Working from home is awesome, right up until the cat throws up on your computer. And your neighbor, who you can only assume is building a time machine, starts firing up all sorts of power tools and noisy machinery across the street.
COVID-19 has caused remote work to become a necessity instead of a luxury for many professionals. But which environment allows us to be more productive: the home office or the office office?
In the office office, your colleagues often pose the greatest threat to keeping you from getting some real, heads-down work done. They drop by your desk, engage you in conversation, and invite you to lunch — or so I hear. The social benefits are nice to have, but they can become a challenge if you're easily distracted.
However, at the home office, while family members can be a distraction, I find that it's easy for you to become your own worst enemy. Because without coworkers around, you’re free to drop those pesky inhibitions. At the home office, no one's watching. You don't necessarily feel that same peer pressure or communal obligation to get stuff done. (Also, you don't have to wear pants.)
Below, I've compiled many great work-at-home tips and tricks from some of my awesome coworkers.
How to Work From Home
- Communicate expectation with anyone who will be home with you.
- Take clear breaks.
- Interact with other humans.
- Prepare meals the night before.
- Pick a definitive finish time.
- Eat and sleep.
- Talk to your employer.
- Join a remote-friendly company.
- Start a career as a freelancer.
- Start a home business.
1. Communicate expectations with anyone who will be home with you.
Of course, you might be working from home but still have "company." Make sure any roommates, family members, and dogs (well, maybe not dogs) respect your space during work hours. Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you're home.
If you share space with another work-from-home adult, you may have to lay ground rules about meeting times, shared desks and chairs, and quiet times.
CEO Sam Mallikarjunan tells how he manages to get work done even when people are around.
"If anyone else is going to be at home when you're working, they just have to be clear that when you're in your 'office' (in my case, my signal to the family is having headphones on), you're working — even if it looks like and feels like you're hanging out at home."
He continues, "It's easy to get distracted by the many things that have to be done around the house during the day."
2. Take clear breaks.
It can be so easy to get distracted as a telecommuter that you avoid breaks altogether. Don't let the guilt of working in the building you sleep in prevent you from taking five minutes to relax.
However rather than just opening YouTube and watching some comfort clips, use your breaks to get away from your desk. Go for a walk, enjoy fresh air, or spend time with others who might also be in the house.
Take Ginny Mineo's advice. "Breaks, like making and eating lunch, can recharge you to do better work. Don't assume you need to be working 100% of the time while you're home to be more productive."
3. Interact with other humans.
When your office starts working from home, you'll likely miss the casual social interactions with colleagues you're used to throughout the day. When working from home, you don't have the small talk and other activities that make each day at the office unique.
So what can you do? Communicate.
Fight boredom and loneliness by frequent communication with other employees. Reach out to them through video chat via apps like Zoom and Slack, a hosted phone system, or however else your company communicates.
Remember: You're working from home, not the moon. Interacting with other people during the day is allowed, even if they're not your colleagues. It’s a good idea to see another face during the day when most of your workday is solitary. So, use your breaks to interact with others.
"Go outside and find a human to interact with — ordering your coffee, running an errand, whatever. It keeps you sane."
4. Prepare meals the night before.
When you're in your own home, it can be tempting to spend time preparing a nice breakfast and lunch for yourself, chopping and cooking included. Don't use precious minutes making your food the day of work — cook it the night before.
Preparing food ahead of time ensures you can use your meal times to eat and that you aren't performing non-work tasks that spend energy better used at your desk.
Digital marketing strategist, Lindsay Kolowich, adds, "Cooking at home is time you wouldn't have spent meal prepping if you'd been in the office that day, and I find the minutes can add up in the end. To mitigate that, I try to cook and prep my meals the night before, just like I would for a day at the office."
5. Pick a definitive finishing time.
You might be under the impression that working from home establishes more work-life balance, but be careful with that assumption.
Working from home can also feel like being at a casino — you can get so caught up in your activity, in a relaxing environment, that you lose complete track of time.
"If you work from home full-time (or regularly), it’s really easy to let your work life bleed into your personal life," says Tyler Littwin.
He continues, "Maintaining a boundary is important for both halves of the equation."
