My husband is working from home today, against his will. A random Colorado snowstorm turned the roads into a city-wide ice rink and forced him to leave the office before lunch. This happens regularly during the winter. Nearly every time it does, the words, “I don’t know how you do this every day,” cross his lips.
In fact, I have over half a decade of experience working from home, and I greatly prefer remote to in-office work. Of course, things weren’t always easy. Figuring out just how to balance being at home and at work simultaneously took some effort.
I’ve come up with 9 ways to set yourself up for success in a remote-work environment, focusing on 3 spaces: the physical, mental, and emotional.
Your physical surroundings can deeply impact the quality of your work. Take some time to configure it to your liking before launching into a remote position.
If at all possible, set aside a specific area of your home that is used strictly for work. Instead of grabbing my laptop and working in whatever room I feel like each day, I’ve found I am much more productive when I “go to work,” even though that simply means I go to my office downstairs.
You don’t necessarily need to dedicate an entire room to your work. For many of us, that simply isn’t feasible. Get creative! My office, for example, is a converted closet inside my craft room/yoga studio. I removed the closet door and replaced it with sheer curtains. When I am done with work for the day, I can simply close the curtains and walk away.
It is imperative to design and implement an organization system that works for you. I talk a bit about the current system I’m using in my Post-Graduation Organization post, but I’ve also found success using post-it notes, day planners, and dry-erase boards over the years. The biggest point is to come up with a system that works for you and stick to it.
If you land a full-time remote position, you’ll be spending at least 40 hours in your designated workspace. It’s important you make it a place you’re happy to be in. Make it pretty, make it cozy, and, for the love of the Goddess, make sure you get yourself a good chair.
My office is in the basement, which adds it’s own set of challenges. It’s cold down here, and the lighting is terrible. I also have to go all the way upstairs to get a snack or something to drink. To combat the cold, I have a space heater, an electric heat pad, and a blanket. Now I’m always roasty-toasty! To reduce eye strain and prevent massive headaches, I added a desk lamp and got blue-light-filtering lenses for my glasses. I set up my old mini-fridge from college and boom! My office is my own little work paradise.
You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to create your own work haven.
Steal stuff Reallocate items from other rooms in your home, and drop by your local thrift store! Once again, get creative. I didn’t have the funds to repaint the navy blue walls of my micro-office, so I went to the dollar store. Three rolls of mermaid-scale wrapping paper later, and I have a totally transformed (and much more magical) space!
One of the best perks of working from home is you have more autonomy. Your supervisor must trust you can work independently. Of course, the extra freedom can also be one of the biggest struggles. It’s all on you to stay on top of things, witch.
One danger to working from home is how easy it is to overwork yourself. Don’t fall into the trap of working extra hours when nobody else expects you to! This is an unsustainable pattern that will lead to burnout.
Instead, set specific work hours and hold yourself accountable. If you struggle with this, schedule an alarm to remind you to wrap things up 10-15 minutes before the end of your workday. Adjust your Slack settings so you don’t get notifications outside of working hours. Learn how to work and collaborate asynchronously.
When your day is over, “go home.” Don’t linger around your designated workspace. Allow your brain the opportunity to decompress and shift gears so you can be fully present with your family.
In a similar vein, make sure you take breaks throughout the day. I block an hour off for lunch in my calendar, but I also have an alarm to remind me to eat lunch just in case I forget (which happens several times a week). While you’re at it, set yourself a reminder to take 2-3 minutes every hour or so just to stretch your legs or get a glass of water.
In some ways, working from home makes it so much easier to focus. You aren’t in a busy office full of gossip, random noises, and odd lunch smells to pull you away from work.
Instead, you are surrounded by all of your favorite, hand-picked distractions. You’ve got your pets, your family, your stuff (Pokemon Shield is calling my name as I write this).
Set yourself up for success by limiting these distractions. Pretend that Switch doesn’t exist until after work. The same goes for your TV and that stack of books from the library. If you’ve got dogs, I’ve found baby gates to be an effective way to keep them both happy and out of my way while I work.
If you have children, consider hiring a sitter for the busiest hours of your day. If they are old enough to supervise themselves, set clear expectations for your children to respect your workspace and time.
In my conversations with other remote workers, loneliness seems to be the common thread. Working from home has many perks, but it can also leave you feeling isolated.
Seriously. Leave your house. Take a walk at lunch. When you’re done for the day, go to the library or run some errands. Just because you can stay in your house 24/7, 5 days a week, that doesn’t mean you should. In addition to regular lunchtime walks, I find getting out of the house at least once during the workweek helps me avoid going completely stir-crazy.
The silence of working from home can be deafening… and slightly maddening. I like to play music while I work to drown out the silence. To help me focus on my work (and avoid breaking into song at inappropriate moments), I like to listen to instrumental music or songs in foreign languages. Find something soothing, but not distracting.
Cultivating remote work relationships can be far more difficult than doing so in a traditional office environment. However, it is not impossible. Be intentional with your communication with your teammates. Check-in on a personal level at least once a day. Set aside specific times to “hang out” on video chat. Share pictures from your weekend adventures. Go out of your way to build relationships with your coworkers and stave off the loneliness together.
Remote work is not for everyone, but for those of you who wish to try it, I hope you found these tips helpful. Remember to be flexible, try new things, and reach out for support from other remote workers if you need it. We’ll be happy to help.