How To Work From Home Effectively

POST by Sharon Wandili

PSSSTT ...

Essential points if you work from home
  • Know the ground rules.
  • Minimize distractions when working from home.
  • It’s critical to have a private, quiet space for your work.
  • Plan extra social interactions – since working at home can be lonely.
  • If you believe Zoom and chat/Slack/Team is all you need when working from home – think again. See why here. Working anywhere is not the same as working anytime.
  • Take our thought-provoking work-from-home assessment here.

Plenty of people have found themselves with no choice other than to work from home at the moment, and while some people take to it like a duck to water, others will find it harder to adapt to life away from the hustle and bustle of the office.

Thankfully there are a few things you can do to work from home effectively, productively and without being brought up short by the various obstacles that tackling this scenario can throw in your path.

Organization is key to success at home

Home workers may still be an important cog in a broader team, but if they are away from the scrutiny of their superiors it is easy to let standards slip. This is why staying organized while working from home is the most important aspect of achieving success in this context.

First and foremost, you need to both set a schedule that works for you and also aim to stick to it as closely as possible, avoiding the temptation to procrastinate.

Structuring your working day and your week in a rigid way will ensure that you have specific goals that need to be attained and a plan on how you will go about this.

Another important aspect of this approach is that it means you will work a set number of hours, rather than either pushing yourself too hard and cramming more into the day than is healthy, or by being lax about how much time you spend in work-mode. Whether you work from 8-4pm, 9-5pm or 11-7pm, your schedule will allow you to build up a regular routine that makes your work from home experience as close to office work as possible.

Besides setting a schedule, another way your company could help you organize yourself while you work from home is by automating how you track tasks. Using a process management system like Tallyfy empowers you to have increased productivity by having processes clear, documented, trackable, repeatable and improvable.

Seriously – don’t try to work from home using Slack and Zoom alone, you will see why on this page.

As shown in the GIF below, Tallyfy helps you: stop losing tasks in the chaos of emails and chats – find your playbooks, know-how, SOP’s and forms in one place – track progress – automate approvals – stop worrying about the details.

work from home

Alexandria Transit Company is a great example of a real life use case that used Tallyfy to save time and guide their staff into purchase order compliance. Before Tallyfy, there was a lot of confusion and email traffic associated with integrating details and input from several people into each workflow – which they managed to resolve. Read more about it here.

Factoring in fun is essential

Working from home can make you feel isolated, particularly if you are used to being part of a big team sharing the same workspace on a regular basis. It is the social side of working with other people that gets lost if you are working remotely, but thankfully there is no need to let this slip away entirely.

To that end, why not throw a virtual happy hour with all of your colleagues so that you can have a chat, enjoy a drink, catch up with how everyone else is getting on and maintain those important interpersonal bonds that will allow you to communicate and collaborate more effectively at other times.

Setting this up as a regular event while everyone is in their own work from home bubble is good for teamwork as well as good for your mental health. You can also mix things up as much as you like, setting unique themes for happy hours so that they stay fresh over time.

It is also worth celebrating other significant events over platforms like Zoom, such as birthdays. Having everyone pop in to wish the birthday person well will further ensure that the team gels and operates impact-fully as a unit. Given that you will have social bonds with colleagues that have taken years to develop, it makes sense to do everything you can to preserve them rather than allowing them to evaporate because you are not in the office together at the moment.

Foster skills relevant to your profession

Another important aspect of remote working is being able to develop the skills and abilities you need to perform your role effectively, even if face-to-face meetings are not an option.

In the case of real estate agents and others with sales-oriented roles, you will need to work out how to sell to prospective buyers via video conferencing software and other digital services, rather than in person. This can involve virtual meet-ups, but should also factor in the use of video tours and even virtual reality, if these resources are available to you.<

You need to leverage every technological resource at your disposal to sell remotely, and also familiarize yourself with the challenges that come with trying to best represent the product or service you have to offer over the internet. In the short term, this means you need to work out how to harness the various programs and services that will become the tools of your trade going forwards, especially if you have no prior experience of using them.

Practicing with image and video editing software, for example, is sensible. Likewise you should aim to get as much experience of operating and hosting virtual meetings, so that when important sales pitches come along, you are prepared to handle them as consistently and professionally as possible.

Set a defined work from home space

Just as you should be rigorous when preparing your schedule when working from home, you should also be as strict as possible when setting up the area in which you intend to work. There are several reasons for this; it is not just important in terms of giving you the opportunity to be as productive as possible during your allotted hours, but also for ensuring you can make the right impression during virtual meetings that are inevitable for any home worker.

For example, according to Clay a UX design agency – you preferably need a space in which you will not be disturbed by any other members of the household, as well as a solid internet connection and an uncluttered, neutral background for the best results.

Being able to escape to a specific part of your home where work will take place is a great way to avoid distractions, but it is also significant from striking the right work-life balance in this context, which is something we will discuss in more detail a little later.

The neutrality of the background is vital because you may well want to make use of the virtual backgrounds that are available via platforms like Zoom. Of course if you happen to have a home office set up with a simple wallpaper or bookshelf as the backdrop that other participants in video calls will see, this is fine. But in reality, keeping your work space in tip top condition 24/7 is not achievable, so being able to use a virtual background instead to cover up any domestic clutter will be desirable.

With your work from home space chosen and locked in, be sure to encourage other members of the household to respect it. It needs to be your sanctuary of productivity wherever possible, and while not everyone can monopolize an entire room for hours on end, it will definitely be worth pushing for, especially if you will be working from home on a long term basis, rather than temporarily.

Take steps to separate work from leisure time

When you visit an office or other separate place of work on a daily basis, it is very easy to compartmentalize your life into two parts. When you are at home, your time is yours and you can turn off your ‘work brain’, only flipping the switch when you step through the door each morning.

