The great national COVID-19 remote working experiment the past six months has opened the lid on the benefits and the challenges of working from home for millions of workers.
For Sandra Molleck, who works as a commercial lines account manager for a large California based insurer through WAHVE (a company that places older adults in work-from-home jobs), the biggest rewards are “no commute, no drama, no purchasing expensive work clothes (and especially nylons), plus a comfortable and quiet work environment.”
Her biggest challenges: “Getting into a routine and staying away from snacks. It took me a while, but I have a set schedule. I work out before work and on my lunch hour.”
You can avoid eyestrain by placing your desktop or laptop monitor just above eye level and an arm’s length away.
For millions of us, working from home has become the norm (millions of others have jobs that don’t permit that). But working remotely successfully takes some doing, as I learned while researching my new book, Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home.
So here are my top 10 tips to lower stress, increase productivity and make more money as a remote worker:
1. Keep a regular work schedule. To avoid getting sucked into work 24/7, it’s essential to set your work hours and stick to them. As Molleck figured out, devising a workday is essential for mental health when you’re working from home.
It also staves off burning out. In our quest to prove to employers how productive we are — sometimes to help prevent a layoff or furlough — it’s easy to lose track of time.
Be clear with your manager and colleagues about your work hours.
2. Put firm work/life boundaries in place. This is tricky. When you’re working from a home office, distractions are inevitable. Friends and family may call or even stop by (wearing masks, of course). Politely explain to them that even though you’re at home, you’re also at work.
3. Seriously, get out of your pj’s. Yes, my book title says “Pajama Jobs.” But as much as I love the comfort of pj’s, I really recommend taking the time to dress for work as you might on a casual Friday in the office. It shifts your mindset. I know that when I dress the part, I bring more energy to my work.
Paulette Weems, a virtual assistant who lives in Miami, dresses for work in yoga pants or a pair of shorts and a tank top, but she’s careful to keep a scarf and a jacket in her home office for video calls. And there’s always lipstick and a tube of mascara nestled alongside her computer. “You need something nearby that you can put on real quick, so you are ready to meet the world,” she says.
4. Get comfortable with tech tools to help you work better. You can develop digital collaboration abilities by familiarizing yourself with common tools and software used to link remote employees, including applications for sharing work files such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Box.
Videoconferencing apps that are popular include Zoom, BlueJeans, Skype and WebEx.
For sending quick messages, there are apps like Slack and Teams. And project work for teams can be done more effectively with apps such as Basecamp, Asana and Trello.
LinkedIn has free online skills training for tools like these; so do the Coursera and Udemy online platforms and the apps themselves.
Weems used LinkedIn Learning to ramp up her tech skills for her virtual assistant job, refreshing her Excel abilities and getting schooled in the project management software Asana and Basecamp. Most of her duties are done by email and communication apps such as Boxer, Slack, and Zoom.
“It was a little intimidating, but most of these are not hard to learn,” Weems says.
5. Have a smart home office setup. It’ll avoid health woes like carpal tunnel syndrome and eyestrain. It can help you be more productive, too.
Ergonomics matters. Picking the right computer monitor or laptop, supportive chair and maybe even a laptop stand can make a huge difference. The New York Times’ Wirecutter site has some helpful ratings and recommendations for home office furniture and supplies.
You can avoid eyestrain by placing your desktop or laptop monitor just above eye level and an arm’s length away. Also, supplement any natural light in your home office without reducing the contrast on your computer screen.
If I am not at my desk, I always place a pillow beneath my laptop to bring it to the right level. And I place a rolled towel or pillow in the small of my back to keep me from hunching over.
To reduce tech aggravation, make sure your Wi-Fi connection is as robust as possible. That could mean shifting your router closer or moving your workstation.
6. Listen to your body. I’ve talked to many work-from-homers who complain of terrible neck pain or aching backs.
Are you, like me, guilty of sometimes sitting on your sofa, hunched over your laptop, working for hours lost in the vacuum of time? That’s a recipe for long-term physical ailments such as muscle strains, and lower back injuries.
I’ve found that, in many ways, it often comes down to good posture. (I taped a note to my mouse to remind me. It simply says: Shoulders!)
7. Don’t forget to eat with an eye to nutrition. This is key. When you work from home, it’s easy to get find yourself reaching for some chips or candy. I keep fruit and a glass of water nearby to remind me to pay attention to nutrition.
And remember to take lunch breaks. It’s easy to roll right past meals when you don’t have a co-worker stopping by to see if you want to pop out for a quick sandwich.
8. Take a breather. Self-care is a key component to succeeding as a remote worker. So, make time during the day to take a walk with your dog or exercise or practice yoga or mindful meditation — whatever works for you.
You might read a chapter in a novel. Call a friend or family member. Turn on some music and dance around the kitchen.
Refresh, reboot, re-focus.
9. Make an extra effort to communicate with your boss, co-workers and team. Frequent conversations — by phone, text, email or video chats — may be your only way to share the progress status of your projects
Catching up with your boss through a weekly virtual or phone one-on-one can give you both a chance to stay up to date with each other. It’s subliminal and human nature by bosses to be wary when employees are out of sight, so protect yourself.
10. Deliver. The biggest stumbling block for remote workers has been the underlying issue of trust. Your manager has to know that you will produce and perform, make that boss look good and the employer successful.
Meet your deadlines and exceed expectations. Moreover, accept or volunteer for stretch assignments or to add skills.
A great remote worker eagerly takes on projects and learning without blinking — but still makes time to have a life.
By Kerry Hannon
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