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Remote work

8 tips for thriving vs surviving when working remotely

Remote work has been around for decades, but nothing propelled it into mainstream culture faster than the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the start of 2020, only 17% of employees worked from home 5 days per week. After the pandemic, this number jumped to 44%.

We are currently experiencing the greatest opportunity for remote work we’ve ever seen, but not everyone is feeling the same excitement about it.

Working remotely offers flexibility, freedom, and ownership to distributed teams. It’s the reason we can create lasting global partnerships and grow businesses internationally.

Yet, some people find remote work difficult and exhausting. If you don’t have a comfortable office space set up, or if you feel disconnected from your wider team, remote work can become something you dread, rather than cherish.

Since the pandemic began, many companies have committed to remote work long-term. This means that, like it or not, you may be in a position where you need to learn how to excel in a remote work environment. 

So, how do you go from surviving remote work to thriving in it?

Read on to see our top 8 tips for improving the quality of your work from home day.

How to work from home successfully

Working from home successfully takes time, testing, and patience. You need to consider your personal habits, working hours, communication techniques, and boundaries.

It’s important to remember that not every schedule works for every person. Be gentle with yourself at the start and don’t be afraid to try new things.

1. Consider what your ideal workday looks like

In a remote work environment, you can design your workday to match your individual needs. 

For some, this might mean getting up at 5 am and starting the day with a workout. For others, it may look like sleeping in and enjoying a hot coffee outside before jumping in to work.

When designing your ideal remote workweek, consider your personal habits and how they align with your working schedule.

  • Are you a morning person? 
  • Or, do you do your best work at night? 
  • How many breaks do you need? 
  • What time of day is best for scheduling meetings?

Whatever your method, take charge of your day and set firm boundaries between work and life. If you need an exercise break, build that into your calendar. If you find yourself distracted with too many daily meetings, set boundaries for when and how you take customer phone calls.

Consider digital tools, such as a Smart Calendar to help you block off time for specific tasks or activities. In the example below, you can see that time has been made for focus, biking, workouts, and collaboration. Lunch is also scheduled for the same time every day, and meetings are broken up with regular breaks and exercise.

smart calendar for remote work success
Calendar with scheduled focus time

2. Set up your remote desk or office for success

While not everyone has the luxury of a spare room to set up their remote office in, or even money to invest in an ergonomic chair, there are basic principles that can be used to make your remote office work for you.

Here are a few things to consider when setting up your remote workspace:

Pay attention to lighting

Lighting is a crucial element of any workspace. Bad lighting has been associated with a range of health problems, including eye strain, fatigue, and increased stress and anxiety. 

Natural light has been shown to reduce headaches, stress, and drowsiness in workers. It also promotes productivity and alertness.

Whenever possible, set your workspace up near a window or in an area of your home that gets the most natural light.

If you’re working in the winter or in the evening, choose soft, incandescent light. Keep office lights indirect and avoid working under direct glare. You can also use task-specific lighting, such as an adjustable desk lamp, for reviewing paperwork or other focus-intensive tasks.

Check-in with your ergonomics

Ergonomics revolves around fitting a workspace to the user’s needs. This includes the way you interact with your environment and the level of comfort you have in your working day.

If you find yourself sore, tired, and unmotivated at the end of your workday, it could be a sign that your ergonomics are out of order. If ergonomic issues go unchecked, they can result in workplace injury and long-term physiological issues.

Here are a few ways to make your workday more ergonomic:

  • Sit with a straight and neutral spine and avoid hunching throughout the day
  • Find a chair that lets you sit at elbow height with your desk
  • Keep monitors at least arm’s length away from you
  • Use a detached mouse and keyboard, rather than built-in laptop versions, whenever possible
  • Consider floor padding or footrests for better ground support
  • Keep your workspace clean and clear so as to avoid reaching or stumbling as you work
  • Make time for daily stretches and exercise

mother and daughter practice yoga while working from home
At home stretching

Use sound to create a calming environment

Sound can be your best friend or worst enemy in a remote work environment.

While white noise or soft music may help you optimize for deep work, annoying sounds like construction, children yelling, and dogs barking can have the opposite effect.

Consider the noises in your home and try to position your remote workspace in a place that is free of distracting noises.

If this is not possible, noise-canceling headphones may help to diminish some of the noise.

White noise and music may also help you focus, depending on your working style. 

Design your workspace for joy and productivity

Design can have a huge impact on worker productivity. 

Studies have shown that simple design additions, such as house plants, can make employees 15% more productive.

Similarly, color, space, and art can have calming effects that make deep work easier.

Here are a few budget-friendly tips you can use when designing your remote workspace:

  • Shop on Facebook Marketplace for creative, cheap finds
  • Host a virtual art night with friends and adorn your office with art you created
  • Use plants or natural decorations to create calm
  • Paint the walls around your space in a color you love
  • Organize your desk space and remove clutter

laptop in corner of room with yellow bed home office design
Small remote work office

3. Make time for social activities like remote water cooler chats

One clear downside to remote work is that it is often done in isolation.

