Editorial

22 Feb 2022

Tips for Working Remotely

Kelsey Kaczynski

There was a time when working from home was a rarity and only a very small percentage of the workforce did it full time. Then the Coronavirus arrived, and the ensuing pandemic flipped the script to make home office the norm. For the lucky few who were already working remotely, this shift was seamless, but for most of us it was a bit of a culture shock. Suddenly, meetings were switched to zoom instead of face-to-face, there were no co-workers around you, and the commute to your workplace could be measured in steps instead of minutes.

More and more companies are now offering working from home as an option for employees, and some even consider themselves ‘remote first’. This means that even if you don’t work from home now, if you switch jobs it might be either something you will be required to do, or something you might decide for yourself.

For the newbies, remote work can be a minefield with plenty of challenges to navigate, and even experienced home workers need to be mindful of its pitfalls. To help you excel in this brave new home-centric world, we’ve outlined the essential tips and knowledge you need.

How do you survive working remotely?

Whether you have made a conscious choice to work remotely or it is a new policy of your company, the outcome is the same – your home is now your workplace. The first thing you’re going to need to do is to make sure you’re technically equipped to accommodate this. You might be thinking to yourself ‘Awesome, I can just stay in bed and work from there all day!’ but if you have video meetings, being in bed is not going to be a good look.

Anyways, lying down while working is not healthy – what you want is to have a desk or table to work at. If you have a separate office room, this is great, but if you don’t then at least try to make a space that you consider your work zone. This will help you to separate your work life from your home life, which is incredibly important for your well-being.

Factors you should take into account in your home office space are the amount of light it has, and what kind of chair you are using. If you can sit beside a window, this is ideal – the natural sunlight will help to lift your mood too. If a window seat isn’t an option, it’s recommended that you use cooler lighting as this can make you more productive. Also, given that you’re going to be seated for a large portion of your day, it makes sense to invest in a high-quality and comfortable office chair – your back will thank you for it later.

There is a popular meme that alters Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to add wifi to the bottom of the pyramid, making it more important than everything, including food and shelter. This might seem like an extreme joke, but when it comes to working from home, a stable and reliable internet connection is just essential.

If you’re having a Facetime meeting, there is nothing worse than having the video freeze (usually when your face is stuck looking stupid – why is that?!), and when this is the main way you’re going to be meeting with other team members, you don’t want to be the person who is always dropping out of the conversations.

There is a high chance that you share your home with other family members or with roommates. In this situation it’s really important that you communicate and set boundaries to stop things going awry. Other people might perceive you as being ‘home’ and not at work, and available for social interactions and interruptions. We’re all seen the viral videos of kids charging into office rooms in the middle of a video conference (and even live news broadcasts!), and while they are super cute, it can also be disruptive and appear unprofessional. To avoid this, communicate a set work schedule to your family and roommates and let them know they can’t interrupt you during these times.

Setting a work schedule is also important for yourself. When working from home without strict set hours, it can be tempting to be too flexible with your schedule, maybe starting later and working later. Also, when you don’t have to finish a task before you leave the office, that lack of pressure can lead you to always think there is more time to finish it, and you inadvertently end up working later. In fact, many employees report working longer hours at home than at a physical office. Avoid this by setting your hours and sticking to them. These hours will help you get into work mode more quickly, and they give you an extra sense of separation from your work at the end of the day, helping to avoid burnout.

If you can’t work from a separate room or you have to work in a shared space and find external noise to be a distraction, it can be a good idea to invest in some noise-canceling headphones. These will block out a lot of the outside world, and also leave you free to listen to whatever you want. Of course, the biggest distraction for everyone is probably social media. The temptation to scroll through Instagram and TikTok is very strong, and without the watchful eye of your boss or other co-workers around you, it can be easy to succumb. If this is a problem for you, then try putting your phone onto ‘do not disturb’ mode so that you don’t see notifications, and you can also use your web browser to block certain websites.

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Why is self-care important when working from home?

There are some major differences between working from home and working from an office that can have a detrimental impact on your mental health. It isn’t a given that you will find the differences difficult or have some problems adjusting, some people take to working from home like a duck to water, but for many of us remote work requires us to practice good self-care in order to stay healthy.

One thing that a lot of people struggle with is the way in which remote work can create a lack of separation between your work life and your personal life. When you are working from a physical office, when you leave at the end of the day it automatically gives you some mental distance from your work, and even though most of us of course still think about work outside of our regular hours, there is still more of a barrier than when working from home.

Working remotely means that when you finish at the end of the day, you are in the same physical space that you started, and even if you have a separate office room, you’ll still feel like you are in the same environment. This is one of the reasons why good self-care is such an important factor in achieving a healthy work-life balance – it’s very helpful to set boundaries between work and life.

