The number of employees working from home in the U.S. has been steadily increasing for a while. According to the U.S. Census, 5.2% of employees worked from home full time in 2017, a 3.3% increase from 2000. In 2018, 23.7% of employees worked from home at least part of the time, a number that increased in 2019 and is expected to continue rising in 2020.
Employee preference has largely driven this change. From avoiding long commutes to having flexible hours to work around parenting and other responsibilities, many employees believe that working from home offers them better quality of life and better work-life balance. But employers are seeing benefits, too. According to CNN, if an employee telecommutes half the time, their employer can save at least $11,000 per year. These savings come from renting less office space, minimizing energy and utility costs, reducing the need for cleaning staff, and reducing or eliminating equipment costs.
The current coronavirus pandemic is also impacting the growing work-from-home culture, causing many employers to implement new remote work policies that follow local guidelines on social distancing and quarantines. Some experts wonder if this might not have a lasting impact, leading many employers to maintain their remote work policies even after the pandemic ends. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, claims that “The coronavirus is going to be a tipping point. We plodded along at about 10% growth a year for the last 10 years, but I foresee that this is going to really accelerate the trend.” Given that remote work options are proven to attract and retain talent, improve employee morale, and increase productivity for many companies, Lister may be right.
But as exciting as this change may be, for many of us, working from home presents new challenges, especially if our families are home with us. How can you maintain productivity and focus while working remotely? How can you stay in touch with colleagues and clients?
TracSoft is here to help with tips for staying productive while working from home.
You likely have a routine when you arrive at work. Perhaps you grab a cup of coffee from the break room or put away your lunch (carefully labeled so Karen won’t “accidentally” mistake it for hers). Maybe you review work from yesterday or reply to emails. Regardless of how you start, you have a method for “getting into the zone.”
For many of us, routines are tied to setting, so when you change your work location it can throw you off your game. This is why it’s important to establish a new routine early. It can mimic your old routine, or it might be an opportunity to establish a new, more productive routine. If checking email right away costs you an hour and a half first thing in the morning, maybe it would be better to start with something else and check email in those fifteen minutes before lunch when your attention is already waning.
Establish A Work Zone
Choose a specific place in your home to work from and dedicate that space only to work. The spot should be comfortable and well-lit, but away from distractions and noise. When you’re in this space, make sure that you are working, and when you leave this space, leave your work in it. Doing this will help you leave your work behind at the end of the day, as well as help you get in the mindset of working when you enter your space.
Designating a workspace can also help your family adjust to your remote work. It may take practice, but they will learn that if you are in your workspace, you are busy. Obviously, having a home office with a door you can close helps tremendously, but if this isn’t an option, you can do other things to signal that you’re “at work” such as wearing noise-canceling headphones.
The other benefit of establishing a work zone is it helps you stay organized. If all of your important papers and equipment are in one place, they are less likely to get misplaced. Similarly, if you can leave your work in one place instead of having to move it around, this will save you time. For instance, working on the dining room table might be tempting because the table offers a large work surface, but it becomes less efficient if you have to move your work for every meal and then set everything back up before you can begin working.
Plan Your Workday
Planning your workday may seem silly, but actually writing down a schedule for the day helps you be conscious of the goals you need to achieve and mindful about the way you use your time. As Nita Shah of HubSpot explains, “Spending time figuring out what you’ll do today can take away from actually doing those things. …It’s important to let your agenda change if you need it to, but it’s equally as important to commit to an agenda that outlines every assignment before you begin. Try solidifying your schedule the day before, making it feel more official when you wake up the next day to get started on it.” Writing down or typing out your plan for the day helps clarify the schedule in your brain and makes the plan feel more official.
There are lots of tools you can use to plan your workday and which one works best for you often comes down to personal preference. Many companies rely on Microsoft Outlook or Windows 365, both of which come with calendar tools that allow you to break up your day by the hour. You can even color-code and share events. Google Calendar is a powerful app that works well with many other tools in the G Suite, and all three of these tools automatically sync between your phone and computer if you have your associated email account set up on your phone. There are also free planning tools like ScheduleBuilder.org and FreeCollegeScheduleMaker.com, but low-tech tools like that calendar you received in the mail for donating to a charity or a whiteboard (with or without a calendar design) work really well, too. The key is to find what suits you and make checking it a regular part of your morning routine.