However, home workers will inevitably stumble across the conundrum of finding themselves struggling to disengage from business mode when the end of the working day arrives, or alternatively will have a tough time engaging their professional persona when they are only walking a few meters to get to their domestic work space every day.

While this is not something that everyone will find difficult, if you do worry about how a lack of separation from home and work life will impact you, it is worth being proactive in the way you approach this.

For example, the temptation to stop showering first thing in the morning and instead sit and work in your pajamas can be overpowering, as can the convenience of treating every day as if it is Casual Friday and just popping on jeans and a t-shirt instead of your usual smarter office-appropriate garments.

Rather than succumbing to this, aim to stick to your original routine; shower first thing, wear the same clothing you would normally choose for professional scenarios and then, most importantly of all, change out of this at the end of the day. This will help to clearly define the boundaries between work and home, not just on a superficial level, but also on a psychological one. These cues will coax your brain into action in the mornings and also allow you to switch off and chill out when you clock off in the evenings.

Of course if you are struggling with the mental side of working from home, this is something you should raise with your boss, because they also have a duty to take account of any hurdles you are facing and give you the means to overcome them if possible.

Block distracting sites

No matter how thoroughly you prepare to work from home, the fact of the matter is that any device with an internet connection and a web browser can open you up to a world of distractions, taking you away from tasks that need your attention.

Not everyone has the willpower to avoid checking social media every five minutes, or watching funny animal clips on YouTube in the middle of a meeting. So rather than leaving anything up to chance, you can put a pin in the matter altogether by blocking sites and services that are not directly related to your job during working hours.

There are a few ways to achieve this, and if you live alone or share a household with other home workers then it may make sense to do this at the highest level by changing settings on your router or getting your ISP to block troublesome sites. This is something of a nuclear option, so if you do not want to go to such an extreme then simply blocking the same sites on your laptop, tablet or smartphone will be enough.

As well as making you more effective and productive when you are working remotely, this will also help with the aforementioned separation of work and leisure time. You will look forward to finishing up for the day if you know that there is the treat of being able to binge on your socials and stream videos to your heart’s content waiting for you after 5pm. There are other tactics available for social media addicts who need to boost their productivity, so experiment with different approaches and find the one that works for you.

Don’t let emails rule outside of office hours

This is good advice whether you are working in an office or holed up at home, but reading and responding to work emails when you are no longer on the clock is bad news for everyone involved. Not only will it take up brain space when you should be spending quality time with the important people in your life, but it will also set a precedent that is probably unsustainable in the long term, meaning colleagues and clients may start to expect a response at all hours, rather than only when you are supposed to be at your desk.

Indeed taking a healthy approach to emails in general is necessary for anyone who wants to work effectively in the digital age. If you get into the habit of setting aside a specific chunk of time to deal with your correspondence, rather than doing so on an ad-hoc basis, you will be able to blast through your email obligations efficiently and still have enough room to take on the other duties that are part of your day to day role.

Once again, this comes down to being rigorous in your approach to treating home working in exactly the same way as you would an office job. Whether you are a freelancer or part of a team working for a single organization, mastering your emails without letting them take over your life should be a priority as you adapt to the new normal.

Mix things up at home

While some people will be able to thrive if they are able to retreat to a home office space to work, others will find this stifling. If you are in the latter camp, then you could try keeping things fresh by heading elsewhere to work, so long as it is safe to do so.

With coffee shops, bars and restaurants accepting customers, there is now the opportunity to grab your laptop, head to your nearest spot and sit down with a coffee, a pastry and your to-do list for the day. A change of scene can be very invigorating, although again you should look at your schedule to make sure that you are not caught out by meetings that are scheduled to take place at a time when you might be out in public and unable to get to a private space.

Connectivity and security should also be a concern if you are piggybacking on public Wi-Fi for work purposes. Sluggish network performance could make you far less productive if you are on the move, and if the hotspot is accessible to anyone with a compatible device, you might not want to share sensitive data even if you are hooked up to your employer’s VPN.

Working at home needs your natural rhythms – don’t go against them

Working from home can give you far more flexibility in terms of when you arrange tasks and how you organize your schedule, so if you do have the opportunity to adapt your work day to fit around your own habits and preferences, you should definitely take it.

For example, some people are far more productive in the mornings and will enter a bit of a lull in the late afternoon, while others will struggle to get their brains in gear before midday but will come into their own as the evening draws nearer.

Whatever rhythms your body naturally falls into, it makes sense to exploit them and ride the waves of energy you get throughout the day, rather than trying to be super-productive at points when you are at a low ebb.

It will take time to establish exactly when these peaks and troughs occur, of course, and it may not always be convenient to follow them, but being attuned to your body’s quirks is definitely a boon when operating remotely.

Take breaks when you work from home

When at the office you will not only enjoy break periods on a regular basis, but may also step away from your desk to chat with a colleague or grab a snack over the course of the day. There is no reason to not factor this in when you work from home as well, and in fact it can make you far more effective and productive during the times when you are focused on your work.

Breaks can be for the purposes of refreshment, to reset your mental state and even to get some chores done so that you have less to sort out when the working day is over

The bottom line

Ultimately it is important that there is no ‘right’ way to work from home, but rather this is something you will need to get to grips with on your own terms and with a view to changing and evolving your habits over time.

Working away from the office can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, so long as you are willing to allow yourself the time to get used to it, rather than becoming frustrated if everything doesn’t fall into place from day one. Hang in there and you should find that you can be effective and satisfied in your job, whatever the circumstances.

Thanks for reading this post. Just so you know – Tallyfy can help you be productive in a distributed team by documenting what’s done, who does it, when they do it and how.

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