15 Tips for Working from Home Successfully
by Geoff Hineman
While many organizations have been offering more part-time (and sometimes full-time) work from home arrangements for employees in recent years, COVID-19 has really accelerated arrangement. Not so much an option as a necessity, working from home is allowing many businesses to take steps that help keep their employees healthy, while still allowing for consistent productivity.
At Lett Direct, we've maintained a remote working business for 25 years. I, personally, have been working from home for the last 12 years, with the eight most recent years being right here at Lett Direct. Along the way, I've learned what works and what doesn't work.
In this post, I'm going to pull from all this experience to offer 15 tips for businesses and individuals to get the most from work from home arrangements.
Work from Home Tips for Businesses
For work from home models to succeed, there needs to be a dependable infrastructure in place that facilitates easy communication. When employees are working from home, the ability to communicate with each other, partners, and customers/clients is an absolute necessity. Here are some essential tips to make sure your business has what it needs to facilitate the most productive work from home arrangements.
1. Have a Cloud Storage System
To ensure everybody has access to work files, you need to move those files to the cloud if you haven't already done so. Fortunately, you have quite a few options, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and more. At Lett Direct, we are a pretty Microsoft-intensive outfit, so we use OneDrive. Each option has its own benefits, so take a little time to see whose features and pricing matches your business needs.
2. Update Your Project Tracking
In an office setting, it's usually pretty easy to hold a team meeting for particular projects to monitor the status. Let's face it, though, working from home is different. To maximize production from home and allow workers to focus with fewer distractions, a good project tracking software is a blessing. As with cloud storage, there are many options, including Basecamp, Trello, Asana, and monday.com. If you are unsure as to which is best for your organization, here is a good place to start learning about project management software.
3. Make Sure Everybody Has the Software They Need
In work from home arrangements, you can't just walk down the hall and show someone a printout and ask them to make changes, as necessary; it needs to be done electronically. Do you have designers using Adobe Creative Suite that need to share files with writers, product managers, or even the C-suite? In that case, those people will also need to have the software to make changes, if necessary. This is just one example, though. When you have workers who need to collaborate, you need to make sure they all have the software needed to open/edit the work.
4. Versatile Messaging Apps
I mentioned it at the top of this section, and I will re-iterate, for work from home models to succeed, communication is paramount. To that end, having an instant messaging app in place will be a lifesaver. There are many business messaging apps, including Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts and plenty of others. As I mentioned above, we are a fan of Microsoft products here, so we use Microsoft Teams.
While we are on the subject, you will also want to consider meeting apps. Some messaging apps can handle meetings; some cannot. When choosing a meeting app, its best to go with a well-known platform, such as Zoom or GoToMeeting. I'll give you three guesses what we use for meetings. That's right… Microsoft Teams!
If you don't have one yet, or are looking for something different, check out this list of video conference software.
Finally, just a note on messaging and meetings that may involve video. Take a moment to ensure your background isn't a big sloppy mess. A little tidying up and putting on some pants can do a lot to make you look like you've done this before.
5. Regular Team Meetings
I'll say it one more time for the people in the back: COMMUNICATION IS CRITICAL! It's true that you'll find many meetings you used to have will now be handled via email. There are some team meetings, however, that you should still keep on the books, and here's why.
When you work from home, it can be very easy to get in your own bubble. If you are facing challenges, you can delay resolution to those challenges by feeling like you are on your own. Team meetings give members an open forum to float interesting goings on with the work and solicit feedback. Often, you'll find that others are struggling with the same issue and a few minutes talking about it can be just what you need to get over the hurdle. It's also a good time to share what has been working particularly well with the rest of the team to lift everyone up.
You'll have to determine the frequency that works best for your business. At Lett Direct, the digital team meets frequently to cover everything from client updates, to work hacks, to brainstorming.
Work from Home Tips for Workers
If you are new to working from home, you could be in for quite an adjustment. To be frank, you really need to be a self-starter. It can be too easy to put the emphasis on the "home" part and not the "work" part… and vice versa. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but when nobody else is holding you accountable for them, it can be tempting to let them slip.
6. Have a Dedicated Workspace
Sure, your normal home computer usage might be sitting on the couch with your laptop. That is not going to cut it in a work from home scenario, especially of you have a spouse and/or children at home. Even when they try their best, you sitting there on the couch will lead to distractions that can really disrupt your workflow.
Get yourself a dedicated workspace, ideally with a door and (if you can swing it) a window. A dedicated workspace will limit interaction and reinforce to you and those around you that work is getting done here.
7. Keep a Morning Routine
When you work from home, it quickly becomes apparent that you have more freedom in scheduling your workday. Left unchecked, however, this can be a trap that blurs the lines between working and being at home. A regular morning routine is a great way help keep balance.
For instance, I set my alarm for an hour before work is supposed to start. I get up, shower, get dressed—yes, in real clothes—and sit down for 20 minutes with my wife while we have coffee and discuss our plans for the day. Then, I head into my home office about 15 minutes before work officially starts to check my calendar and make any necessary adjustments to my daily schedule.
Your schedule might involve a morning workout, meditation, journaling, or some other personal care endeavor. These are important and consistency is key.
