Working from home comes with a unique set of challenges. Checking email after dinner can quickly turn a quiet evening into an all-nighter. Lunch breaks can seem like luxuries rather than necessities and peaceful heads-down time can soon feel isolating. Without the proper boundaries, it can be difficult to stay productive while working remotely and preserve your mental health in the long run.
Working From Home Tips
- Establish a dedicated workspace
- Design a more structured workday
- Determine times of peak productivity
- Follow a morning ritual
- Set expectations with your manager
- Set focus days
- Get used to asynchronous communication
- Make time for longer breaks
- Observe a hard stop to the workday
- Limit online distractions
Thankfully, there are strategies and tools available to make the most of working from home, like drawing clear lines between home and work, careful organization and deliberate communication.
Built In spoke with remote culture experts to glean more insights and tips on how to work from home productively.
13 Working From Home Tips to Know
1. Establish a Dedicated Workspace
Whatever the situation, it’s important to find a spot in the house and make it a dedicated workspace. If it’s a tiny room with a kitchen table, make one seat the workspace and don’t eat there. If you only have one seat, try turning the table in a different direction to signal working time. Otherwise, the separation between work and home life can blur, according to Heather Doshay, VP of people at Webflow.
Another strategy that can help is to purchase a movable standing desk or use a stack of books and work on top of the table.
“Even the physical reminder can be a really healthy boundary,” Doshay said.
2. Design a More Structured Workday
It’s critical for a remote worker’s mental health to create their own daily work schedule and stick to it, said Brie Reynolds, career specialist for remote job-listing site FlexJobs. Otherwise, it can be easy to overwork and get burned out. To create some boundaries, set an alarm or calendar alert to signal the start of the day and the end of the day. The alerts can signal to the brain that it’s time to shut the laptop off and disengage from work.
“What that does is it gets you into work mode and you can shed your personal thoughts, and it’s almost like you’re commuting to work because it’s the same time you get into the rhythm every day,” Reynolds said. “And at the end of the day you have your stopping time.”
3. Determine Times of Peak Productivity
Remote workers with flexible schedules should take the time to track their work patterns at different hours of the day, Reynolds said. It can help them identify what times they’re most productive and help them plan the day around that.
At Webflow, Doshay blocks off an hour for lunch each day because she knows it’s when her productivity and patience are lowest. It’s important for remote workers to identify those moments and take that time for themselves, she said.
4. Follow a Morning Ritual
Every morning, Doshay hops out of bed, heads into the hallway and takes the stairs down to the kitchen, where she fills up her HydroMate jug with water and retrieves an energy drink from the fridge. Once her morning beverages are in hand, she journeys back up the steps to her home office to sign in for the day. The daily ritual may not seem like much, but it prepares her for the day to come and helps her get off to a productive start.
“I could literally wake up and walk six feet and be in my office,” Doshay said. “Just walking downstairs and getting water, I’m thinking about my day, I’m starting my day. It helps you set that break.”
5. Set Expectations With Your Manager
Another source of work-from-home tension for newer remote workers is a constant feeling of dread and stress that the work they’re doing is never enough. Reynolds recommends that they have a direct conversation with their manager about expectations. They should ask what key things the manager will be looking for in their work, how often the manager wants them to check in and how frequently the manager wants them to send updates on projects.
“Basically it’s about getting really clear about what your manager expects of you and even asking them, ‘What does me being productive look like to you?’” Reynolds said. “That’s one of the biggest things that gives remote workers anxiety is when they don’t communicate and they’re not getting enough information from their managers about what they should be doing.”
6. Set Focus Days
For four days out of the week, Doshay is available to anyone in the office who needs her help, and her calendar is filled with meetings and appointments. Wednesdays, however, are blocked off. That’s her day to focus on her own priorities.
Since remote work can feel like a never-ending parade of Zoom meetings that eat up time, it can be difficult to make any progress on other tasks. Setting a “focus day,” or a day that’s blocked from any appointments, can be helpful in tackling projects or crossing off items on a to-do list.
7. Get Used to Asynchronous Communication
It’s also important to master asynchronous communication. For less urgent matters, Doshay suggests tools like MixMax and Slack scheduling apps to send delayed messages when a coworker is back in the office.