In lieu of coworkers, whose packing up and leaving the office reminds you to do the same, set an alarm at the end of the day to indicate your normal workday is coming to an end. You don't have to stop at exactly that time, but knowing the workday is technically over can help you start the process of saving your work and calling it quits for the evening.
6. Eat and sleep.
What is the biggest perk to working from home? One of the biggest benefits for some people (me), is complete access to the kitchen.
As soon as I take a break, I automatically drift towards the kitchen for some snacks.
An unhealthy diet can affect productivity and drain energy. When I switched to a healthier diet, it made me function better and get the most from my routine.
So eat well when working from home.
It's also vital that you keep to a proper sleep schedule. Save binge-watching your favorite shows for the weekend. With the right food to keep energy levels high and sound sleep to refresh your body and mind, you can make a success of working from home.
7. Talk to your employer.
If you like your current job and don't want to change it, the obvious step is to find a way to pivot the position.
One of the tips for doing this is folding the possibility of going remote into your next promotion cycle. Talk to your boss often about your intention to pivot.
And, if you're not sure your employer will agree to working completely remotely, talk about the option of working remotely one or two days a week. When you use the work from home tips we've provided above, and your boss sees how productive you are, they could allow you more days to work from home.
8. Join a remote-friendly company.
If your work can be done remotely, but your current boss or organization doesn't allow you to work from home, you might need to get a new job.
When looking for a work-from-home job, you can use the same methods you used in finding your regular office job. This includes channels like job sites, local job ads, and social media platforms.
Job sites that list work from home ads include:
Some remote-friendly firms include:
Check out these firms to see whether you meet the requirements to start working remotely for them.
9. Start a career as a freelancer.
If your current job isn't remote work-friendly, you can go remote by starting your own business as a freelancer or a consultant.
Depending on the nature of your current job, you may start your own freelance business while still being employed.
The benefit of starting your freelance business while still employed is that it reduces the financial strain experienced by any new business.
10. Start a home business.
Starting a home business is one way to enjoy remote work.
Unlike other fields, certifications and education are not usually prerequisites. Instead, researching, having a smart business plan, and choosing the right business is more essential to the success of your business.
You can find more work-from-home tips in the books listed in this best remote work books article.
Working From Home Tips
- Get started early.
- Pretend like you are going into the office.
- Structure your day like you would in the office.
- Choose a dedicated workspace
- Don't stay at home.
- Make it harder to use social media.
- Commit to doing more.
- Work when you're at your most productive.
- Save calls for the afternoon.
- Focus on one distraction.
- Plan out what you'll be workign on ahead of time.
- Use technology to stay connected.
- Match your music to the task at hand.
- Use laundry as a work timer.
1. Get started early.
When working in an office, your morning commute can help you wake up and feel ready to work by the time you get to your desk. At home, however, the transition from your pillow to your computer can be much more jarring.
Believe it or not, one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Simply getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Otherwise, you'll prolong breakfast and let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.
Lindsay Kolowich says, "When I work from home, I wake up, put on a pot of coffee, and start working immediately — much earlier than normal working hours. I only start making breakfast once I've hit a wall or need a break. I'm a morning person and find I can get a ton done in the early morning hours, so this works really well for me."
2. Pretend like you are going into the office.
The mental association you make between work and an office can make you more productive, and there's no reason that feeling should be lost when working remotely.
I know that you love working in your pajamas (I do, too), but the mere act of changing clothes to something more serious will give you a signal to get work done throughout the day.
When you dress up, you give your brain a reason for dressing up, and it can keep you pumped throughout your work hours.
So when working from home, do all the things you'd do to prepare for an office role: Set your alarm, make (or get) coffee, and wear nice clothes.
Internet browsers like Google Chrome even allow you to set up multiple accounts with different toolbars on the top — for example, a toolbar for home and a separate toolbar for work.
Take to heart the words of HubSpot graphic designer, Anna Faber-Hammond, who says, "Get fully ready for the day and pretend you're actually going to work. Otherwise, you might find yourself back in bed."
3. Structure your day like you would in the office.
When working from home, you're your own personal manager and can choose your working hours.
However, without things like an in-person meeting schedule to break up your day, you can easily lose focus or burn out.
