Struggling to focus at home? Here are our top tips for working remotely
April 17, 2020
There’s so much to love about remote work: the flexibility, creating your own schedule, the lax dress code, to name a few. But there are also a lot of challenges, including distractions, isolation, and the fear you’re secretly living in your own version of Groundhog Day.
Being able to find a balance and work effectively isn’t an exact science, but there are some things you can do to make yourself happier and more productive. Whether you’ve been working from home for years or you’re brand new to it all, here are our top tips for working remotely.
How to avoid distractions
On the list of ‘things that are a problem for remote workers,’ distraction is number one. It’s not that offices don’t come with their fair share. The difference is, you’ve probably learned how to deal with most of them. Plus, you have the helpful gaze of your boss to keep you in line.
When you work from home (or anywhere that isn’t in the office), you face a whole new world of attention-grabbing possibilities. As a remote worker, you must learn to manage new distractions. Especially because without a boss nearby, we’re primarily reliant on self-moderation to resist sleeping, watching TV, or eating non-stop on the job.
First, perfect your office setup. Find a clean, bright, and clutter-free zone to work. If possible, work in a room with a door and without a TV in it (or at least turn it off and position yourself so you can’t see it).
Next, surround yourself with everything you need to work productively, including pens and paper, healthy snacks, and a bottle of water. This will limit your need to leave your desk to visit more distracting parts of your house.
Finally, fight distractions head-on with a few helpful tools. White noise apps, like Noisli, are great for drowning out background sounds. You can also try apps specifically designed to help you focus, like FocusBooster. If you’re struggling to resist the allure of the internet, website blockers, like Freedom, are a more aggressive way to limit the time you spend on non-work websites.
Learning to focus is something that takes practice and willpower. If you do slip up, try not to beat yourself up about it — tomorrow is a new day.
How to ask for help
You may experience times when you can’t seem to get in touch with anyone but your cat. This is when it’s important to know how and when to ask for help. First, turn to your company’s wiki. Most businesses have a place where they store helpful documents, like HR policies, schedules, style guides, and so on. Familiarise yourself with the structure and what’s available there, so you know where to turn.
Second, figure out what the best times are to reach your colleagues and how they prefer to connect. Explore different communication options such as phone, email, team chat app, or video conferencing app. Keep in mind that asynchronous communication is convenient, but often takes more time.
How to manage work/life balance
When you work in an office, the divide is clear and separated by distance: work is one building, life is in others. But when you work from home, that distinction isn’t only blurred physically; it can be a real struggle to separate the two mentally.
This works both ways. Some remote workers struggle to get into a work-mindset; others end up glued to their laptop until it’s time for bed.
It’s important to be productive and respond to requests promptly — but it’s equally important to set boundaries.
The trick is to schedule your days into segments with clear to-do items. That way, you know what you need to achieve throughout the day and can hold yourself accountable along the way. An additional benefit is that when the day comes to a close, you won’t feel guilty about switching off the laptop because you’ll have a clear list of items you completed.
If you still struggle to switch off, set an ‘out of office’ on your email, telling people you’ll get back to them within a specific timeframe. That should help ease your worries.
How to dress for remote work
Some people love to get all gussied up because it makes them feel professional and productive. Others embrace the fact that people can’t see them and make their PJs their official work attire.
Clothing choice is up to you. If you go full workwear, remember to make it practical. Looking good is no reason for wear heels on a carpeted floor or a collared shirt when your AC is broken.
On the other hand, if you do go for the casual look, make sure it’s clean and new each morning. Don’t just continue wearing whatever outfit you rolled out of bed in. It’s a small thing that will help you make the transition from a home mindset to a working one. Self-care will help you feel fresher and more professional.
How to look after yourself
Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle can leave you feeling foggy, tired, and stressed. If you want to stay productive, take care of your body.
Let’s start with the diet aspect. People often swing between two extremes: either forgetting to eat entirely or snacking constantly.
When you’re working from home, it’s important to schedule regular meal times. Start your day with a hearty breakfast, then keep healthy snacks — like fruit, nuts and cereal bars — on your desk to save you having to make distracting trips to the kitchen whenever you feel peckish. When it comes to lunch, resist the urge to stuff yourself. This will leave you feeling overfull and tired later on.
It’s also important to move around. When we work in an office, we tend to walk or take public transport; then, we spend the day running between meetings, break out areas, and coffee shops. All of that disappears when your commute reduces to mere paces, meetings are on Skype, and your lunch is within arms reach.
To keep your energy up and your blood flowing, go outside for a walk at lunchtime. Better yet, hit the gym, grab a coffee somewhere, or go for a jog. The change of scene will perk you up, and the fresh air and movement will leave you feeling more alert.
How to not become a recluse
It’s easy to become a recluse without realizing it. At first, you enjoy the peace and quiet. Then you start feeling a little too comfortable with your own company.
There are two tried-and-tested ways to stop this from happening. First up: coworking spaces. These are a great option because they offer up a change of scene, which is proven to be good for productivity. Working alongside other people will also help you focus because we often work harder when we’re in the company of others – something known as The Hawthorne Effect.
If you don’t like the sound of coworking, then try to schedule lunch or coffee breaks with your friends, ex-colleagues, partner, or family once or twice a week. The change of scene and conversation will help you relax, refresh, and reset your mind.
How to manage your schedule
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to remote work is managing your own schedule. Even the most diligent and organized among us have off-days, which is why it pays to have a plan in place to help you stay on track.
One of the best things about being able to work on your own watch is freedom. Yet many remote workers struggle to shake off the 9-5 office mindset. They feel guilty when they’re not conforming to the regular office schedule and tend to overwork.
Embrace remote work and experiment with your schedule. It’ll take a little trial and error, but try to pinpoint when you feel your most and least productive — then build your day around that.
You can also take advantage of project management tools to help you track not just your progress, but that of the entire team. Having the right tools is a must for team managers or anyone who struggles with time management.
How to connect with your colleagues
When it comes to connecting with people about work, start by noting down everyone’s time-zones (if your business is international) and find out when you can expect your manager or team to be online.
You could also consider scheduling in regular catch-ups either via phone or video conferencing. If you’re a manager, make a little extra effort to help your team socialize with each other. You could create a ‘general’ thread on your team chat app, or encourage people to spend 10 minutes discussing non-work topics at the start of a meeting or weekly catch up.
You can also utilize tech to help you feel more like a team. Project management software helps organizations stay in touch and on track when they’re working remotely. It minimizes the need for emails and keeps everyone up-to-date via automatic notifications, real-time updates, and a dashboard.
It’s the little things like this that can make a big difference to communication and collaboration when you’re working in different cities, countries, or continents.