23 Must-Have Work Tips from a Working from Home Veteran

It’s March 2020 as I write this and the world is changing as I type. Hospitals are crying out for masks, ventilators, and other essential services. There is talk about having to pick and choose who dies soon, normally bustling cities are ghost towns and we’re not allowed to touch anyone anymore. It truly is an odd time to be alive.

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Due to Coronavirus governmental mandates and common sense, many companies are forcing employees to work from home (WFH). This new mandate took a lot of people off guard and has come as a shock to many. Employees now are free of that annoying “Hey, got a minute?” coworker but are now forced to deal with something much, much worse….toddlers!

Whether you’re forced to somehow merge corporate spreadsheets with parenting or struggle with simple home distractions, don’t worry. You can manage working from home. And, believe it or not, you can excel at it regardless of the circumstances. I’m here to show you how.

You’re Talking to a Professional Introvert, WFH Guru Here

Most people are used to going into an office every day. They have no context of what it’s like working from home yet they write articles telling other people what to do.

I wasn’t going to write a blog post like this because I’m not one to jump onto the bandwagon but I saw a need. People needed real tips that work that have been tested, honed and modified over many years. No one can give you this advice unless they’ve been there done that themselves. And I feel with over 10+ years of 90%+ full-time remote work, I’m uniquely qualified to weigh in on this topic.

In this blog post, I intend to convey all of the tips you should and shouldn’t do to get the most out of your own remote work circumstance.

Please note that all of the tips and advice covered in this blog post will be from the individual contributor side of remote work. I have no experience being a manager coordinating a global, remote workforce. All tips I provide here are for knowledge workers working as individual contributors.

Remote Work is not “Working from Home”

You know what I’m talking about. Before COVID-19, your coworker requests a Friday to “work from home” with a wink. “Working from home” was always a euphemism for getting paid to work but not actually doing a damn thing.

Sure, there were people that abused the privilege and managers that didn’t have the skills to measure the results these people. There are always going to be people that hate their jobs and will do everything they can to get out of them. Similarly, there will always be managers that hate the idea of remote work. These managers are used to managing the “butts in seats” method because they lack the expertise to measure employee output.

Believe it or not, there are lots of us out there that enjoy our work and will actually work harder at home. I know; crazy, right?

This post isn’t going to be my thoughts on changing the WFH mentality. I could go on and on but I will save that for another day.

Enough chatter, let’s get into the tips!

Don’t Expect to be Productive Right out of the Gate

Give yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings. You will eventually get into another routine. It won’t be near the same as it once was but you will get there. Give yourself a break for a little while and be patient while you get into this new groove.

Don’t Try to Replicate the Office Experience

Sure, you could try to replicate the office experience but you’d soon find a lot of disgruntled employees. Why? Once everyone starts working from home, everyone’s environment is different. You no longer have the common playing ground of a physical location.

Joe may have 10 kids his wife chases around all day with 2–3 barging in on him at any given time. Jose might be single and have all the time in the world to get work done. Sheri might have to work later in the day because her husband works early and can’t watch the kids.

There are so many different environments people can be in. Don’t expect everyone to immediately respond as if they were sitting right next to you.

Expect everyone is on a different schedule.

Ditch Unnecessary Meetings

Worthless meetings are time drains anyway but are especially bad when employees have to ensure they are “work ready” at a specific time and day.

Learn to Work Asynchronously

As co-workers and, more importantly, managers, everyone needs to understand not everyone can sit quietly for 8 hours straight. Distractions abound when working remotely. Everyone must get used to everyone else’s schedules.

Don’t randomly ping a coworker for something that can wait until next week. Batch all of your requests for that person and schedule a time that works for them to discuss. Work together to come up with a schedule that works for everyone.

Remove All Reasons to Combine Work Mode and Home Mode

It’s important you replicate “work mode” to provide your brain with a similar environment where you can still get work done. The last thing you want is “work mode” bleeding over into “home mode”. If you combine the two modes, both suffer.

This tip needs a few sub-tips.

Create a Physical Office Space

A room with a door is obviously the best option but some may not have that luxury. Unless you live in a tiny NYC apartment, chances are you have some space in your home you can dedicate to only working.

Build an Office Canteen

Keeping snacks and drinks inside of your office helps you separate work from home mode. If you have a family home with you, have you ever tried to sneak to the fridge for a drink before you’re guilt-tripped into playing or completing a honey-do checklist item? You’ll get trapped!

Keep all of the necessities that encourage you to come out of work mode inside of your office so you don’t have to leave.

Buy a Comfortable Chair

Be comfortable. If the cushy chair you see above ends up hurting your back, sit at a desk or invest in a standing desk too. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, just be comfortable.