To stay on schedule, segment what you'll do and when for the day. If you have an online calendar, create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. Google Calendar makes this easy.
Structuring your day as you would in the office also saves you from work creep. With this structure in place, working from home will not cause your work to invade your personal life.
"Are mornings for writing while you're in the office? Use the same schedule at home. This structure will help keep you focused and productive." - Ginny Mineo
4. Choose a dedicated workspace.
Just because you're not working at an office doesn't mean you can't, well, have an office. Rather than cooping yourself up in your room or on the couch in the living room — spaces associated with leisure time — dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to working remotely.
No matter the space or location, have an area of the home to work and stay committed to throughout the day. And, after choosing your dedicated workspace, make the most of it by making it quiet.
CEO, Sam Mallikarjunan says, "Have a place you go specifically to work. It could be a certain table, chair, local coffee shop — some place that's consistently your 'workspace.' It helps you get into the right frame of mind."
5. Don't stay at home.
Is your home office just not getting it done for you? Take your work-from-home life a step further and get out of the house. Coffee shops, libraries, public lounges, and similar Wi-Fi-enabled spaces can help you simulate the energy of an office so you can stay productive even when you don't sit in an official workplace.
Content marketer, Corey Wainwright, comments, "I get out of my home to work and go to an establishment with actual tables, chairs, and people. It helps simulate the work environment and removes the distractions I typically have at home, like the urge to finally clean my room, do laundry, or watch TV. "
6. Make it harder to use social media.
Social media is designed to make it easy for us to open and browse quickly. As remote workers, though, this convenience can be the detriment of our productivity.
To counteract your social networks' ease of use during work hours, remove them from your browser shortcuts and log out of every account on your phone or computer.
You might even consider working primarily in a private (or, if you're using Chrome, an "Incognito") browser window. This ensures you stay signed out of all your accounts, and each web search doesn't autocomplete the word you're typing. It's a guarantee that you won't be tempted into taking too many social breaks during the day.
Also, many have found it helpful to shut off social media notifications during the hours they work from home.
Alec Biedrzycki, product marketer at AirTable, says, "I remove all social networks from my toolbar bookmarks... you can get sucked in without knowing it, so eliminating the gateway to those networks keeps me on track."
7. Commit to doing more.
Projects always take longer than you initially think they will. For that reason, you'll frequently get done less than you set out to do.
So, just as you're encouraged to overestimate how much work hours you'll spend doing one thing, you should also overestimate how many things you'll do during the day.
Even if you come up short of your goal, you'll still come out of that day with a solid list of tasks filed under 'complete.'
"On days I'm working from home, I tend to slightly overcommit on what I'll deliver that day. So even if I get the urge to go do something else, I know I've already committed a certain amount of work to my team."- Corey Wainwright
8. Work when you're at your most productive.
Nobody sprints through their work from morning to evening — your motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. However, when you're working from home, it's all the more important to know when those ebbs and flows will take place and plan your schedule around it.
To capitalize on your most productive periods, save your more challenging tasks for when you know you'll be in the right headspace for them. Use slower points of the day to knock out the easier logistical tasks on your plate.
Verily Magazine calls these tasks "small acts of success," and they can help build your momentum for the heavier projects that are waiting for you later on.
Product designer, Brittany Leaning, says about her routine, "For me, the most productive times of the day are usually early in the morning or late at night. I recognize this and try to plan my day accordingly. Also, music that pumps me up doesn't hurt."
The responsibility is on you to know when you are most productive and build your work schedule around the periods of maximum productivity.
9. Save calls for the afternoon.
Sometimes, I'm so tired in the morning, that I don't even want to hear my voice — let alone talk to others with it.
You shouldn't have to give yourself too much time to become productive in the morning, but you can give yourself some extra time before working directly with others.
If you're struggling to develop a reasonable work schedule for yourself as a telecommuter, start with the solitary tasks in the morning.
Save your phone calls, meetings, Google hangouts meetings, video call, and other collaborative work for when you've officially "woken up."
Senior Marketing Director, James Gilbert, advises that you "Take advantage of morning hours to crank through meaty projects without distractions, and save any calls or virtual meetings for the afternoon."
