Staying engaged when you work from home is difficult.
“Working from home will be easy,” they stated. “Working from home will be a dream,” they said. “You’ll have more time for your kids,” they predicted. “You won’t ever sit in traffic again,” they claimed.
Well, yes. And no.
Working remote is dreamy. It’s easier to carve out work hours based on when you’re most productive and set up a workspace exactly how you like it.
But here’s the kicker:
It can also be isolating. There’s no heading down the hall to see who’s ready for a coffee break or calling the IT guy when the printer jams. Engaging with your coworkers takes real effort. As does staying engaged when you work from home.
I’ve worked with many remote teams over the years and can confirm that much of what “they” say is true: Remote employees tend to be happier, healthier, and more engaged than their in-office counterparts.
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Engaged Work from Home: How COVID-19 changed remote work
COVID-19 thrust us into a new workplace paradigm, ushering in a new era of remote workers for millions of global employees. This paradigm may portend significant changes in how large workforce segments operate going forward.
Most workers who admit their jobs to be easy to do from home stated that they rarely or never worked remotely before the pandemic. Only one in five employees say they worked from home before the pandemic all or most of the time. But now, 71% of “the never” teleworkers are doing their job from home.
Many of today’s fastest-growing brands are building successful businesses by offering people the flexibility to work where, when, and how they want. The key is finding ways to capitalize on newfound freedoms to stay motivated, productive, and engaged.
We’re not talking about donning a three-piece suit that no one will see or posting work hours to the door of your home office. Yes, some productivity authorities swear by those tips. But we have our arsenal of tactics to keep you productive, organized, and engaged when you work from home. It requires boundaries.
Remote Work from Home Guide: How to Set Boundaries and Stay Engaged When You Work from Home
1. Have a designated workspace
The reason offices exist in the first place is to help you entirely switch into work mode. Letting work seep into the cracks of the rest of your life and home can hit your work productivity, leaving you feeling stressed about the work you need to do.
But creating a designated office space, whether a guest bedroom, a part of your bedroom, or even a home office can catapult you into work mode.
Keeping a work/life balance is critical because work can easily bleed into your personal life when you work at home. We suggest putting your laptop back in your backpack when you finish or going for a walk when you log out so that you don’t feel the temptation to get back to work. Start and end your workday with a routine or ritual to signal to your body and brain that you’re finished with working for the day.
Once you create your designated office space, ensure that you KEEP IT CLEAN! And when it’s messy, declutter it. The second Monday in January is National Clean Off Your Desk Day. That’s coming up, which means it’s the perfect time to dust off your desktop and throw or give away items that no longer serve you. As Marie Kondo says, express gratitude to your belongings for taking care of you and release them without guilt. Or if you never have giver’s remorse, donate or throw the items away and never look back!
Decluttering your space has many benefits, from improved mood, better concentration, reduced sick days. But most of all, the average office desk has more than 10 million bacteria. That’s 3% of bacteria that lives in the human body! So besides mere disgust, clean workplaces reduce sick days and increase productivity.
So, get out those Lysol wipes and wipe down that desk! Bye, bye germs!
2. Set and stick to a routine
Work and life are intertwined. You live at work and work lives with you all day when you work remotely. If you work at a flexible job where you set your office hours or stick to a strict schedule, simulating a routine is vital. Otherwise, you might find yourself pressed for time on Sunday night, furiously typing on your keyboard to finish your work–a look that may resemble your early college days.
What routine works for you is yours to decide. But here are a few ideas for inspiration:
Starting your day
Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of Hightower Financial Services, begins his day around 4 am, setting goals and intentions for his day over a freshly brewed cup of coffee followed by deep thought and intention-setting. He claims this helps him focus on where he’s at for the day. Then, he clears his head with some exercise.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, isn’t a morning person, so you won’t see him rising until 7 am (by my estimation, that’s still early!). Then, he reads the news in a physical newspaper to stay up to date with the goings-ongoings on in the world. After reading the news, it’s breakfast time. There is no intense cardio or meditative session, just breakfast (typically an omelet for protein).
Preparing to sleep
Tim Ferris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, follows a diligent routine for nighttime. He drinks tea with apple cider vinegar and honey, reads a chapter or two of a book, and sometimes has an evening bathtime soak.
My morning routine looks like this:
- Wake-up around 8 am (seems my wakeup time has kept increasing ever since the pandemic)
- Take medications, wash my face, get dressed in my WFH (work from home) outfit
- Eat: usually a high protein breakfast with a cappuccino
And I like it like this. There’s no rush hour to endure with remote work—no supervisor watching your seat. Instead, you can power up your laptop and fire through the day’s goals at the time you are most productive. But you’re probably wondering:
“Won’t my job require set times?”
