In the final months of 2019, Owl Labs’ annual State of Remote Work report found that, of those surveyed, 62 percent of Americans work remotely to at least some degree. But as companies near the midpoint of 2020—and the fever pitch of the COVID-19 pandemic—millions of other employees across the globe have since joined the ranks of those who already work at home.
The era of digital transformation has made remote work more convenient and accessible in many industries. But if this is your first time tackling projects from the couch instead of an office, it can be hard to tune out the distractions and stay on-task.
Here are five strategies to maximize productivity in your remote workspace.
Setting up your remote workspace
An office or cubicle is a ready-made station for hunkering down and concentrating, but at home, you’ll need to recreate this kind of environment yourself. This can be a desk, sofa, patio chair or kitchen table, but it must be a space where you can enforce boundaries to separate work and home life. Most importantly, make sure it’s free of disruptions—Netflix and laundry that needs to be folded.
A designated, optimized work area communicates to the brain that you mean business, so treat it like a new document on your computer—well-defined, orderly and clean, advises Ron Lieback, CEO of ContentMender. Lieback says:
“A blank document allows your mind to focus more. Now picture that document filled with random words and numbers all cluttered onto the paper, and you have to write in between this. Your mind will play tricks on you, and focus will be impossible. The same goes for an unorganized office.”
Connecting with a remote team
When you work at home, it’s crucial to maintain regular touchpoints of connection with your team, even from a distance—even if that’s just via chat. “Most people are perfectly capable of interacting and expressing nonverbal communication signals in writing. This makes teamwork via chat run smoothly, allowing team members to collaborate without the need to hear or see each other,” suggests Hubgets, in their remote work strategies blog post.
If meetings are challenging to schedule because of location, make the most of chat tools, where you can collaborate as a team, re-connect, or simply share files in a single, easy-to-find place. This simple collaboration not only helps to combat loneliness, but also ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Creating a work-from-home routine
A new routine requires structure. With so many aspects of life in flux right now, motivation can seem out of reach, but planning out the day, just like you would in the office, leads to a more efficient workflow. The more proactive and intentional you are about this routine, the more habitual it will become and the more productive you’ll be.
This doesn’t mean you need to wake up and start sending emails at 7am. It does mean, however, that you set aside specific times of the day for working. It may even be valuable to continue prepping lunches the night before and setting the coffee pot timer before bed so you can focus on work just like you would in the office.
Don’t forget to digitize and automate any other processes that you can to ensure minimal distractions, like setting up auto emails and creating templates that make it quick and easy to address common questions and messages.
You can also use tools like Earth Class Mail to get your mail delivered virtually—eliminating a trip to the mailbox.
Minimizing distractions while working from home
A recent poll from the staffing company OfficeTeam revealed that, on average, employees waste 56 minutes per day doing non-work activities on a mobile device. In an office environment, there is a certain level of “etiquette”—you don’t want to be the person who’s always on their phone, but in a remote setting, the onus is now on you.
Eliminate that temptation to scroll on Facebook or Instagram in the middle of work hours, close all social media tabs on your computer and log out of the apps on your phone. You can also use an app to set screen limits on social media platforms.
Setting boundaries when working from home
Have you noticed that in the midst of a creative or motivational slump, getting up and moving around helps you regain your mental energy? That’s because the mind and body need “microbreaks” in order to function optimally. Think of these as quick reboot sessions for the brain to disconnect from all that digital information and stimulation it’s consuming.
Microbreaks can help you refocus when productivity feels drained, notes author and business management expert Daniel Pink, but here are his basic ground rules to maximize the efficacy of a microbreak:
A 30-minute break is ideal, but 5 to 10 minutes is better than nothing.
Commit to your break—don’t be answering emails while “resting.”
Move your body. Take a walk, stretch, dance or do some exercises.
Call a friend or chat with a family member. Get social if you can.
Get outside if you can.
The uncertainty of COVID-19 means that employees across the globe are likely to be remote workers for at least the next several months. While any transition has its share of obstacles and learning curves, these productivity hacks can ease the pain points as you acclimate and ensure that you’re staying productive and effective.
Jessica Thiefels is a remote-work veteran and the founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and featured in top publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur. She also writes for FastCompany, Freelancer’s Union, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter@JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.