10. Focus on one distraction.
There's an expression out there that says, "if you want something done, ask a busy person."
The bizarre but true rule of productivity is that the busier you are, the more you'll do.
It's like Newton's law of inertia: If you're in motion, you'll stay in motion. If you're at rest, you'll stay at rest. And busy people are in fast-enough motion that they have the momentum to complete anything that comes across their desk.
Unfortunately, it's hard to find things to help you reach that level of busyness when you're at home — your motivation can just swing so easily. HubSpot's principal marketing manager, Pam Vaughan, suggests focusing on something that maintains your rhythm (in her case, it's her daughter).
She says, "When I work from home, my 20-month-old daughter is home with me, too. It seems counterintuitive, but because I have to manage taking care of her and keeping her happy and entertained while still getting my work done, the pressure helps to keep me focused. When she's napping or entertaining herself, I go into super-productive work mode.
The 'distraction' of my daughter (I mean that in the most loving way possible) means I can't possibly succumb to some of the other common distractions of home."
11. Plan out what you'll be working on ahead of time.
Spending time figuring out what you'll do today can take away from actually doing those things. And, you'll have planned your task list so recently that you can be tempted to change your schedule on the fly.
It's important to let your agenda change if you need it to, but it's equally important to commit to a schedule that outlines every assignment before you begin.
Try solidifying your schedule the day before, making it feel more official when you wake up the next day to get started on it.
"Plan out your week in advance to optimize for the environments you'll be in."- Niti Shah
12. Use technology to stay connected.
Working from home might make you feel cut off from the larger operation happening in your company.
Instant messaging and videoconferencing tools like Slack and Zoom can make it easy to check in with other remote employees and remind you how your work contributes to the big picture.
It’s also vital to invest in the right technology. For instance, a bad-performance router can take the steam right off your enthusiasm to work, so it's better to invest in a high-performance router.
CMO and former HubSpot employee, Meghan Keaney Anderson, remarks, "At HubSpot, we use Slack to keep conversations going remotely, Trello to keep us organized around priorities, and Google Hangouts plus Webex to make remote meetings more productive. Getting the right stack of support tools to fit your work style makes a big difference."
13. Match your music to the task at hand.
During the week, music is the soundtrack to your career (cheesy, but admit it, it's true). And at work, the best playlists are diverse playlists — you can listen to music that matches the energy of the project you're working on to boost your productivity.
Video game soundtracks are excellent at doing this. In the video game, the lyric-free music is designed to help you focus; it only makes sense that it would help you focus on your work.
Want some other genres to spice up your routine and make you feel focused? Take them from startup marketer, Ginny Mineo, who offers her work music preferences below.
"When I'm powering through my inbox, I need some intense and catchy rap/R&B (like Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus) blasting through my headphones, but when I'm writing, Tom Petty is the trick. Finding what music motivates and focuses me for different tasks (and then sticking to those playlists for those tasks) has completely changed my WFH productivity."
14. Use laundry as a work timer.
You might have heard that listening to just two or three songs in the shower can help you save water. And it's true; hearing a few of your favorite songs start and end, one after another, can remind you how long you've been in the bathroom and shorten your wash time.
Why bring this up? Because the same general principle can help you stay on task when working from home. But instead of three songs off your music playlist, run your laundry instead.
Doing your laundry is a built-in timer for your home. So, use the time to start and finish something from your to-do list before changing the load.
Committing to one assignment during the wash cycle and another during the dry process can train you to work smarter on tasks that you might technically have all day to tinker with. And when you know there's a timer, it makes it hard for distractions to derail your work.
People ops manager, Emma Brudner, notes, "I also usually do laundry when I work from home, and I set mini-deadlines for myself corresponding to when I have to go downstairs to switch loads. If I'm working on an article, I tell myself I'll get to a certain point before the wash cycle ends. Then I set another goal for the dryer."
Staying Productive While Working From Home
While you might miss the office, working full time from home can be good for you.
For one, you don't have to worry about commuting every day and you can better care for your loved ones by being around more often.
The work from home tips that we have provided can help you make the most of your new routine. Try out a few and you might find that you’re just as productive working from home as you are in the office.
Originally published Jun 8, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated May 23 2022