Probably not in the accustomed conventional way. Remote teams can adjust schedules so early birds overlap night owls and time zones line up for at least part of the day. So even if you choose to work at coffee shops and coworking spaces, you can show up where and when it works for you.
When working from home, I stuck to a typical 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. Then one afternoon, I found myself blocked on a big project. Finally, after three hours of painstakingly plowing through mediocre work, I powered down my laptop. I got a good night’s sleep, and when I woke at 6 a.m. the next day, the ideas were suddenly flowing.
I went straight to my home office and was done in an hour. Now I rarely worked conventional hours. Because I’m transparent about my availability and communicate daily on goals, there’s never been an issue with my early morning work hours. And that’s in part because of Jell’s Slack integration.
Jell makes greeting your team members easier by integrating with Slack. Make your morning routine work for you by setting your daily scrum schedule, especially perfect for teams working across multiple time zones or in remote work environments.
All your team needs to do is log into Slack and answer the questions your set for them.
Once they’re using Jell, they’ll receive reminders to finish their daily scrum questions. This helps you check in with your team in real-time, without disrupting your routine or the routine of your teammates.
3. Take regular breaks
Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? If not, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method for students and working-class professionals. Or anyone who works.
It’s best for individuals who find themselves distracted by little things that end up derailing their entire day. I’m raising my hand right now because that’s me!
It works like this:
- Pick a task.
- Set a 25-minute timer.
- Work on your task until the time’s up.
- Take a 5-minute break.
- That’s it! This entire sequence is called one Pomodoro. For every 4 pomodoros, take a 15-30-minute break.
There are iPhone and Android apps that help with this. The one I use is called Forest. For every Pomodoro, you plant and grow a tree. Eventually, you can grow a large forest! I like this app because it integrates with Google Chrome.
4. Make time for yourself
Set boundaries in your personal life. 70% of 2000 millennial respondents in this survey said they identify themselves only through their jobs. If that isn’t a lack of boundaries, I don’t know what is.
Do you have a family member constantly calling you about their anxieties? Do you find yourself spread too thin, helping everyone but yourself? You’re not alone. Get out your calendar app or your physical calendar and plot your schedule day by day. Always block out time every single day for your interests or hobbies. Plan it out and stick to the schedule even if it’s only 10 minutes a day of your favorite activity. You show up for your friends and family, so always show up for yourself too.
5. “Work” at Your Gym
Or on nearby running trails. Or during a seven-minute workout. Making exercise an integral part of your daily routine isn’t just good for your well-being. It releases chemicals to the brain that boost productivity as well. So take an exercise break to recharge and get re-inspired when you hit a wall.
Trust me: This works.
So well that I sometimes think smartphone voice recording apps were explicitly created for mid-afternoon jogs. They’re a great way to cure writer’s block. I often have some of my most creative brainstorming sessions when I step away from my home office to take a running tour of the neighborhood.
You can break from your seat for 30 minutes when you work remotely, and no one will care.
The remote companies I work with all welcome it. If you employ remote workers, you might even consider supplementing a percentage of pre-qualified exercise-related memberships or gear.
Daily Standups, Check-Ins, & OKRs
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6. Get Creative with Childcare
Don’t get lured into thinking you can work from home while the kids quietly entertain themselves in the background. It. Won’t. Work. Even as an independent contractor or freelancer, it’s important to separate work and personal hours.
On the other hand…
Remote workers have a considerable advantage in-office staff don’t:
This means you not only have the freedom to work during the hours you’re most productive but can arrange for flexible childcare during those times as well. And as remote working increases, so do childcare options beyond traditional daycare, nannies, school, and summer camps.
Where I live, it’s easy to get in a 40-hour workweek with a combination of drop-off play care, preschool, learning centers, and part-time babysitters. Even my gym offers weekday drop-in daycare from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. And in some cities, a new coworking with childcare trend is starting to take shape.
7. Make *Meetings* FUN!
A worker who feels isolated from a team isn’t going to be happy or productive. There may be times when you think:
“Do my in-office coworkers assume I slack off all day?”
“Do they think of me as part of the team?”
“Do they think of me at all?”
Contrary to what you might think, the key to steering clear of these potential fears is not adding more meetings, emails, and regularly scheduled check-ins to the calendar. That’ll get old, really fast.
Instead, find fun ways to stay socially connected with your coworkers and managers. At Formstack, Jell’s foundation, the entire team relies on tools like Slack in addition to the company’s own daily standup software. Formstack also holds monthly remote lunches via Zoom and leverages tools like HipChat to keep inter-office chats and messaging fun.
Staying engaged when working from home changes from employee to employee. What works for me, might not work for you. It’s all about discovering what works best for you, your team, and your dream of what’ll make working from home, well, dreamy.