Remote work in the U.S. increased by 159% from 2005 to 2017, according to data from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 4.7 million people—about 3.4% of the population—worked from home. In light of social-distancing and shelter-in-place orders, that number has jumped exponentially in the last month and is expected to continue climbing throughout 2020.
New rules that have forced otherwise on-site jobs to establish remote-work policies have shed light on how feasible it is for most workers to do their jobs from the comfort of their home offices (or kitchens, living rooms, and bedrooms). But working from home, while convenient, presents its own set of challenges. Establishing boundaries with roommates and spouses, ensuring you have the right gear, perfecting your lighting for video conferences, and hammering out a daily routine you can stick to—all while finding time to exercise, virtually socialize with loved ones, and figuring out a reasonable work-life balance—isn’t inherently easy to pull off.
To help, the staff at Stacker—a 100% remote company—has curated a gallery of 50 ways to improve your work-from-home life. From managing too many open tabs on your browser to writing off work-related expenses, we’ve taken our own experience, and that of millions of professionals with experience working from home, to give you a bunch of insights meant to optimize your productivity and preserve your personal life.
Keep reading to find out how to have a happy home-work life.
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It can be difficult to establish structure when you are home. Whether you keep a list by hand or update a Google Calendar, time management and prioritization goes a long way in your remote workday.
Establishing physical structure is just as important as a schedule—that is, creating a somewhat formal workspace environment that feels similar to reaching your desk or office. You should be comfortable, but take it seriously enough to ensure proper lighting, organization, and privacy if you are easily distracted by roommates.
This may seem obvious, but trading your sleepwear or pajamas—at least part of them—for an outfit helps to make you feel like you’re showing up even if you just move from your bed to your workspace.
Gym sweats and leggings are great options for both bed and remote work. Remember, your coworkers won’t see you from the waist down.
Twitter is a great resource to digest the day’s headlines, but spending too much time on Facebook and Instagram is going to bring your productivity down. Check in on your friends and favorite celebrities while you eat lunch.
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Similar to the scheduling tip, think of this as clarifying your work-life balance. Mark reminders and set aside time to eat, walk your dog, catch up on conversations with friends and family, and other to-do items that you can cross off your list between work tasks.
Just because you might be working from home by yourself doesn’t mean you should be isolated. Communicate with coworkers throughout the day using instant messengers, email, or Slack. Schedule face time with coworkers (virtual lunches over video, meetings, coffee chats).
Build personal rapport with coworkers and invest in personal relationships. This will improve not only your business operation and team efficiency, but will make you feel much less alone—even from thousands of miles away.
One of the benefits of working from home is schedule flexibility, but it’s only accomplished when you are easily reachable. Make sure your coworkers know when you’re unavailable or done for the day by sending a message, marking your calendar, or setting a Slack status.
If you work better with music or white noise (or live in a noisy area), you’ll want to invest in a good pair of headphones. This tip should be graspable for anyone who typically commutes to and from work without ever removing their noise-canceling headphones.
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For anyone who completes two tasks simultaneously or needs to declutter visually, investing in a second display is a perfect way to open up your workspace and increase efficiency.
We recommend moving around your remote quarters throughout your work day, but for those multiple-hour spells, the last thing you want to worry about is a sore back. Use a chair that is comfortable and promotes good posture.
Drinking water is vital to staying focused, maintaining energy, and supporting your metabolism and immune system. Smart (or pH) waters are pricier but include electrolytes.
Another tip that is helpful in your life generally (not just for remote work), eating natural fat, salt, and sugar sources like nuts and fruit (instead of cookies and chips) will help you maintain good health even as you remain sedentary. Of course, balance is key: Go ahead and enjoy the occasional cookie or chips.
Speaking of a sedentary lifestyle—nearly unavoidable when working from home—it’s important to get up and move around throughout a shift (every hour if possible). Get the blood flowing, reduce lactic acid through stretching, and draw in some deep breaths to clear your mind.
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Whether taking 30 seconds for pushups and body-weight squats or spending 30 minutes doing yoga, it’s vital to allot time in your day to exercise. Give working out the same respect for time as you would taking a work lunch.
Feel free to work with your dog or cat in your lap, if they won’t distract you. Bonding time with your pet is beneficial for both parties and it is one of the biggest perks of working from home.
For some it’s classical, for others it’s heavy metal or video game music. Whatever genre puts you in the right frame of mind to get your work done and help your team is the music best conducive to focus for you.
Use podcasts as an opportunity to catch up on the previous day’s news (like “The Daily”) or learn something new (“Stuff You Should Know”). Save the true-crime serials for after work.
Working from home means you go through less clothing than you might if you had to head to the office, so it’s easy to not be as concerned with laundry. While you won’t be visible from the waist down working from home, you still need clean shirts, so it’s recommended to do laundry ahead of time so you’re not stuck doing it during your lunch breaks.
