what, communicating important calls and knowing when one another absolutely can not be disturbed will go a long way toward a productive and harmonious working environment. There are a variety of apps that can help you manage and sync schedules online, or even a whiteboard in a common area could help keep everyone on the same page.
- Limit distractions. There’s a time and a place for social media, TV, and listening to music. Evaluate what distracts you and try to avoid it. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t do it if you were in the office, you shouldn’t do it while working from home. It might be helpful to log out of social media accounts and turn off non-work-related notifications on your devices.
- Make a to-do list. Just as when you worked in an office, having a daily to-do list is a great way to keep yourself accountable. It’s a quick visual representation that can help prioritize tasks.
- Keep your commute and take breaks. During the coronavirus pandemic, people found that they missed their work commute, even those who previously said they dreaded it. Many realized that their daily commute allowed them to transition into and out of their workday. Incorporate transitions into your workday to keep your mind less stressed as you move from one activity to the next. A short break every couple of hours is essential to helping increase your mental clarity and overall productivity. Take a walk, read, meditate一whatever helps your brain and body unwind and relax.
- Invest in quality equipment. If you’re going to work from home all or most of the time, it’s important to have access to equipment similar to what you might have in the office. If you’re used to several monitors, don’t settle for a single laptop without the additional monitors. Likewise, your dining table chair may have been fine for a while, but get a comfortable office chair. If you need a camera, microphone, light source, or other supplies for your office, ask your employer. If you’re a business owner, invest in yourself and you’ll see the benefits in the long run.
- Communication is key. Collaboration and communication difficulties, as well as loneliness, are frequently at the top of the list of remote work challenges, according to the State of Remote Work. Everyone works differently. Remember to communicate with your managers and employees, including what is working and what isn’t. Ensure that your colleagues know the best ways to communicate with you, whether it’s email, a voice call, or a video meeting, and that you know their preferred method of communication. Transparency helps build trust and gives you the support you need for success in working remotely.
- Stay engaged. Some people feel isolated when working from home. To keep loneliness at bay, make time for keeping in touch with colleagues. Have lunch with others, schedule a virtual coffee catch-up, or even get closer by giving virtual yoga a try. While engagement and productivity aren’t necessarily directly correlated (often, productivity is increased in remote environments), loneliness can lead to other issues that could hinder productivity.
Working from home can pose unique challenges you might not face if you were at the office, but it can be a great experience once you find what works for you.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Karen Butterfield for her work in writing this article. Karen is the Founder of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm. Prior to launching the company, Karen served as a Director of Communications for an executive recruiting firm and spent nearly a decade as a reporter and editor for an award-winning community newspaper and publishing company. During her tenure there, Karen earned more than a dozen state and national awards for her work. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Webster University in St. Louis.