Working from home can be both wonderfully fulfilling and challenging. Here are remote work tips to help you through any rough patches you may encounter, whether you’ve worked from home for just a week or years.
One day, you’re driving to work, looking put-together and (dare we say?) fantastic in your crisp work clothes, and taking sips of your customary latte in your car cup holder.
The next week, the world’s gone upside down, and you now find yourself in your home, a laptop before you, and a whole new workday routine to get into. You may be muttering, “How can I work from home?” a thousand times to yourself. In one day. In one hour.
We’re here to share some ideas about making that transition from an office to a home office. And if you’re wondering what will make this article different from the others you’ve seen popping around, I’ll tell you:
- Our advice comes from years of experience. (We’ve been a partially remote company for years, with headquarters in our Paris office and our other teams around the globe. Our CEO, Emeric Ernoult, even wrote about a remote workforce back in 2011. And I’ve had work-from-home jobs since the Internet was called the World Wide Web and music played on every site.)
- Our work tips aren’t just from people in one country but from people throughout the world.
- You may find something new here about working from home. No one list is complete, and overlaps exist.
Most importantly, you’re here on the Agorapulse blog searching for ideas about working from home. And we’re here to serve up our best advice for remote work.
Let’s begin …
Get into the right work-from-home mindset
When you first work from home, you may have to adjust your mindset. After all, home is where it’s cozy and playful and social and all the good things. That remains true … but now, home is also where the work is.
So, how do you adjust when you’re surrounded by all the familiar to your home life—and unfamiliar to your work life?
Treat remote work like a “regular” job
“Do your morning routine, shower, eat, work out, etc. Have a specific work schedule, and stick to it.” (Scott Ayres, Social Media Content Scientist at the Social Media Lab, USA)
You’re working from home, emphasis on “working.”
True story: Many years ago, a neighbor asked me about my job and then, upon hearing I worked from home, said: “Lucky you! If I worked from home, I’d watch TV all day and just nap.”
“You wouldn’t be working from home for very long,” I said jokingly (cough, cough).
You wouldn’t Netflix binge in your cubicle at work or hang out in your pajamas there. So, why do that at home?
“I know wearing pajamas is why some people work from home, but for me … Getting up, dressed and showered as if I was going to drive to work helps cement a solid working mindset.” (Curt Ziegler, Customer Support, USA)
Create a work routine
“We are what we repeatedly do,” famed historian Will Durant wrote in his epic “Story of Civilization” book series. “Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
Train yourself to wake up at the same time to get ready for work. Include all the funny little rituals we have in our preparations for work. Get the coffee machine bubbling along early. Feed the pets and even spend time with them. (Doing so reduces stress.) Meditate. Do a little reading. (But not the news. Stay away from the news right now.)
Muscles have memories, so you’ll begin to train yourself to think of those preparations as preludes to your upcoming work.
Ever since my early writing days, I have had the same ritual. And now, when I follow it, I automatically kick into writing gear. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. My fingers know when I do this step and that step, I must write next. Not out of superstition but from habit.
Set hours for your workday—with a little bit of wiggle room
One of the biggest benefits of remote work is that you can be more flexible in your work hours.
Do you like to sleep in? Then start your day later and go long into the evening. Are you an early bird? Enjoy that quiet morning for deep work and enjoy a lighter afternoon.
Choose a schedule that works best for you. And stick to it as reasonably as you can.
Be mindful that you set boundaries for those hours, too. Now that you’re home, you’ll have family members and friends wanting to do virtual coffee dates and get involved in long sessions on FaceTime, etc., but they all need to understand that you are working from home. Your location has changed, that’s all.
Being a little flexible also means knowing when you’re just in the zone.
If you’re having a super-focused day and just cranking out social media post copy galore, go for it. Work a little longer today (ride that wave of creativity!), and then maybe go a little shorter the next day. Or if you’re having special circumstances that won’t let you get done at the usual time, don’t force it. Instead, work later when time permits rather than work with a very distracted mind.
The Benefits of Remote Work: Notes From an Agorapulse Work Retreat 2018
Have a hard stop for work
This advice doesn’t contradict the above. Some days, you’ll work a little longer than others.
