It's not an exaggeration to say that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed everything, including the way we work. Many people have become remote employees, at least temporarily, for the first time in their careers.
And while remote work has many benefits, it can be a difficult working arrangement to adjust to for some people — especially when other family members and/or roommates have been forced into quarantine at home too and home and work life are constantly colliding.
We're here to help and have created this brief guide with remote working tips to help you be as productive as possible during this new remote working era. Let's dive in!
The Remote Working Era
Remote work has been growing in popularity for some time. In fact, in 2019 48% of U.S. workers worked remotely at least once per week. But since the COVID-19 outbreak, pretty much everyone has become a remote worker.
While the current circumstances are quite undesirable, remote work, in general, has numerous benefits — even as we all shelter in our homes and practice social distancing:
- Most employees are 22% more productive when working from home.
- The average person has 43% less meetings than they did before the pandemic.
- Most people have 2.5 more hours in their schedules than they did before COVID-19.
These are promising stats and proof that there is a silver lining, albeit a small one, to the current pandemic we're all facing. We just have to take advantage of it.
5 Remote Working Tips
Remote workers have the potential to be more productive than their in-office counterparts. But you have to follow a few tips, tricks, and best practices to reach this level of efficiency. Here are five remote working tips you can implement right now to become super productive during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
1. Remove Distractions
Distraction is an ever present concern, whether you're working remotely or in-office. In fact, one in three millennials list chatty co-workers as their biggest distractions in the workplace. Now that we're all working from home due to social distancing best practices, chatty co-workers are much less of a concern. But self-quarantined family members can make it hard to focus, too.
What's the game plan? How can you concentrate on your work for solid stretches of time, even when the world around you seems intent on distracting you? We have a few suggestions:
- Lock Your Door: This is one of the most important things you can do to avoid distractions. Why does this work so well? Because you're physically blocking distractions from entering your workspace. Your family members won't be able to just burst in and ask you a million questions that take your mind away from the task at hand.
- Wear Headphones: We also recommend working with headphones on. Again, this is another way to block out distractions. If you can't hear what's going on in the room next to your home office, you won't be tempted to postpone your work and engage with the commotion. Similarly, when your family and/or roommates see you in headphones, they'll be much less likely to interrupt you unless absolutely necessary.
- Turn Off the TV: You know what really kills remote productivity? Netflix, Hulu, Disney+... The streaming networks are so convenient and will suck you in if you're not careful. For most people, it makes more sense to never turn the TV on during work hours, that way they're not tempted to watch "just one more episode!"
- Mute Your Notifications: If possible, turn off your phone and log out of your email while doing your most important work. A text or email, even if it's job-related, is a distraction that will keep you from doing your best work. If you're not willing to turn off your phone and log out of your email because you need to be reached in case of an emergency, try silencing your notifications so that you're not breaking focus as often.
- Prioritize Deep Work: Deep work is a popular phrase that was originally coined by Cal Newport in his 2016 book of the same title. According to Newport, deep work is "the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task." In other words, it's the practice of setting aside time to focus on one (keyword, one) important task. By doing this, you naturally eliminate distractions.
If you follow these five quick tips, you'll be able to quickly reduce distractions and focus on your work for longer stretches of time, guaranteed.
2. Keep a Standard Routine
It can be tempting when working remotely to wake up late, wear your pajamas all day, and start work whenever you feel like. You don't have to commute to the office, so what's the harm in a more relaxed schedule and work wardrobe? A lot actually…
Many experts encourage remote workers to keep a standard routine that's very similar to the office schedule they're accustomed to. Get up in the morning, take a shower, get dressed, etc.
For some folks, setting a standard routine is difficult when working from home. Without a standard time to clock-in, it's too easy to base your day around how you feel in the moment. But this rarely leads to high levels of productivity.
Instead, follow these three tips to help you keep a standard routine:
- Know Yourself: When are you most productive? Some people work best in the morning, others excel in the midnight hours. Neither is right or wrong, they're just different. The key is knowing how you work best and then planning your schedule around your natural tendencies and preferences.
- Have an Accountability Partner: Just because you work best in the morning, doesn't mean you'll automatically be excited to get up, get ready, and start working every morning. That's why having an accountability partner can be so effective. If you know that your colleague is expecting you to check in at a specific time before work, you'll be more incentivized to get yourself out of bed on time.
- Reduce Meetings: We suggest scheduling company and team meetings for specific days only. Meetings are widely known to be incredibly unproductive for most organizations. But you can't simply not meet. Instead, plan meetings for specific days and then give your team the autonomy to complete their work by the required deadlines.
3. Use Calendar Blocking
Calendar blocking is the practice of blocking out time on one's calendar to focus on specific tasks. Simple, right? Unfortunately, very few people actually do this consistently. Here are a few tips to help you properly calendar block:
- Prioritize: There are a million things you could do every day. But some projects and tasks will be more important than others. You need to prioritize these activities and make sure you block off enough time on your calendar to accomplish them.