This makes prioritizing social interactions, both inside and outside of work, something we have to work at.

To combat this issue, consider the times in an office setting where you had the chance to engage in natural social interaction. Perhaps this was in daily standups or water cooler chats.

Once you understand what’s missing, you can begin to brainstorm ways to recreate these moments either in-person or online.

A daily meeting could turn into a leisurely outdoor walk if your colleague lives in the same area as you.

While water-cooler chats may not be as spontaneous as in the office, you can schedule time for them with your team members. These short social breaks can help you stay connected as a remote team.

As well, make time for your own personal interactions with people outside of work. 

Studies have shown that socializing not only keeps loneliness at bay but also helps improve memory and cognitive skills. It can also increase happiness, feeling of well-being, and even help you live longer.

two dogs on a remote work video call
Social zoom call with dogs

4. Set clear communication boundaries

A survey by PGI found that many workers are working eight hours a day in their office, but often find themselves “taking work home” and 15% say their work creeps into their weekends. 

This problem can be even more severe for remote workers, whose lines between work and home life are increasingly blurred.

If you feel like you’re always on the clock, or don’t seem to have a good grip on when and how you respond to work messages, it may be time to set some communication boundaries.

Begin by establishing clear communication rules with your team at work so they know when and how you want to be contacted. Certain automation features, such as automating your Slack status, can help you set these boundaries digitally as well as socially.

On the home front, consider setting boundaries with roommates or partners to ensure you will have the time and space needed to do your best work. Creating a custom working hour schedule and posting it in your common space can help set these boundaries. 

While there are many nuances to remote communication etiquette, it’s important to think about what healthy communication looks like to you. Are you someone who thrives with asynchronous communication, or do you prefer to respond synchronously? If you’re feeling confused with all the communication possibilities, check out our Slack etiquette guide for more insights.

5. Keep a consistent routine

At home, it can be difficult to avoid distractions and stay productive. This fact is only exasperated when you work on an inconsistent schedule.

Keeping a consistent routine can help you stay focused, accountable, and motivated throughout your workday.

That being said, your routine doesn’t need to echo the traditional nine to five.

If you like sleeping in, start your routine later. If you’re a morning person, you may enjoy starting early and finishing early. 

Whatever you choose, try to wake up at the same time every day.  From there, design a morning that will bring you the most joy.

For some people, this might be exercise > coffee > checking emails, or even coffee > shower > walk.

No matter your schedule, keep it consistent and clear so that you have a routine to follow.

6. Take regularly scheduled breaks 

One of the biggest complaints new remote workers bring up is that time management is increasingly difficult when you are on your own.

Because of this, many workers end up working too much and failing to take necessary breaks.

This can lead to burnout, fatigue, and loss of productivity.

To avoid these issues, schedule breaks into your workday. This can include your lunch, but should also include other small, 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day. 

Take a walk with a friend, take your dog to the park, buckle down for a bit of exercise, or even just gaze out the window for a while and let your mind reset.

Taking breaks has been proven to:

  • Increase worker productivity
  • Improve mental health
  • Boost creativity
  • Improve physical health

7. Leverage tools and software to improve your workday

From Slack to Gmail, Zoom, Teams, and beyond, chances are you use at least four to five different digital tools every day.

But, are these tools helping or hindering your productivity? Some studies have shown that applications such as Slack can increase worker stress and cause them to work longer hours.

While these tools may not be perfect, there are ways to modify them to better suit your working life.

Tools like Holopod can help you to schedule a message on Slack so that you don’t disturb your colleagues in their off time. You can also automatically update your Slack status, set custom office hours, and use Slack bots to improve productivity.

Other tactics, such as consolidating your files on digital storage platforms such as Google Drive, moving your project management system online, and hiring a virtual assistant can help alleviate general remote work stress.

Here are a few tools used by the best remote teams.

holopod dashboard for remote teams
Holopod screenshot

8. Cut yourself some slack

Finally, remember that presence is not productivity. Your self-worth is not determined by the number of hours you work in a day, nor the trajectory of your career.

If you’re still new to remote work, the first step to thriving is to give yourself the time and space to design your work life. Try different spaces, wake up at different times, start your day in different ways. The more you try, the more you’ll learn, and eventually, you’ll have created the perfect remote workday.

Companies that want to retain remote employees should also  prioritize employee health, well-being, and the methods they design to keep themselves accountable.

No more micromanaging, no more looking over your employee’s shoulder. 

The future of work is individualistic and the best way to thrive is to make your workday work for you.

Interested in learning more about remote work and productivity? Check out the Holopod blog and download our Slack app to improve your remote work day.