8. Leave Your Desk for Lunch
Just as getting to your desk on time on the morning is a healthy practice, so is taking a break for it. This is really one of the greatest benefits to working from home. It can be so tempting to just take lunch at your desk and, sometimes, you won't have any other option if time is pressing. That said, stepping away from your desk during lunch gives you an opportunity to take advantage of being at home.
For instance, I'm not a morning workout person. I sometimes use lunch breaks to go for a run. Sometimes I use it to run errands. I've also found that doing certain household chores during that time frees up more time in the evening to spend with my family. In fact, I can unload/reload the dishwasher, vacuum, and fold laundry all in the span of one lunch break.
Sometimes, I use that time to catch up on my reading, play guitar, or dedicate some time to any other personal projects I may have going on. (Note: Keep an eye out for "Working From Home: The Musical!" starring Jason Statham as yours truly.)
When I sit back down again at my desk, I'm recharged, ready to focus on the task at hand and feel pretty good about crossing some other important tasks off my list.
9. Quit at Quitting Time
I know it sounds like I'm harping on balance here, but that's because I'm 100% harping on balance here. Unless there is a very pressing task with a tight deadline, do yourself a huge favor and shut your computer down at quitting time and leave your office/workspace.
When you work from home, there is an instinct to feel like you are always available. Fight that instinct. Your sanity lies in the balance here. In fact, use your phone, tablet, or another computer (without work access) for any of your digital interaction needs for the rest of the evening.
Better yet, take advantage of all that time you freed up by doing chores during lunch to spend more quality time with your family or getting in lost in one of your hobbies. And don't worry about work; it will still be there tomorrow.
10. Clean Your Desk Before You Leave
While this is especially sound advice in the current landscape, it's one I've been doing for years. At the end of every workday, clean your desk. Wipe down surfaces with Lysol or Clorox to keep germs and dust from settling. Take any cups or mugs with you when you leave. Put pen and pencils in a holder. Stack notes and papers in a neat pile.
You'll be so glad you did when you come back to your desk in the morning. A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind and a dirty desk is a sick day waiting to happen. Address both of these matters by cleaning your desk before you quit working for the day.
Make It Fun
For as much as there needs to be infrastructure and structure, working from home can be a lot of fun if you let it. To that end, here are a few tips that can keep the workday upbeat with or without your co-workers.
11. Remember to Say Hello
Have I mentioned that communication is important? While it is essential to communicate about work-related matters, don't forget to touch base every now and again to check in on each other. Share a funny story. Ask about last night's game. Share an interesting documentary you saw or song you heard. Just make sure that people are doing well, personally.
The reality is that, for many of us, our list of friends is usually pretty well stocked with our co-workers. Not having personal contact with them on a regular basis can sometimes make you feel isolated, particularly if you are an extrovert. So, don't forget to touch base now and again, for yourself and for them.
12. Get a Pet Bed for Your Office
One of the absolute best perks about working from home is that's where our pets are! When you are in the throes of a big project and burnout is starting to sink its hooks into you, taking a minute to play with your dog or put clothes on your cat could be exactly what you need relieve some stress. (For reference, this is what my dog, Roxy, looks like when she knows I'm getting ready to pick her up. Notice the enthusiasm.)
Get a bed for your pet so they can hang out with you in your workspace. You'll both be glad you did.
13. Host Some Fun Contests
One way to keep up morale and keep the team together is my having some friendly competition. For years at Lett Direct, we have partaken in fantasy football and March Madness brackets, with simple prizes like Amazon gift cards or Google swag going to the winners.
Take a little time to see what would work for your organization. Also, and this is important, don't make participation mandatory. Things are rarely fun when they are forced.
14. Create Collaborative Playlists on Spotify
I don't know about you, but I can't work if I don't have music playing. My go-to streaming service is Spotify. One thing I really like about Spotify is that you can invite any other Spotify member to co-curate a playlist. You can also see who added which tunes. It's a good way to find new music or rediscover songs your forgot. Most of all, it's super easy and not very time consuming.
15. Learn New Things
When work is slow, as it sometimes can be, you might find yourself with a little time on your hands. Make the most of it and learning something new with free online classes. Building your skillset this way is a great personal and professional use of your time. In fact, I keep several of these resources right in my bookmarks toolbar.
- Free Code Camp: Right now, you can take 450 Ivy League courses for free!
- Code.Org: While created primarily for children, coding beginners come at every age.
- Khan Academy: If your kids are at home right now, odds are you've heard Kahn Academy mentioned. The truth is Kahn Academy offers a great range of courses for students of all ages.
- Mashable: In addition to serving up lots of junk food for your brain, they actually keep a pretty rad list of 45 free online classes you can take (and finish) by the end of this year.
If you've ever said to yourself, "I wish I could take some classes, but I just don't have the time," These options may be perfect for you!
If you have never worked from home before, it can be an adjustment. Heck, even if you've worked from home for a little while now, you can regularly discover new ways to make it better. From having the right infrastructure in place, to carving out a personal workspace, to keeping open communication top of mind, to reveling in some of the perks working from home has to offer, you may just find this to be the most productive and flexible way to do business. That goes for businesses and workers alike.