Keep a Work Routine

This tip relates to creating an office area. It’s important to keep the two separate and to continue a working routine. If not, you and your boss are bound to get frustrated because you’re not available or missing deadlines because you’re doing home activities. Work-life is so much easier if you have a specific schedule to follow.

Establish a rough schedule that works for you, your boss and your family. Sure, there will be times when you have to deviate from it but you and others in your household know what to expect things will go much smoother.

Take breaks around the same time every day, eat lunch with your family around the same time, have your morning and afternoon snack at regular intervals. It doesn’t matter what you do, just get in the habit of sticking to a work schedule.

Wear..you know…clothes!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReWWn9UZbOw

Dress like you would going into work. I’m not saying to put on a suit and tie if you’re a banker or lawyer but at least change out of your jammies! Pretend like that’s casual Friday at the office and wear that every day.

When you change clothes, it has a mental effect on you whether you realize it or not. If you’re still in your pajamas at 3 PM in the afternoon, your brain thinks it’s still time to lie around and be lazy. Although you can continue to be as productive as usual, it’s harder. I’ve found that it’s more of a struggle to convince myself it’s time to work when I’m in my boxers vs. in a pair of nice jeans and an untucked polo shirt.

Stay Productive

Time Blocking

If you’re like me, you have a tendency to knock out all of those little tasks when they come up. When you stop what you’re doing to shift focus though, that can be a major drain on your productivity. Those little tasks shift your attention this way and that. You lose momentum as you switch and it always takes a lot longer than you expected to focus on your important project again.

Instead of knocking out small tasks as they come up, record them somewhere and schedule a time on your calendar to complete them at a certain time. Batch all of those related tasks and knock them out at one time.

  • Do you have a bunch of email to catch up on? Batch it.
  • How about issues to bring up with a coworker? Batch it.
  • Maybe you have some phone calls to make. Batch it.

Block off time on your calendar to work on related tasks that don’t require you to switch context so much. Time blocking or batching comes in handy especially when you may have different schedules than your peers.

If you’d like to read more about time blocking, you can find an excellent article on the SkedPal blog.

Quick Capture

Have a no-brainer way to capture your thoughts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Moleskine notebook, notepad on Windows or task management software, just get one. I, personally, use Todoist because I’m on my laptop all day. If I hold Cmd-Shift-Space down at the same time, it brings up a window on top of all my other windows to quickly capture ideas.

It doesn’t matter how you capture your thoughts, just don’t keep stuff in your head and get distracted by all of the shiny objects at home!

Better Scheduling

If you’re a night-person, crank out the work at night. if you have kids, take care of all your important tasks in the early morning before they wake up. Find the schedule and groove that’s right for you.

Manage Distractions

Invest in Noise-Canceling Headphones

Set Housemate Expectations

Setting housemate expectations upfront will prevent problems in the future. Trust me. Don’t try to combine home life and work life. It doesn’t work. Come up with a system to notify others that you’re busy. Below is an awesome example I recently saw by Todd Klindt on Twitter.

Nip family distractions in the bud now before you get in a fight about not being responsive. Not that I learned that from experience or anything.

Stay Connected with Your Team

Once you communicate your personal schedule, be sure you stay available to your team when they need you. Use online collaboration software like Slack or Microsoft Teams and use these tools’ presence features. When you’re out, update your status. If you’re head down in an important project and don’t want to be disturbed, let your team know.

Sometimes when we’re remote, our accomplishments also go unnoticed. Be sure to routinely check in with your manager and perhaps send them an email every week with accomplishments and todos. You don’t have to hold weekly status meetings. Just make it a point to routinely check in to provide todos and todones.

Stay Connected with Your Systems

If you don’t know how to use the tools your employer uses, learn now! You don’t want to be the one holding up every meeting because you can’t figure out how to turn off the potato filter (see below).

If you still have a desktop at work, ask your employer if you can use remote desktop software like TeamViewer, VNC or similar software. Remote desktop software is a program you can install on your desktop at work to remotely view and control it just like you were in front of it at home.

Communicate with Third Parties and Mute Yourself!

It’s polite to quickly warn everyone on the call that they may hear some background noises while you’re speaking. The majority of the time, everyone will understand.

Also, please mute yourself if you’re not speaking! I can’t stress this behavior enough. There’s no reason the entire company in a staff meeting needs to hear Fido barking his head off at the cat next door while Charlie in Accounting covers Q3 expenses.

Keep Healthy

Get a Standing Desk

Get Out a Little

You don’t have to run a marathon per week; just try to stay active.

Conclusion

Here in 2020, many of you are now in the same boat I’ve been for a long time now. Welcome! I hope this blog post provides some tips you may not have been aware of or at least sparked some action on your part. I know remote work isn’t for everyone but if you follow these tips and listen to other WFH old-timers, you will surely make the most of it!

A 20-year veteran of IT, online business professional, consultant, productivity geek, mental health advocate, career coach and applier of tech to life.