There are some very simple self-care techniques that you can use to really improve your mental well-being when you are doing home office. The first thing you can do is to give yourself regular breaks throughout the day. A good technique that might work for you is the Pomodoro technique. For this, you organize your days into 30 minute chunks, and then work for a solid 25 minutes with no distraction – it helps to set an alarm so you know when the 25 minutes is up. Then you get the next five minutes to take a breather and do whatever you want – you can catch up on Instagram, check-in with a friend, have a stretch – anything other than work, really. Then you start the next 30 minute cycle and repeat.

Whether you use the Pomodoro technique or not, one pause that you should really take in your day is a lunch break. The urge might be there to just eat at your desk and keep on working, but this kind of non-stop schedule is part of the recipe for burnout, so you really should totally unplug for lunch. If you can, take a walk outside – the fresh air and exercise will do you a lot of good. If you don’t have time to take a walk during the daytime, try to do it when you are finished working – doing it at this stage will have the added benefit of providing separation and closure for your workday.

If getting out for a walk isn’t an option due the weather or any other reason, you can always try doing some physical exercise or a workout at home. A short workout is both good for you physically and good for you mentally – exercise is a proven mood booster. Check out our article about agile working here.

Oh, and a final tip – make sure you are getting dressed for work every day. You might think that it’ll be fun and easy to lay around and work in your pajamas all day, but this is actually a bad idea. Getting up and getting yourself ready for the day in the same way as if you were going to the office is a guaranteed way to be more productive. It will help you slip into work mode quickly, and people have been proven to perform better when they wear clothes that are associated with work.

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How can you improve communication for remote work?

When it comes to working remotely, there is no such thing as too much communication. Ok, maybe you shouldn’t be telling your co-workers every single hilarious thing that your cat is doing, but when it comes to work stuff, it’s much better to overcommunicate than to not communicate enough.

If you’re someone who is managing remote employees or whole remote teams, it’s really important to make sure that you are communicating effectively with everyone and making people feel included. When a team is working remotely, it can be more difficult to foster a sense of team spirit and collaboration, but it’s still very achievable. One way to do it is by making sure everyone who is involved in a project or task is part of the conversation, and enabling the team to see what everyone else is working on, and where they fit into the bigger picture.

A feature of remote work is that employees can be anywhere in the world – all you need is an internet connection – and teams can be collaborating across countries and continents. This means that people may be working in different time zones from each other, with working hours that are either totally different or that just overlap. In these cases, it’s even more important to maintain good communication and to make sure everyone is informed.

A great way to make everyone feel included is by using project management apps like Asana or Trello. These apps allow you to create projects and assign tasks and deadlines within them, along with a multitude of other functions. Everyone can see what is being worked on and what they have to do. For managers, it is an invaluable way to track progress, and for an employee, it helps you see what you’re a part of. Regular check-ins are also invaluable. If you’re a team lead, regularly check in with team members to see if they are on track or need any support, and if you’re a team member, don’t be afraid to check in with your manager to keep the communication flowing.

If your workplace isn’t using it yet, Slack is a great tool for communicating within a team. It’s a type of instant messaging service where you can also create groups and channels. The advantages over email are that you can chat back and forth instantaneously, plus channels can act like a news board, where everyone can stay informed of the latest product updates or social media ideas, for example. In a large company with a lot of updates, we recommend adjusting your notifications for groups and channels – Slack can get real busy! At flair, we have our own Slack integration. Check it out here!

You can even have people from outside the organization, like freelancers, join a company’s Slack for projects they may be a part of. This is a really good feature as it enables full-time employees to easily communicate with freelancers, and makes the freelancers feel a sense of greater inclusivity with the project.

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How can remote workers avoid burnout?

A big danger for remote workers is how much it increases the chances of burnout. The main reason for this is that working from home can erode the separation of your work life and your home life and really mess with your work-life balance. Remote employees can often feel like they can’t escape their work, ever. This doesn’t have to be the case.

One of the best things you can do as a remote employee is to create a dedicated workspace at home. Only use this space for when you are working, and then leave it at the end of the work day. If creating this kind of workspace isn’t possible, you could try switching up your work environment. Instead of working from home, perhaps you could work from your local coffee shop, or you could look for a co-working space to join. Just changing your scenery in this way can help to stave off burnout and being around other people, even if they aren’t your co-workers, can really benefit your well-being.

As well as taking care of your working environment, another important factor to be mindful of in order to avoid burnout is your working hours. When you are in a physical office, there is a time at which everyone normally goes home, but when you are already home. Working past this time is easy to do, and if you’re a dedicated employee you can find yourself regularly putting in extra hours. This can lead to overwork and eventually burnout. As much as possible, stick to regular working hours and create a mental boundary between work time and home time.

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Conclusion

While remote work isn’t a new phenomenon, the pandemic has accelerated its popularity and made it a viable option for both companies and employees. In our hyperconnected world, fixed offices are no longer as essential as they once were. This means that your next job could very well be a remote job, or your company may decide that working from home is the new standard for all employees.

Remote work comes with perks – no more commuting, more flexibility with your workday – but also its own challenges. If you follow our tips, you’ll be sure to make home office work for you, and you never know, you might find out that a world full of video conferencing and video chats is one that you excel in.

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