4 tips for mastering remote work.

  • career advice
  • March 31, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has changed virtually every aspect of how we work and live, including asking millions of workers in the U.S. to work from home — many of whom are doing so for the first time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' most recent estimate, made well before COVID-19 struck, said just under 25 percent of U.S. workers did their jobs from home. But that number has undoubtedly skyrocketed over the recent weeks.

If you're one of the folks doing your job from the kitchen table for the first time — or if you just want to get some best practices for remote work — we put together a list of must-know tips for staying productive, engaged and, well, sane while working from home.

set boundaries early

If you're new to remote work, the first days were likely oddly liberating. No commute. No water cooler chit-chat. No dress code. After a few weeks of remote work — especially when we're practicing social distancing — you might begin to go a little stir crazy. You may start to miss the structure and interactions that came with office life.

After all, no commute. No water cooler chit-chat. No dress code.

What you initially found freeing can easily become maddening — so make sure to establish boundaries for yourself, your schedule and your loved ones.

don't sleep in

Your first instinct when working from home for the first time was likely: "I don't have to commute! That means I can sleep in." But keeping your morning routine consistent with life pre-COVID is key. "If we throw our routines off, our caveman brain detects a problem. And right now, the world is a problem, so our fight-or-flight responses are on fire and the caveman brain is running the show," psychotherapist Teralyn Sell told NBC News. "Don’t give it another problem.”

unplug at your normal time

Here's a surprising fact: Studies indicate that remote workers burn out at a slightly higher rate than those who work in traditional office settings. Why? There could be any number of reasons, but consider that respondents to another study said "unplugging after work" was their biggest challenge when it came to working from home. With no commute to delineate between work and home, it's easy to see why workers work longer hours from home, but it's vital that you establish a boundary between work and downtime — and challenge yourself to stick to it.

make it clear when you're working

Your kids or partner couldn't tap you on the shoulder while you were at the office, and they shouldn't be able to interrupt your flow now. If you don't have a home office with a door you can close, find ways to signal when you're unavailable. A red sticky note, for example, can indicate you're in do-not-disturb mode, while a green one can indicate you're free to chat. Whatever system you use, make sure the others in your household take it seriously.

set up an official worksite

Speaking of home offices, having a proper workstation can help you stay on-task and improve productivity. If your work-from-home situation is temporary, this doesn't mean you should remodel your house to incorporate a proper office space. It does, however, mean you should find a quiet, well-lit space with room for your machine, phone, files and whatever else you need for day-to-day work.

This isn't only about having a place for all your stuff. There's a psychological aspect in play here, too. You likely associate your couch with being in leisure mode and your kitchen table with fun family dinners. So find a space that's neutral and doesn't subconsciously encourage you to unplug.

Trello has a great collection of actual home offices to give you inspiration. From minimal to busy and innovative, these spaces can help you visualize what the ideal space for you looks like.

communicate effectively — and often

Technology doesn't just enable us to work from home. It can also empower us to work even more effectively than we were in the office. But getting there requires regular, seamless communication between leaders and team members.

If you don't already have regularly scheduled daily check-ins with your team, set one up, or ask your manager to do so. They don't have to be long, either. Just a 15-minute chat at the beginning of the day can help you stay aligned and on-mission, but don't stop there. Apps like Slack, Google Hangouts and Google Duo and Skype enable easy, ongoing communication among your whole team. Work with your manager to identify the right tool(s) for your team, but keep in mind that apps that enable video conferencing can be key, as face time with coworkers is key in retaining your sanity while we're all staying home.

get social

Humans are social creatures, and regular face-to-face contact with others is a necessity for our mental well-being. Not only that, loneliness can suppress our immune systems, which can put us at even greater risk of contracting coronavirus.

While socializing isn't directly connected to work, it is crucial for staying physically and mentally healthy, which we need to prioritize now more than ever. We're not suggesting you should throw a party — at least not in real life. But you should consider organizing a remote dinner party or cocktail hour where you and several friends share a meal or a drink via video conference.

Another option is the increasingly popular Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome. It allows groups of friends or family to watch Netflix together and chat via text, emojis, gifs and more. It's a great way to feel human without putting anyone at risk.

key takeaways

Coronavirus has prompted an experiment in remote work on a scale never thought possible. For those new to working from home, establishing clear boundaries for your workspace, optimizing that workspace for prime productivity, frequent communication with your team and making time for human contact can be the difference between staying productive and going stir crazy.

They're small steps, but they'll make a world of difference while the world hunkers down.