During the past few weeks, we’ve told you how globally people are working at their homes more than ever. Lots of people are enjoying it, and their productivity as well as satisfaction towards their employer have gone up. However, there are still a large number of people that are struggling with this new work setup, and they might be wondering if there’s something they should do differently or, at least, something that others are doing better.
Here on this blog, we are revealing our eight secrets to improve your remote work experience during and after this pandemic:
1. Get a shower and get dressed
I know, I know, working in your favorite Scooby-Doo pijamas is just so much more comfortable. But the wide literature on how to make remote work productive is absolutely crystal clear on this point, do get dressed before your workday at home starts. This simple trick will help you so much get into the professional mood, it’s a way for your brain to associate certain clothes with a specific list of tasks, just like it happens for example if you struggle to go to get to the gym, wearing your sport gear helps you get in the mood.
Apart from the obvious benefit of making you look more professional when you have video calls (oh boy if we do have many video calls lately), this simple technique will get you instantly in the working mindset. Don’t underestimate the power of this simple ritual, because ultimately, that is what it is, a ritual. The mere process of actually taking a shower and getting into your work clothes serves as a neuro-association to your more subconscious side that it is time to get to work mentality.
Try it just for a week, you will physically notice the difference. Of course, you decide the length in which you want to do this, but I personally found that putting the shoes on is what does the trick for me. Perhaps it’s its contrary that puts me in the slack-off mode. Working with my slippers on just doesn’t make me feel invincible, have you ever seen a super-hero wearing slippers? No, right? That’s it.
2. Have an intro and outro routine
Maybe you never thought about it that way, but your commute to work, however short or long, served you well all these years as a buffer time for your brain to get up to level and “warm up”.
This also was a healthy routine that I imagine had its similarities: get out of bed, wash your teeth, get dressed, get the coffee ready or grab it along the way, maybe listen to the radio or music. It was a sequence that gave your brain the instruction “ok, we are going to work I guess then”.
Even more importantly, this was your unwinding ritual on your way back to work. Nobody usually stops giving a presentation and then starts cooking five minutes after they are done. There was a gap, and that gap, believe it or not, is very important for your mental health. So hey, what can we do, most of us are stuck at home needing to work remotely for some more months at least, but we can at least try to simulate these Intro and Outro routines so our brain does not need to jump from a highly focused state to a completely relaxed chill out mode, or vice versa.
Maybe you can wake up a tiny bit earlier so you can add some steps to your morning routine and give your brain a bit more time to catch up the rhythm. Add some steps that you repeat every morning in the same way, either a short meditation, a shower, some push-ups or a stroll. That specific sequence will tell your deeper brain structures “ok, we are on” or “ok, we are finally off for today”. Working out, walking outside or having a call with a friend are all good ways to seal closed your day so you can have this division line your brain is so much fond of.
3. Have a working schedule
Working from home does not necessarily mean you can just work more because you commute less. Spend the last 20 minutes of your day having a look at tomorrow’s agenda. Get a blank paper and fill in your priorities, your lunch and midafternoon break and especially follow a rigid time schedule. Your body simply LOVES routines, so try to keep it similar on most days, start and stop at about the same time every day. Technically you should be able to get more done in less time, because at home we generally should be more focused (this is unless you have three toddlers biting your calves from under the desk).
You might live with flatmates and not alone, but generally speaking we receive far less distractions than if we were in an office environment. Less calls, less chats at the coffee machine (yeah, I miss those too), and less people coming and going. Try it for two weeks, you might actually more done if you try to squeeze your work into seven hours workdays. You will need to prioritize more and the lack of “well, I can just keep on working another three hours to finish this if not” will help you become more laser-like and less ‘get-very-busy’ like.
4. Remember to drink and eat
Sometimes you hear that people are trying to lose weight, but it’s tough because of their work environment where you can find some small treats and snacks here and there, and the lunches tend to be long and heavy. Here’s some good news for you, at home, you’re 100% in control of what you have and what you’re going to eat. Your daily meal plan should be something like breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and dinner. Eating at least five times a day and healthily, you will keep your energy levels up, and your productivity will not drop throughout the day.
The key here is also to plan, prepare, and execute. This means that night before you can easily prepare your breakfast, snacks, and lunch that you’re going to have the next day. And this is highly recommended because if you don’t, you might be too busy to do it during your workday and then the temptation grows to skip it or go after some unhealthy options, which might give you short-term energy peak that turns against you hour or two after.
And remember to drink lots of water. Health authorities commonly recommend drinking about two liters of water every day. And coffee does not count! In fact, after every cup of coffee, you should always get one extra glass of water.
5. Don’t forget your Vitamin D(ude!)
This is just science. You need vitamin D to survive. You can get it from pills, but you will need direct sun-light, at least a tiny bit of it, in order to process it. Somedays we just get busy, especially now that the days are getting shorter, you might have days in which you are likely not even to step outside. Especially if it’s winter, cold and rainy.