- Eliminate: Look at your list of tasks and ask yourself, "What does not need to be on my calendar right now?" After you answer that question, cut any tasks (especially meetings!) that don't fit your current schedule or aren't one of your immediate top priorities.
- Prepare: You want to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as you begin working. Which means starting the day with preparation is unproductive. Before you clock-out, decide what you're going to work on and when the next day. Then block out time for each one of those tasks in your calendar.
- Review: There's one final task you should accomplish before you shut down your computer and exit your home office: a daily review. How was your day? Did you achieve everything you planned to? Were you able to stick to your calendar? Now use these insights to plan an even better day for tomorrow.
4. Take Productivity Breaks
As the old saying goes, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." While it may seem counterintuitive, breaks throughout the day will actually increase your productivity levels. They'll also make your day more enjoyable, which is equally as important and worth mentioning.
But breaks can be tricky when working remotely for a couple of reasons.
- First: It's easy to get so wrapped up in your work that you forget to stop for a quick breather. When working in a regular office, this is less of an issue because you're usually able to see your colleagues take occasional breaks and are reminded to do the same.
- Second: Some remote workers are afraid to take breaks at home because it's so easy to become distracted while doing so. What if your significant other has the TV on in the living room and you hear it when venturing to the kitchen for a snack? Do you have the willpower to not sit down and watch with them? Not everyone does. To combat this issue, use the techniques we outlined above in the "Remove Distractions" section.
It's crucial that you don't just try to take breaks, but you actually schedule time for them in your calendar. That's right, use the calendar blacking strategy for breaks too!
If you're wondering how to take a productive break,we have a couple of ideas for you:
- Go Outside: Enjoy the sun and listen to the birds. Sip a cup of coffee or tea while you're out there or consider meditating if that's your thing. Whatever you do, plan two or three times (at least) during the day that you can break from your work and reset in nature.
- Leave Your Work Zone: What if it's raining and you can't go outside? Simply go to another room or area of your home. This physical split from your normal work environment will help your brain "turn off" for a few minutes and rest.
- Play a Team Game: Get your colleagues involved in your break time and play a game with them while you all rest and rejuvenate. There are plenty of apps that will allow you and your remote teammates to play trivia, go on digital scavenger hunts, and more. To really up the ante, divvy out rewards for those who win the games!
Breaks, as crazy as it sounds, will definitely help you become more productive as you work remotely. Give them a try and see for yourself!
5. Manage Your Technology
Technology can be a great asset when it comes to productivity and time management. From communication tools to automation solutions, allow the various software applications available help you get more done in less time. Here are a few top options in this regard:
- CloudApp: CloudApp combines screen and webcam recording, GIF creation, and image annotation features into one solution that makes team collaboration between remote employees quick and easy. Why send a long-winded email when you can simply record yourself explaining your thoughts or an annotated image pinpointing your exact areas of concern? The best part is CloudApp can be used for free! Get started today and experience the productivity-boosting power of CloudApp for yourself.
- Calendar.com: Calendar is a popular calendar app used by industry heavyweights like Fox News, Forbes, and CNN. Your most precious asset is your time. This app helps you spend it wisely by allowing users to quickly schedule meetings and block off time for productive deep work. It also features AI and machine learning to tailor the Calendar experience to each user and detailed analytics so you can discover exactly how you're spending your time and refocus your efforts when needed.
- Slack: In all likelihood, your organization has been using Slack for years. Now that your entire team is working remotely, it's an even more valuable tool. If you're not familiar with it, users can converse with each other via text, voice, and video chat; organize conversations into specific channels; and easily search past conversations with Slack's handy searchable history feature.
- Zoom: Zoom has held the title of "most popular video conferencing app" for quite a while. But ever since the novel coronavirus pandemic began, usage of the tool has really exploded — with good reason. Zoom is a great way to connect with your team and host meetings. It also comes with some useful features including HD audio and video, meeting transcripts, and virtual backgrounds.
- PandaDoc: We all create, send, and sign documents on a regular basis. PandaDoc will help you do it much more efficiently with its suite of time-saving features that include customizable templates, a drag and drop editor, esignature capability, convenient document storage, and integrations with other top tools.
- Google Docs: Many companies already use Google Docs to craft blog posts, proposals, and other written documents; then easily send them to each other. But if your organization doesn't use the tool to collaborate on specific projects as well, it's missing out. Google Docs is a quick and easy way to work with your team and get writing jobs done faster than ever before.
- Project Management Apps: Tools like Trello, Asana, and Airtable help keep teams on the same page and focusing on the right goals. They also allow colleagues to converse about projects, send important files to each other, and more. We suggest researching each of these three apps in greater detail (if you aren't already using one of them) and choosing the tool that best fits your team's needs.
Boost Remote Work Productivity
The novel coronavirus has completely changed the way most people work. While a remote job is beneficial in many ways, it can be a tough working arrangement to get used to, especially when it comes to productivity.
Fortunately, if you follow the five tips we listed in this article, you should be able to make the transition and become even more productive than you were at the office. Good luck and stay safe!