Human beings are habitual creatures. Whether we’re working in a regular office or making the transition to remote work, routine is good. But it could be hard to find that working from home.
As plenty of people have already noticed, there are myriad differences between the two environments, many of which have proved to be more challenging than beneficial, such as having more distractions, less personal and collaborative interactions, and disparate access to work resources.
Although we most often treat habits as forces acting upon us, we often forget that we have the power to change those habits for the better. And for the greater sake of our productivity, satisfaction, and health—let alone sanity—it’s imperative to assemble a framework upon which to build newer, healthier habits that continue to produce positive outcomes for ourselves and each other, both personally and professionally.
So to help you make the transition, we’ve put together some best practices you can follow to help you stay healthy, connected, and engaged while working outside the office.
Design a Purposeful Workspace
Unless you had foreseen or actively pursued going remote with your current position, chances are you were probably thrust into being a remote worker far faster than you had time to prepare for.
It’s for this very reason that so many people end up with makeshift workspaces that are far more often “workable” or “passable” than truly functional. On top of that, even when workers finally settle into their new circumstances, many never really take the time to refine their new space because even if it helps work-related activities, working off the clock to fix things up still feels like unpaid or even unrewarded work.
Realistically, however, working in a purposeful, well-designed space can make all the difference in your productivity, let alone the way you feel about your work—both of which have a huge impact on your overall well-being, personally and professionally.
To properly design a space that works for you, make sure you:
Design for longevity. Elements like proper lighting, a comfortable, ergonomic chair or floor mat for your standing desk, and even blinds can help minimize mental and physical fatigue.
Assemble your tools. There’s nothing that causes frustration quicker than being knee-deep in work and realizing you can’t find your headphones, your pen, or access to files. Make a checklist of every software and hardware tool you’ll need, then make sure they’re available in your workspace.
Keep it tidy and organized. Beyond simply having everything you need in one place, it’s important to clean and organize your space so every tool is easily accessible, nothing gets lost, and you’re never wasting time rifling through various misplaced items to find what you need.
Coordinate with family members or housemates. Not everyone has the luxury of an unused or underutilized space they can quickly and easily convert into an office. If the space is shared in any capacity with others in your household, communicating and agreeing on set hours for each person will save you tons of headaches in the long run.
Establish quiet zones. Be mindful of noise that may distract you or others. If possible, close the door to your office. If you aren’t working in an enclosed space, find a quiet that allows you to focus.
Stay Connected and Engaged
One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is maintaining an environment in which you feel like you’re effectively communicating, collaborating, and engaging with your coworkers—all from the physical isolation of your remote office.
Even in the age of instant messaging, email, and video chats, there are still plenty of opportunities to feel disconnected from your work, coworkers, or other people. Although there may be limitations due to circumstances or proximity, there are still ways to form good habits that will help you stay better connected with all of the above.
To maximize your engagement, make sure you:
Develop a routine and start and end your days with rituals. For most people, one of the biggest shifts in going remote means having more flexibility with your schedule—for better or worse.
Although it can help adapt to your home-life better, it also tends to blend working hours and non-working hours. Developing a schedule for when you start and stop work, when you take lunch and breaks, and more, will not only help get you in a healthy cadence—SHIFT’s Hour of Power is a great weekly practice for this—but also improve consistency in communicating and collaborating with coworkers and create boundaries with others in your household. In addition, carrying on your normal routines outside of work hours, like exercising, spending time with family, and so on, will help you more easily transition between work-life and home-life.
Establish daily touch points. Connect with a minimum of one teammate by video per day to mitigate feelings of isolation. While it may feel unnecessary at first, being removed from a traditional office setting in which we regularly see numerous coworkers a day takes a toll on our psyche more than we often realize, especially over longer periods of time. Be proactive instead of reactive and make sure to mitigate those feelings before they start. During these touch points (whether via phone or video) be present and resist the urge to multi-task.
Keep the habit of getting dressed. Being prepared isn’t just having your notes in order. It’s having yourself mentally and physically put together, and that includes being properly dressed (at least from the waist up, since no one will see your sweats and slippers). While it may seem negligible, putting on normal work-appropriate clothing after living out of your house clothes during all other hours makes a big difference in helping to separate work and life, and can even make you feel less isolated in the process.
Practice togetherness. Feeling connected often means going beyond the bounds of normal work hours. Plan and execute occasional virtual group gatherings that don’t involve work, whether that’s happy hours, dance parties, cooking lessons, group mediation, or anything else. This encourages the evolution of your work culture while fostering employee engagement.
Make time for your health
While it may seem merely supplemental, maintaining good health goes a long way in helping you combat the new challenges of remote work—and the challenges of work in general. More often than not, we tend to attribute our productivity to our ability, work ethic, or the lack of distractions, but there’s much to be said about how our health influences those factors.
For instance, eye strain may give you a headache and cause a distraction, no matter how hard you want to work. Or focusing too hard on a project without breaks can cause frustration that compromises the quality of your work. Regardless of how you look at it, finding a balance between your work and health is hugely important if you aim to stay on point.
To help you find that balance, make sure you:
Exercise regularly. Regardless of whether you sit or stand for most of your work day, long hours in the same position ultimately puts strain on your back and limbs, which can not only become uncomfortable, but also become a distraction or create further issues. Exercise not only helps to relieve that tension with stretching and use, but it also boosts your mood, memory, and energy levels—all of which make for a better, happier, and healthier work environment.
Get outside. After hours in the same room, it’s easy to be lulled into a dull, lifeless state. Even something as simple as going for a walk outside will help stimulate your senses—which can be super helpful when you need to clear your head or gain some inspiration—as well as deliver some much-needed Vitamin D, which fights disease, reduces depression and anxiety, and even helps with weight loss.
Take frequent breaks. Staying in the zone when you’re in flow is one thing, but you should never force yourself to keep working for long periods of time without any breaks. Not only do breaks give your eyes and butt (or feet) a break from screens and chairs, but they often help better pace work, give you something to look forward to during long days, and create opportunities for your subconscious to process what you’ve been working on.
Equip yourself with comfortable gear. Wrist rests, blue light filtering lenses, ergonomic seats, less restrictive clothing, and items that help you maintain a comfortable temperature are not only better for your overall health, but also create an environment in which you can work more comfortably both physically and mentally so you don’t feel like your office chair is slowly turning into an iron maiden.
Get your energy from healthy sources. Plenty of people rely far too heavily on caffeine and sugar to get them through the work day, but neither are healthy or sustainable long-term and often cause crashes. A cup of coffee in the morning is fine, as long as it’s not the first of four or five, but it’s best to stick to healthy, well-rounded meals and snacks to keep your mood and energy consistent throughout the day. It’s also important to stay hydrated so your body—and mind—function the way they should.
Create digital boundaries. While it’s important for a lot of people to be able to stay in touch, it’s just as important to spend time away from your phone and computer. Make sure to set some you time, family time, or just digital downtime where all you have to worry about is being present, free of notifications, distractions, and other attention-demanding elements.
While there’s no perfect way to overcome every challenge thrown at you by remote work, there are plenty of ways you can take the time to form good habits and create environments that are conducive to a healthier, happier, and more productive work life—especially when working from home.