For some of us, the ability to avoid long commutes and crowded conference rooms and to do our jobs wherever we choose sounds a bit like a working vacation. For others, the thought of trying to fulfill job responsibilities in close confines with children or full-grown roommates sounds … less so.
The flexibility remote work brings means we can design our careers around our lives, and not vice versa. However, sometimes the autonomy and competing responsibilities of daily life that come with that can make it challenging to attain the level of performance we grew accustomed to in an office setting.
Whether your biggest hurdle is staying motivated, avoiding distractions, or simply remembering to take care of yourself throughout the day, here’s how to enjoy working remotely while maintaining the productivity of an office job.
Comfortable, not Comfy
Productivity can be a slippery slope when your home office dress code can best be described as “Netflix casual.” When you can roll out of bed and start your workday without having to face any colleagues, you just might find yourself taking that 3 p.m. videoconference in your pajamas (hopefully off-screen).
Being comfortable is an important part of doing a job successfully, and working remotely affords us the flexibility to strike a balance between a level of professional attire and what we might choose to wear (or not wear) at home. Electing to dress more in line with the expectations of your role can help you stay focused throughout the day, drive motivation, and delineate between your work and all of the distractions you encounter at home. In fact, what we wear can have a psychological impact on our behavior throughout the day.
"When we put on an item of clothing, it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment,” Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, told Forbes. “A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s professional work attire or relaxing weekend wear, so when we put it on, we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning."
So, yeah, ditch your leisurewear in the morning; it will still be waiting for you at the end of the day.
What Were We Talking About, Again?
Word to the wise: If you’re like most of us, your multitab, Instagram-liking poker face on video conferences needs some work. The darting eyes, the smirks during a spreadsheet presentation, the vague affirmations to whatever you just said when you were called upon to comment … They all belie your attempts to avoid distractions working from your home.
To be fair, the challenge to stay focused is present in any working environment; the flexibilities and freedoms of remote work only make the distractions that much more accessible, digital or otherwise.
Social media is, of course, a primary culprit, but it’s nothing that a little willpower and nuisance can’t address. Fast Company suggests making it harder to peruse your feeds by not storing your passwords on your phone and logging out of the apps after each use, or deleting them altogether so they are accessible only on a personal computer. Annoying, right? That’s kind of the point, since it can help you kick the habit and be more focused on your tasks. Other tools, like Facebook feed-blocker extensions, the browser plug-in BlockSite, and hacks like using distinct browser toolbars for personal and professional activities can all help you resist one-click access to your social media drug of choice, and thus allow you to stay on track throughout the day.
Set Your Own Deadlines
Most of us aren’t exactly clamoring for more due dates or more calendar clutter, but your existing deadlines for your projects, reports, or any other responsibilities might be improved if they were imposed by the person who knows you best.
Working in a traditional office likely means that you’re usually being observed, at least passively, by coworkers and supervisors, as well as feeding off of a desire to compete or be perceived by your colleagues as an achiever. Working outside that setting can hamper your focus and drive to complete tasks with a similar level of urgency, particularly when the official deadline isn’t pressing or there isn’t one at all.
“The more time I have allotted for a project, the slower I work and the less I actually get done,” John Rampton, an entrepreneur and investor, shared with Inc. “Give yourself tight but realistic time frames [known as time boxes] in which to get specific projects or tasks done. This will help you weed out distractions, giving you laser-focus as you work to meet your goals.”
Of course, meeting a self-imposed deadline can be a little trickier when the person you need to ask for an extension is likely to be awfully understanding. Be honest and pragmatic about the work that will be required, as well as external impacts like family commitments or PTO, and share your deadline with a teammate or spouse to add another layer of accountability.
Take the 8:15 into the Kitchen
Your office can be wherever you choose, and finding some symmetry between what your day might look like in a traditional office and your remote work day can help maintain your personally expected level of productivity.
Do you typically catch up on emails over coffee when you first get in to the office? Start your day from home the same way, with your home brew. Are you more productive on calls in the morning hours? Try to structure your calendar similarly, even when you don’t have access to a conference room. Whatever feels best to you at work, follow the same pattern at home as closely as possible.
Finding your productivity lode stars to carry over into your remote working environment can not only help drive positive habits but also suppress distractions or common complacencies, especially for those new to remote environments. When you’re adhering to a structure that’s worked for you before, you’re less likely to, say, take a nap on the floor between meetings or have a lunch break that turns into a shopping excursion.
Find Your Office
When you’re not at the mercy of a traditional office layout, your work space is what you make of it. For some, it’s a room introduced to houseguests as the office; for others, it’s wherever the Wi-Fi happens to be working. Making your remote environment an improvement on the company office begins with finding a space that will be designated for your work, whether that’s a room, a particular chair, a coffee shop, or a shifting combination thereof.
Drawing a clear delineation for yourself and family members about where you work when at home sets expectations and boundaries, ideally limiting disturbances and allowing you to mentally disengage from work responsibilities when needed, even if it’s getting up and walking across the room.
Consistently returning to a space or spaces that are designated for work might also help in triggering the brain to help you get back on task.
“Using consistency helps the brain pick up on the environment to determine where to focus,” says Jim Kwik, an expert in brain performance. “No matter if it’s work or play, keeping separate areas in the home will enhance the moods and productivity of everyone.”
Maintaining professionalism in the space is important as well, particularly if you’re expected to be on video conferences. Keep home office best practices in mind when considering how to furnish or accessorize your remote working environment.
Start (and Fill) Your Day with Mindfulness
As important as it is to try to emulate productive work patterns and practices from our traditional office experiences or maintain a sense of professionalism from wherever it is that we work, remember to embrace the wellness benefits of working in your own environment. Take advantage of the flexibility to find thirty minutes here or two minutes there and focus on your own well-being and state of mind.
Something as simple as opening a window or taking a quiet pause on a balcony can help interrupt an otherwise relentless workday. “Mindful productivity,” as described by Forbes, involves being attentive to “sensations, thoughts, and feelings that arise while working or thinking about our completion of tasks.”
In other words, take the time you need throughout the day to observe and address how your work affects you, whether that’s through taking a walk around the block or doing intentional grounding exercises.
“No matter where you are, what you're doing, or what you're going through, grounding exercises are valuable,” says Stacy Lambatos, a wellness advisor and owner of CAYA Studios. “They help us prepare and get familiar with what it feels like to be centered in our bodies and our hearts, regardless of the outside circumstances. If we know what that peace and security feels like inside on a normal day, it will be easier for us to recall when we’re feeling anxious.”
Incorporate whatever mindfulness methods are best for you throughout your day to maintain productivity and well-being remotely.