But some things can’t properly be conveyed through writing. In those instances, Doshay said she uses an app called Loom, which allows users to share their screens and record video messages.
“If I want to show someone how to do something or answer a zillion questions they shared with me, they can follow along as I answer their questions in a video link,” Doshay said. “It saves so much time and hand-ache.”
8. Make Time for Longer Breaks
Sometimes taking a five-minute breather isn’t enough to recharge during or after work. If this is the case, it may help to take a longer break. Stepping out for a bit creates more physical distance between a worker and their home office, making it easier to forget about work and refresh one’s mindset for the rest of the day.
Reynolds recommends committing to go for a walk with a family member or neighbor (when that is allowed) as soon as work is finished. The same strategy can work for afternoon breaks to walk the dog or do yoga.
9. Observe a Hard Stop to the Workday
Letting work spill over into the later evening and nighttime hours only accelerates fatigue and hinders productivity in the long run. To be their best selves during and outside of work, remote employees must draw a hard cut-off to the workday. Set a time for powering down devices and ceasing all work, saving any to-do’s for tomorrow. This practice of establishing boundaries gives the brain time to recharge and come in for work refreshed each day.
“It can help you avoid the burnout that comes with overwork,” Reynolds said. “It can help you feel like you’re on a regular schedule, so that you’re not worrying about work when you’re not working and then worrying about life when you’re at work.”
10. Limit Online Distractions
Working from home means easy access to the internet and mobile devices, which can become distractions if remote workers aren’t careful. To stay productive and avoid getting off track, employees may consider temporarily deleting social media apps from their phones and refrain from saving them in their bookmarks. Unless phones are needed for communication, it may also be best to turn them on silent and store them away for the day.
If workers are assigned laptops for work, they can designate these laptops for specific purposes as well. For example, an employee may decide to use their work laptop only for accessing company platforms and relevant websites and use their personal laptop for social media and other online activities, creating a digital work-life divide.
11. Build Relationships With Coworkers
Not having a coworker to talk with about the latest Avengers film or Bachelor drama can actually become a big problem, Reynolds said. While socializing may seem like the opposite of productivity, those interactions make work more manageable. A lack of connection can create stress and anxiety around the work and cause an employee to feel purposeless.
Joining pre-existing employee groups can also make navigating those social interactions easier. Meaghan Williams, remote work and inclusion program manager at HubSpot, encourages new remote HubSpot workers to join a Slack channel with colleagues working in the same city, state or country that they’re working in, along with any other social groups that match their interests.
Williams is part of a virtual crochet group that logs onto Zoom once a week. Those activities give employees something in common to talk about, and they create natural opportunities for remote workers to meet others in the company whom they may not meet otherwise.
12. Be Detailed in Your Communication
Doshay encourages remote workers to share as much detail as possible in their written communication, even if it seems extraneous. If a conversation gets off-track with misunderstandings, don’t hesitate to schedule a video call. During those conversations, Doshay said, using “I” statements can help diffuse tension and get to the bottom of a situation.
“It’s important to over-communicate,” Doshay said. “If you don’t, people are going to make their own stories in their head of what’s going on.”
13. Take Days Off When You Need To
It’s important to take a day off and separate from work every now and then, even if you work from home, Williams said. To create that separation and truly enjoy the day off, don’t touch that laptop, turn off email notifications and even remove it from the phone, if you can’t help it. Then, spend the day doing whatever makes you happy, she said, whether that’s playing video games all day, going for a run or reading a book.
“When you’re ready for those days, that kind of break is going to allow you to come back with a clear mind and a refreshed plate,” Williams said.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is working from home more productive?
Working from home can be more productive for remote workers, but only if they follow healthy practices. Setting work-life boundaries, leveraging mental health resources and taking breaks are a few ways to ensure working from home is productive without leading to burnout.
Is there a difference between remote and work from home?
The terms ‘remote work’ and ‘work from home’ are often used interchangeably, but the two have different meanings. While ‘work from home’ means working from one’s home, ‘remote work’ means working from any location outside of one’s company office.