Top Tips for Working Remotely and Increasing Productivity

Working remotely can be a major pain for your productivity, especially if you have to work from home suddenly. Here, we discuss some tips for how to make a remote work setup work in your favor.

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of people to work from home and many small businesses to create remote work policies to clarify who does what, where, and when.

Working away from the office is a welcome change for many employees, all things considered. But for others, particularly those who haven’t done it before, not so much.

Although the remote work setup offers numerous benefits, such as no commute, more time with the family, a flexible schedule, and the ability to work from anywhere, there are downsides, too — as you’ll see in a graph later.

So if you’re new to working remotely, here are several tips you can implement to get the most out of it. (This guide is geared toward people new to remote work, but seasoned remote workers and virtual employees can pick up a tip or two as well.)

5 best tips for working from home effectively:

  • Adopt the right mindset
  • Take care of your health
  • Know your most productive hours
  • Be comfortable using online tools
  • Keep communication lines open

1. Adopt the right mindset

The right environment breeds the right mindset — that’s especially true with remote work. But if you’re finding yourself working from home suddenly or if you’ve done it before but only occasionally, chances are you don’t have a permanent or “ideal” workspace in which to get things done.

Perhaps a shared space like the kitchen, bedroom, or living room is the only suitable place for work — which means contending with noise from other members of the family or having to answer endless questions from the kids when you’re supposed to be examining the numbers on your spreadsheet.

To achieve the right mindset and be ready to tackle the workday ahead:

  • Designate a “work-only” space: If you can manage it, set up a home office. But if you can’t afford to renovate or there’s not enough space in the house, choose a place in the dining room, living room, or the basement that you’ll dedicate exclusively to work.
  • Get dressed: It will be very tempting, but avoid working in your pajamas. Instead, get dressed like you would on a normal workday. You don’t have to go all out, but at the minimum, get out of your pajamas, take a shower, and brush your hair. Put on makeup if it helps to activate your work mode.
  • Don’t get too comfortable: Put your feet up or lie down to stretch your back from time to time if you have to. But be careful not to get too comfortable. You just might find yourself dozing off or watching TV instead of working.
  • “Commute” or transition from home to work: The everyday work commute isn’t particularly enjoyable, but if there’s one thing it accomplishes without question, it takes you from home to work and instructs the mind to “get ready for work.” In the absence of an actual commute, activities that are likely to yield the same result include meditation, yoga, reading a book, or taking a walk.

2. Take care of your health

Taking good care of our health is a necessity no matter our work situation. But it’s especially crucial when working remotely during this pandemic, which, because of social-distancing and stay-at-home directives, equates to zero gym time, limited social events, new work processes, and lots of time wondering when this will all be over.

  • Eat right: No matter how busy the day gets, ensure you’re properly nourished. This way, you stay focused and energized. Junk food may relieve stress in the short term but can cause you to become sluggish and even develop long-term health problems.
  • Take frequent breaks: Prolonged sitting is one bad consequence of working from home, so take well-timed breaks so you’re not sitting all day. A Pomodoro timer — which you can install on your browser as an extension or download on your computer — will remind you to take five-minute breaks after every 25 minutes of work. During those five minutes, perform stretching exercises, walk the dog, or take a short stroll.
  • Take care of your eyes: Looking at the computer screen for most of the day is another side effect of working remotely. To prevent or reduce eyestrain, consider procuring protective eyeglasses, taking eye breaks, adjusting your computer screen’s brightness levels, and using artificial tears to lubricate your eyes.
  • Exercise: Exercise is not just good for the body, it can boost productivity, too. That’s because people who make it a point to exercise regularly have more energy and are consequently able to do more.
  • Stay social: Technology is a wonderful thing. Remote tools such as video conferencing software allow for virtual happy hours with family and friends after a long day of work. If gaming is your thing, challenge a friend to an online game. If you’d rather work out, invite your workout buddy to an online exercise platform that will allow you to log in together at specific times and perform workout routines.
  • Establish boundaries: Unplugging after work is one of the top struggles among remote workers, says Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report. That’s because when home and work activities happen in the same physical space, the physical and psychological boundaries become blurred. You can counter this by:
    • Creating a work-from-home schedule and following it religiously
    • Asking other family members to respect your work hours and workspace
    • Actually taking the day off when it’s your day off
    • Not checking your emails — or even turning on your work computer — outside of work hours
    • Keeping work materials out of the bedroom
A pie chart showing the top struggles of remote workers.

