With the COVID-19 crisis affecting countries across the world, many of us have moved to working from home. In contrast to the difficulties that so many are facing right now, having the ability to work remotely feels like a privilege. 

That being said, remote working doesn’t come without its challenges. We’re facing a global crisis which, coupled with the big changes in our day-to-day routine, has left many of us seeking a new sense of normalcy.

If you’re looking to optimize your productivity (and maybe even your outlook), try these 5 tips to improve your work-from-home environment:

1. Personalize Your Workspace

Kicking off the day in a personalized workspace is a great way to put yourself in a better mindset before you even begin any work at all.

When setting up your new office, make sure to do the following:

Keep it separate from lounging and/or living areas. 

Working from home is harder if you’re attempting to do so in bed, where your posture can suffer and it’s easy to fall asleep. From the living room couch, the TV can also be tempting, and an area where pets and family members pass by often. If you can’t carve out a separate room just for your office, try your best to find an area with as few distractions as possible.

Make it appealing to you.

The biggest advantage to working from home – other than having a much shorter commute – is that you’re able to work in your version of a comfortable environment. Your aesthetic can be comfy and cozy, high-tech and modern, or even sleek and chic. Whatever it is, make sure you create something personalized, and include things you like, such as photos, plants, or even fun, satirical mugs like this one.

Keep your workspace clean and organized.

It’s really easy to hoard post-it notes, or clutter your desk with used coffee cups. However, chances are that you’re less likely to view a dirty desk as a comfortable place, and more likely to get frustrated with the lack of space. Avoid this by prioritizing organization.

Use ergonomic chairs and accessories, if needed.

The picture-esque photos that you see of other people’s workstations online aren’t always the most functional. You may want to invest in an ergonomic chair or a memory foam wrist rest pad. This will help you stay focused on your work instead of suffering any discomfort.

2. Develop a Routine

Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to return to what we are familiar with in uncertain times. For most of us, we had a routine prior to working from home. We woke up at a certain time, took our usual route to work, and maybe even participated in a daily morning meeting at the office. Once we began working remotely, a lot of our usual routine disappeared.

It’s normal to struggle with things beyond our control when dealing with stressful or uncertain times. Establishing a new routine helps alleviate a lot of the stress of not knowing what to expect. Even adding just a handful of day-to-day rituals will help to offset some of the uncertainty often associated with the current times.

Rather than just waking up and logging on, consider incorporating a new, self-centric routine at the start of your day. Focus on breakfast, meditation, and planning your day. Many of the most successful people in the world attribute their success to an established morning routine.

Don’t try to do the exact same things every day. A daily routine shouldn’t be associated with monotony. Incorporate a handful of relaxing, reassuring, or reinvigorating activities throughout your day, but don’t stop exploring new activities as needed. If your routine does become monotonous to the point where you don’t feel that it’s helpful, then it may be time to reevaluate and reinvent.

3. Plan Your Day

When there’s less supervision, it can be tempting to spend more time on projects that you like over projects that you don’t enjoy as much. It’s human nature to gravitate towards doing things that we enjoy and prefer, but this impulse can also result in unintentionally neglecting important projects and deadlines.

One of the best things that you can do for yourself while working from home is to plan your day. Take a few minutes either the night before or the morning of your workday to prioritize. Analyze every project and take into account the work needed, the payoff, and the deadline. Make sure to write down what you need to do, and by when.

Here are some tools that can help you plan and time-block your day:

A Traditional Planner

Some people love technology, and other people prefer the old-fashioned day planner. Don’t worry, though – just because it’s paper doesn’t mean it isn’t functional. Make sure to choose a planner that suits you, but keep in mind that you’ll probably want a calendar year view, as well as a monthly, weekly and possibly even daily fill-in option. Here’s a great example.

A Digital Project Organizer

For those that prefer automated reminders and upgrade options, or even require collaboration with a team on certain projects, a digital project planner may be a better option. We prefer Asana here at Kairos Design, but Monday.com and Trello are also great options. 