Just don’t make overworking a habit. Constantly working overtime isn’t good for your mental health. (You can still work hard and be successful without burning yourself out.)
Set a time that ends your workday. And then honor that hour.
You may even do something that signals the end of the workday like so:
“I try to always dress like I’m going to an office—that has casual Fridays. That way, I can separate my work life from home life. When 5 o’clock rolls, I’m back in sweatpants.” (Lisa Kalner Williams, Product Marketing Manager, USA)
If you have kids, they can be great alarm clocks. Tell them that you’ll play a tabletop game with them or watch a movie with them at a certain hour (i.e., your hard stop time). They’ll remember and come get you and pull you from work … which, in this case, is a very good thing.
Plan With a Purpose
When you do remote work, you may find yourself feeling at the mercy of all your emails, meetings, clients’ demands, etc. All those can intrude upon your personal life (especially since the work is in the house with you).
Planning out your time when working from home helps enormously.
Jenny Brennan, director of Inside Sales at Agorapulse, Ireland, says:
“I use my calendar to structure my day including breaks, lunch, and downtime. I also remove social media apps from my phone Mon.-Fri. as I can be undisciplined and distracted.
“I always make a list of ‘must-do,’ ‘meetings + people,’ and ‘can wait for a few days’ that way I get through my list. I also borrowed a tip from my colleague Hannah: When I am in calls and there are action items, I send them to myself and get them on my Asana list.
“Learning time, connections with colleagues, and exercise are all important to me as well.”
A calendar can be for more than just meetings:
- “Put in the ‘Stuff you have to do’ and ‘Stuff you want to do’ in your calendar.” (Emeric Ernoult, CEO of Agorapulse, France)
- “I use time blocks a lot and really follow them. I don’t do anything else and just focusing on completing that task. If I finish early, I will see if I have a small task to do if not, I’ll reward myself with rests.” (Aaron Lee, APAC Regional Manager, Sales & Customer Support, Malaysia)
Take Care of That Body of Yours
In today’s current situation, we’re not able to head out to the physical gym for a while or meet up for exercise classes at the local center. But we can still incorporate movement in our days and eat healthily while working from home.
Move, move, move
“Sounds silly, but I purposefully keep my water away from my desk (or area of work) so I force myself to get up and move after 30 minutes of sitting.” (Ross Dunham, Customer Support, EN, USA)
That tip from Ross isn’t silly at all. It’s a clever way of adding more movement into one’s daily remote workday.
You can also:
- Use a standing desk. (When you use one, you’re more likely to rock back and forth, shuffle around … in short, to move. You can buy a fancy-schmancy one or make your own by just stacking up the right boxes or using a high-surface area like the kitchen counter.)
- Do exercises at your desk while you answer email. (I’m serious. It sounds odd at first, but you get used to it. And now that you work from home, you won’t have to explain what in the world you are doing.)
- Take a break to stretch. (Remember feeling sleepy in class as a kid? Your teacher would make everyone get up, stretch toward the ceiling, stretch toward the floor, etc. to get the blood flowing. Seems like our elementary school teachers were onto something.) There are several Chrome extensions that will remind you to stretch.
- Do exercise videos. (Not the same old ones. But stream some good brief workouts on YouTube.)
You can also benefit from having more than one place to work, so you move:
“Find a space for deep work and also have a space at home for work (not the bed). Adapting one could be fun and helpful to keep focus.” (Paulo Barud, Sales & Customer Support, ES, Mexico)
Eat healthy food … and take breaks from the computer
If you watch enough movies, you’ll often see the stereotype of the unhealthy workaholic chomping on chips at a desk and chain-smoking (and ignoring the warnings of dinosaurs rampant on the island. Oh, wait, that was sci-fi.)
Hunching over your computer for long hours and not being mindful of what you eat? That’s just a bad habit that develops very, very quickly.
Set aside time to eat. Pay attention to what you eat. Be grateful for what you eat. All that will help you have a better day.