The inability to unplug is number three on the list of remote worker struggles, according to a Buffer report. Source: buffer.com.


3. Know your most productive hours

Different people have different “in the zone” hours. Night owls perform best late at night, whereas the morning larks are most energetic early in the day. The key here is to recognize your most productive hours — instead of fighting them — and then leverage them to your advantage.

But how do you know which time of the day you’re most productive? In an FM Magazine interview, productivity experts Barbara Green and Vanessa Kettner suggested a four-step process:

  • Experimentation: For a couple of weeks, perform your most important work as soon as you get to work and note how that feels. Then, in the next few weeks, do it right after lunch or early evening.
  • Journaling: Write down your start and stop times. You want to see a pattern emerge. If you’re able to stay in the zone for 60-90 minutes, then you’ve identified a time you’re most productive.
  • Tracking inactive times: Take note of the times you’re inactive as well. Apps like RescueTime will help you track how you spend your time.
  • Continuous reassessment: When determining your productivity rhythms, look at the big picture. For example, your kids’ bedtime schedules may affect your performance the following day. So factor those in, and reassess as needed.

Ultimately, you want to incorporate your high and low energy times into your schedule: focused work during peak productivity times, calls and meetings during low productivity times, and then a break during periods of decline.


4. Be comfortable using online tools

When working remotely, the internet is your best friend, including the long list of remote management and productivity tools you will be using to get things done.

For example, in lieu of in-person gatherings, you will be managing remote meetings or conferences via Skype or Google Meet. Marketing presentations and product demos will likely take place online through screen-sharing software while marketing collateral and other assets will be shared and critiqued using file-sharing tools such as Google Docs or Dropbox.

Cloud tools you may need to do your job right include:

  • Communication and collaboration: Slack, Zoom, Cisco Webex, Asana, or Trello
  • Cloud storage and file-sharing: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, SugarSync, or Amazon Drive
  • Customer relationship management: Salesforce, Freshworks, Pipedrive, Agile CRM, or Insightly
  • Time tracking: Hubstaff, Homebase, 7shifts, Jibble, or Time Doctor
  • Accounting: FreshBooks, Wave Accounting, Kashoo, QuickBooks Online, or Xero
  • Project and team management: Scoro, monday.com, Podio, Jira, or Basecamp
  • Email marketing: Mailchimp, Zoho Campaigns, GetResponse, Campaign Monitor, or AWeber
  • Virtual brainstorming: MindMeister, Lucidchart, Miro, IdeaBoardz, or Coggle
  • Appointment scheduling: Calendly, Appointlet, Acuity Scheduling, AppointPlus, or HoneyBook
  • Applicant tracking: Zoho Recruit, Workable, Bullhorn ATS, ApplicantPro, or ApplicantStack
  • Content management system: Weebly, Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, or Kentico

If you’re a manager or small business owner, aside from being comfortable using online tools, you also have to understand the ins and outs of remotely managing a team.


5. Keep communication lines open

Effective communication is hard enough when team members are in the same location, which goes without saying that there is no such thing as overcommunication when it comes to remote work.

  • Team managers need to know what’s going on, whether members are hitting their targets or are struggling in any way. Team leaders should encourage open communication via daily, weekly, or monthly check-ins.
  • Good performance has to be celebrated, but if you don’t communicate what you’ve achieved, how can your teammates know?
  • Clients, employers, or your superiors have to understand that you can be trusted, and communication is vital to putting them at ease.

Also, working from home means no more watercooler run-ins with colleagues you can exchange banter with or extended lunch meetings that foster camaraderie among teams.

Especially if you’re a working adult living alone — single-person households are on the rise around the world — isolation, when compounded with the stress of dealing with a pandemic, can take a toll not just on your physical health but your emotional and psychological well-being as well.

So keep those message boards buzzing. Just remember to put your notes in the right channels or threads.


Final word on working remotely

Remote work is here to stay — it’s the future of work, after all. It won’t be easy being productive in the beginning, but with the tips we’ve enumerated above, you’ll be hitting your productivity goals in no time.

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