Schedule Breaks And Social Time
At work, outside forces naturally break up our day. Maybe you go to lunch with your coworkers at a certain time, or maybe you schedule your lunch break around your coworkers’ breaks. You receive a phone call, an urgent email, or a reminder about your afternoon meeting. Whatever they are, these natural interruptions offer small breaks throughout the day that we take for granted. When you’re working from home, however, those interruptions don’t happen, and without them, you might find yourself actually working more than usual.
Scheduling small breaks can help you stay focused and alert. Many productivity experts claim that it’s best to work in 90-minute chunks, taking short breaks at the end of that 90 minutes. Others claim it’s better to work for an hour and rest for fifteen minutes. The truth is that humans vary and you may just have to play around to find what works for you. Regardless, setting phone reminders or using an online timer like Tomato Timer can help you remember to give your brain a break.
Short breaks can be a great chance to get your social needs met, too. We often underestimate the value of that coworker chatting for a few minutes when they hand off that file to us or the little bit of gossip we catch in the restroom at work. Throughout the day, these small social interactions add up, but when working from home, we miss out on these, leaving some of us feeling isolated. Sending a text, making a quick phone call, or catching up on social media messages can be a decent substitute for those interactions. Just be sure to set a reminder so you don’t let them eat up your workday.
Office workers seldom get enough exercise. The popularity of standing desks, balance ball chairs, and other gadgets prove this. One of the advantages of working at home, though, is the ability to take breaks that allow you to move around when you need to. Maybe you feel guilty working out in the middle of the workday, but study after study demonstrates that exercise actually improves workers’ productivity.
And according to a study from the University of Georgia, low-intensity exercise like walking your dog around the block can be just as effective as moderate-intensity exercise for improving concentration and energy levels. Even as little as fifteen to twenty minutes can make a difference, boosting endorphins and making you feel happier. So break out your favorite fitness tracker or fitness app and get moving!
Stay Connected With Your Coworkers While Working From Home
Staying connected with coworkers can be challenging when you’re not at the office. In fact, although employees seem to largely prefer working from home, around two-thirds of remote workers feel they aren’t engaged with workplace culture. This is a problem for employers, who worry about employee retention, but it’s also one problem for employees, who can be left feeling isolated and undervalued. While some experts are advocating for employers to make more of an effort to bridge the gap between on-site and remote workers through changes in workplace culture, for the time being, the responsibility for staying connected falls on you.
Thankfully, we have the internet, which provides a plethora of free tools to keep you connected to your coworkers. Dan Schwabel, author of “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation,” one way to stay better connected is to use email less and to use video chat more. FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype all offer free ways to talk with coworkers. Another top is to make a point of scheduling one-on-one time with your boss. You don’t have to spend hours doing this—even ten minutes can make a big difference and often regular communication is more important than lengthy communication.
Other tools like Slack, Flock, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts can be great as well for quick updates, reminders, or just a quick bit of contact for when you don’t have the time for a full video chat. You don’t want to overwhelm your coworkers with messages, but a simple, “Where are we on ____?” or “I’ve finished ______” can be a useful and subtle reminder that you’re being productive even if they don’t see you doing the work.
Working From Home: An Adjustment, Not A Disaster
Although initially shifting to remote work has been challenging for businesses that didn’t have plans in place for remote work, there are a lot of potential benefits both for employees and employers. It is an adjustment for those of us that haven’t worked remotely before, but with a little creativity and commitment, you can definitely make working from home work for you.
Now that you’re working on your home computer, are you noticing lag? Having trouble running that software you need for work? Check out our post on Tips To Improve PC Performance so you can increase your productivity and get that work done!
Are you worried about maintaining network security while your employees work from home? TracSoft offers outstanding network security services for businesses just like yours. Contact us today to find out how we can help keep your business network secure and accessible to your employees.