It is very important that you schedule in your agenda, set a daily reminder on your phone or put a post-it on your forehead, that you at least get out and walk around the block. We are all so addicted to our phones, so at least once or twice per day, get out of your building, walk a little and then check your many super important notifications in a spot where you find in the sun. 10-20 minutes of direct sunlight it is proven that are enough to boost your mood, help you sleep better later at night, and they are enough for you not to be Vitamin D deprived.
Walking is also been proven that helps your whole body oxygenate more, and can increase your cognitive capacities by 18% for a limited time. Stuck with a problem, have a walk. Steve Jobs was famous for having most of his meetings with other people, while walking. If possible, place your desk close to where you have the most natural light in your flat. If your place is rather dark, seriously consider working in a café if you can.
Moreover, you will need to compensate how much you socialize with the external world now that we all work alone, a recent study demonstrated that it is enough for you to be surrounded by people to feel less lonely, you don’t need to interact with them necessarily. Don’t be rude though, say hi to your neighbor
6. Careful with infoxication
One of the higher risks of working from home, is that you might feel tempted to keep the radio or tv on while working, to keep you company. Nowadays every channel is basically covering the Covid-19 situation a good 90% of the time. You possibly might not feel it in a week, but the background stress of constantly feeling worried about the pandemic might take an expensive tool on your overall mental balance. Ultimately you are not looking at the news so much at the office normally no? Do not get infoxicated (intoxicated by an excess of information). We promise you that anything very important you can still hear in the 7pm news.
If you are a big fan of checking your phone every five minutes, simply put in another room or even not having it at an arm’s length is usually enough. Keep it a few meters from your desk, I know it sounds absurd, but we are actually that lazy, you will get up less to check it. Often just seeing your phone serves as a mental trigger that invites you to just have a quick check, so just put it where you don’t see it. No, your pocket does not count, because you can feel it there.
7. Don’t forget that you are human (too)
We live in such a digital era that many argue that we have a reality world and digital world in which we swim sometimes most of the time. We are social creatures though, and even if you used to go to a small office space, you interacted with so many other Homo Sapiens along the way. You might have video calls and chat but it’s not quite the same. I know you might feel tired after that unexpectedly long Tuesday, but you really need to make a small effort to socialize a bit more.
The risk is serious, there are many small changes that come related to start remote working all of a sudden. You might possibly enter a downward spiral as you socialize just on the weekend, this is more likely if you live alone and do not live in the center of a larger city. Do not isolate yourself, get out, start a course, try to connect more and as we mentioned before, even having a walk and just being around people is enough for your socially hungry radar.
If you really live on the last hill of the Himalayas, then make sure you have more video calls with your friends, family and coworkers even. It’s not quite the same but it will still work if you have no other option. Even if you have a PHD in introversion, seriously take in consideration being more social and spending quality time around people more during the week and especially on weekends.
8. Define your working space
Mental cues are everywhere. We do most of our actions everyday as a result of a habit, use this principle in your favor. There are many visual triggers that remind you that if would be great to have a candy for example, even if you are not hungry at that moment. Seeing the toothbrush reminds you that you should wash those good ol’ teeth before you hit the bed, and so on.
Same for working, if you can have a designated room for work only, if your space is tight, maybe just use a corner that is just for that. Decorate it and make it cozy for you. Don’t forget the ergonomics, working for months on your laptop is not an option, laptops were built to be on the go, invest on a screen or ask your employer for one. You can find brand new 24-inch monitors for very cheap nowadays. A keyboard and a mouse would help, A LOT. But mainly a working chair is the most important part.
I asked my colleague permission to use him as an example because his workstation at his home is a perfect example of how he has taken into account all of these different matters. It’s pretty hard to say what you could improve in this home working environment:
You don’t buy the whole shebang at once, but invest in your health, you are worth it. When I asked my colleague Teemu, what is his favorite item in his workstation, in nanosecond, he said the chair and then right after comes the big screen that is lifted. Sitting long days on your butt is a bad for anyone but you can also do a something about it and having a good chair will help a lot. That chair in the photo is from a company called Secret Lab that designs chairs for professional gamers but has become widely popular among businesspeople as well.
If your space is so limited that you need to use your kitchen table to work on, make sure you wrap everything up before you finish work so you can literally unplug once you are done. Same for browser tabs, programs etc. Few people know that on Google Chrome you can create another user just for the work, so you can keep your favorite tabs and logins separate.
If you can don’t even enter your room with your laptop, have your brain associate your bed and bedroom to a temple of peace and rest. You can also change working environments by changing the lights, using inscence so you can try to divide the spaces in more creative ways.
Summary: get your working clothes on, have a working schedule so you know when you start and when you finish, design a routine for when you begin your day and for when you wind down, remember to eat and drink, socialize more, have a designated working space and invest in a few gears that can safeguard your spine, stop staring at the news, blogs or on TV.
Did we leave anything out? Drop us a comment on LinkedIn on your favorite ideas and tricks on how to better work remotely.
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