Time Management and Time Tracking Apps

For those that still prefer traditional methods, there’s the option to timeblock your day manually. But for the technologically inclined, apps like Clockify and Toggl can help you stick to your schedule, and even analyze your own productivity.

As an added bonus of planning your day, you’ll be able to reevaluate what you did when the workday ends. You can use this time to evaluate and improve for tomorrow. Or, you can look back on your list of to-do’s and remind yourself of all the tasks you completed in just one day!

4. Establish Boundaries

Working from home can present plenty of distractions that you wouldn’t normally run into at the office. You’ll find yourself with more freedom, but your projects and deadlines may remain the same. To stay productive, it’s important to set boundaries – for yourself and others.

For instance, it can be very difficult to separate your work life from your home life when both take place in the same room. More than anything else, be sure to set a clear boundary between the two. You’ll quickly burn out if you stretch yourself too thin, trying to maintain your home and your job at the same time.

Be sure to enforce a hard stop at the end of the workday to ensure you have enough downtime for tomorrow, and maybe even create a rule that you don’t do household chores while working. 

You may also need to set personal boundaries with yourself. To stay productive, take steps to enforce these boundaries. If you’re very social, maybe make a rule that you won’t take personal calls during working hours. If social media is your vice, then don’t use social media unless you’re on a break. Find what makes you feel less productive, and then try to avoid it as much as possible.

If you have roommates or family members, it may be tempting to get caught up in conversation rather than your work. Be sure to discuss what you need with or from them. Asking for strict quiet hours during conference calls, or requesting minimal distractions throughout the day are common boundaries to set.

If you have kids that are also staying at home, it can be especially hard to tune out non-work obligations – and that’s okay! Each family will have a different structure for this. With kids, you may need to be a little more flexible, but don’t be afraid to ask for or create accommodations that allow you to be productive.

5. Stay Connected With Your Team

When you have a heavy workload, it’s easy to become discouraged. Sometimes deadlines approach too quickly, or you don’t have what you need to finish your project. When you run into unexpected setbacks, it helps to keep an open line of communication with your team.

Working remotely can impact the way you’re able to contact your coworkers. Instead of walking over to their office, you have to know when your teammate is available. If your office hasn’t already, start employing digital applications to help you stay in sync with your team. 

These are some popular examples:

Virtual Chat Rooms

Tools like Slack, Discord, and Google Hangouts are great for instantly getting in contact with your team. You can use them to request information on the spot, and Slack will even let you know what timezone your teammates are in.

Video Conferencing Apps

Apps like Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet can help you get on the same page with your team. Not only will you be able to put a face to the name (or a voice to the email), but whiteboard and screensharing features can help promote collaboration. 

Collaborative File Sharing

Work simultaneously with your team on projects through Google, in documents, spreadsheets, and even presentations. You can also make comments when reviewing another teammate’s work, or review and use their suggestions instantly. With Dropbox, you can share large documents without taking up too much space, and alternate working on your project with other members of your team.

In addition to staying in touch with your team about projects, chances are that you’ll find yourself having a virtual “water cooler chat” at some point. This can help you get to know your teammates better, and break up the day with some social interaction, which typically is more difficult to come by when working from home.

Keep in mind, communicating with your team is more than just talking to them about work-related projects. For an ideal work-from-home environment, it’s good to discuss any issues or problems that you run into, online or offline. One of your team members may be able to offer insights, while another may have some free time to contribute to or help with your project.

Improving Your Remote Working Environment

Long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed, remote working may still be in your future. With so many companies realizing that their employees are just as productive at home, lengthy (and often expensive) office space leases may become a thing of the past – or at least, less common.

Whether your work-from-home situation is temporary or you’re planning on going back in the office soon, having a functional home workspace and solid self-management strategies could become the key to your future success.

Do you have any tips for working from home? Email us with your advice, and we’ll feature them (and you!) on our social media.