We take lunchtime seriously at Agorapulse. A properly fueled body is a happy body is a happy remote worker:
- “I have my lunch break in my calendar in order to take a proper lunch break.” (Anne-Maël Blanquet, Sales & Customer Success FR, Spain)
- “I make sure and take my full lunch break and try to get some fresh air during it even if it’s just a walk around the house for 5 mins.” (Angelika Judge, Customer Support, EN, Ireland)
- “I second the full lunch break! I usually do my exercise DVD at lunch. Now with the child home, it’s a little different!” (Stephanie Sweeney, Customer Support, EN, USA)
Make Mental Health a Priority
Working from home can be enormously rewarding for people who have chosen it. For those people who haven’t, it can be a true struggle to get into the right mindset. No matter which camp you fall into, you still need to make a conscious decision to stay mentally healthy.
Remote work, after all, has some inherent traits that can be difficult at times.
Challenges of Remote Work: Notes From an Agorapulse Work Retreat
Here’s some advice that tackles common concerns, so you stay in a mentally good place.
Reach out to people
“Find a remote work buddy that you can chat with each day or help with questions, just like you would an in-office co-worker!” (J
Don’t let yourself feel like you’re all alone on an island. (Nothing good comes from being isolated on an island. Remember “Jurassic Park,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Lost,” “Gilligan’s Island” … ?) Ping some people you work with, and make time to talk a little.
If you’re the sole owner of your business, make time on your breaks to reach out to a client or even a non-work person (but make sure it’s just for a little while). You’re going to need that person-to-person connect.
At Agorapulse, we have regular meetings with video. (GASP.)
Confession time: When I first worked here, I found turning on the camera intimidating … and hated it. But in time, I found it easier to get over the whole “I’m looking at a camera” obstacle and just see the person before me. I stopped worrying about what I looked like; I knew I was presentable enough. But now, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing my colleagues’ faces almost every day, and that human connection is hugely important for me.
If you reach out to people, think about using video for that extra-special touch.
Make a place for your work
“Find a space where you’re comfortable and it’s not too loud OR put on your headphones. Even if there is no music playing it’s a great buffer between you and what’s going on around you. I have noise-canceling headphones that are always on my head but rarely play music. It’s just a veil between me and my kid.” (Sarah Hecker, US Team Manager, USA)
Set boundaries between work and family/friends
Mike Allton, brand evangelist, EN, USA, has some great advice about boundary-setting:
“My best advice for working remotely, particularly if you have young humans in the house, is to take the time upfront to plan.
“First, you need to plan schedules for everyone and communicate those schedules. They don’t have to be draconian and timed down to the 5-minute mark, but everyone should understand when meals are and when work is scheduled. Young children in particular, who may be used to a school schedule, need activities and play and ‘work’ of their own mapped out.
“Second, you need to set firm boundaries, both physical and virtual.
“If you have an office with a door, that’s ideal. Everyone else in the home (other adult humans, too) can be helped to understand that if you’re in your office and the door is closed, they’re not to disturb you unless there’s blood involved.
“The more challenging concept to communicate is the idea that even though we’re all in the same space at the same time, we need to be separate at certain times. We must respect each other’s space, both physically and audibly—which means no screaming and fighting while daddy’s working.
“The key for everyone is to approach these situations, particularly if remote work is new to the home, with grace and patience. If everyone tries and makes an effort, there will be bumps and frustrations but it will get better and better each day.”
Be mindful of what you listen to
What’s grabbing your attention? If you’re constantly listening to the news in the background of your workday, you’re just adding stress to your day. Even if you’re not consciously mulling over every snippet of news, you’ll start clenching your jaw and feeling tense. The solution’s easy: Don’t gorge on the never-ending meal of bad news.
Instead, crank up the music that fills you with good feelings and inspires you to find joy in the workday. (Lately, I’ve been streaming famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s brilliant little Facebook video shorts called #SongsofComfort.)
Discovering new music is also fun. You can find all sorts of playlists on Spotify, including background noises to imitate noisy coffee shops, restaurants, and juice bars. Soundtracks and instrumentals work best for deep work; you don’t get distracted by lyrics.
If you’ve been working from home for a long while now, I hope these tips still make you take another look at your day at what’s working well and what’s not. If you’re new to the remote work-life, I hope you’ve found some ideas to start establishing a healthy work routine and getting the work done without too much stress.
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