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Unless they are a dog or cat, have a conversation with your roommates about boundaries and how you can best cohabitate as you maintain a professional working life in the same space they may simply be living. Establishing trust and respect ahead of time is important for avoiding conflict and frustration in the future.
Similarly, let family and friends know how much (or little) you’ll be able to text or call throughout the day. Communicate that you may not always be able to respond swiftly or chat for extended periods just because you work from home.
Start your day with some sunlight to boost your energy and positivity. Temporarily move your work by a window, or bring your computer outside (patio, balcony, etc.) for an hour or two.
We all need some down time and to separate work from pleasure when our scenery is static. Tell your manager or coworkers you are “done” to minimize the blurry line of availability. Walk away from your computer to help decompress; do not stay “attached” to your screen all day even when you are free.
Put your favorite news network on mute and catch a headline every so often. You’ll stay informed of the day’s updates without getting too sidetracked. Reality television—or anything where the dialogue is integral—is not recommended.
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Taking five to 10 minutes to read breaking news or general interest journalism is a healthy way to break up your workday and stimulate your mind and body for short periods.
Remember, you and your coworkers are in this together, even if you’re physically isolated. Coordinate coffee refills via video chat and check in. Plan to have a remote after-work drink and cheers to all the work you just accomplished.
Plan remote team quizzes or schedule movie nights. You can carve out 15 minutes to talk about something you all watched the previous night.
Reframe the boredom and restlessness that can sometimes accompany working from home: Remember you are fortunate to be able to work remotely. You can choose what to wear, you can sleep later than commuters, you save money on transportation, and you are lucky to be comfortable and safe at home, unlike workers on the frontlines of health and safety.
Just because you have the ability to work flexible hours doesn’t mean you should sleep in. Beginning work early will maximize productivity and reinforce the structure obtained from mandatory in-person 9 a.m. meetings.
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Walking the dog, feeding the cat, washing the dishes, and pulling clean clothes from the dryer are examples of things you should still schedule. Don’t ignore your animals and housekeeping when considering time management for your day and week.
There are countless solutions, including apps (both free and paid), to help boost productivity, no matter what issue you are facing, whether it’s time management, scheduling, staying focused, or prioritizing tasks. If you have trouble staying off social media while working, try using Google Chrome’s incognito mode or make a separate browser profile in which you are not signed into social media pages.
When you’re spending hours at a time sitting at the same location, make sure you enjoy being there. Decorate your desk area, whether it's with random trinkets or photos, or even a unique lamp to make lighting a bit more fun. Make your workspace work for you, not the other way around.
Mark your virtual calendar with any planned or last-minute appointments or activities that will force you away from your computer. Even if you tell coworkers you have to step out, your calendar is a safeguard.
You may feel like working from home requires you to not move from your desk, even when you’re hungry—that’s not true. Block off some time to get outside for some fresh air if possible, or stay indoors but move to your kitchen table for a break that leaves both your mind and your body replenished.
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Prepare healthy meals days in advance or on Sunday for the upcoming week. You don’t want to find yourself hungry midday and face the daunting task of cooking meat or grains from scratch. Make meals you can eat cold or right out of the same container after reheating to cut down on dishes.
Don’t necessarily take this time to start a three-course meal, but using your hands to quickly build a healthy sandwich or salad is a great way to destress, decompress, and eat something delicious. It also can be a practical way to move around if you’ve spent too much time at your desk.
Take advantage of the spring weather. Open the windows, or sit for a while in the sun if you have outdoor space. Take a walk around the neighborhood, head up to the roof, or climb out onto the fire escape. Any opportunity to touch base with nature will help, even if it’s just sitting near the window and listening to the rain.
Be proactive in tracking your expenses while working from home, including rent, electricity and water bills, and WiFi costs. If you are an independent contractor, a percentage of what you spend on running a home office can be written off. If you feel overwhelmed by sorting this on your own, reach out to a financial expert for guidance.
Freelancers should research resources or organizations that may help deal with some of the challenges that come with working as an independent contractor, such as saving for retirement or paying for health care. Freelancers Union is one nonprofit group that advocates for its members as well as provides health insurance.
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Before you join your coworkers (and bosses) for video calls, make sure your space is well lit and that you don’t accidentally add noise interference. Save the crunchy snacks for after the meeting!
Whether you’re in an all-staff meeting, breakout “room,” finishing a piece of content, or giving final approval on a project, silence all phone, email, and messenger notifications so you don’t get distracted—just be sure to mark that you’re currently unavailable to respond to messages. Gloria Mark, an expert on digital distraction, estimated it takes almost 25 minutes to get back on track after being derailed by a distraction.
Even if you have invested in an ergonomic desk or chair, it is important to continually be aware of your posture. Poor posture has been linked to fatigue, headaches, poor circulation, and even bad moods. To maintain productivity and a positive environment for the people around you, try simple exercises like chest openers and spinal twists. Taking breaks to stand, walk, and stretch will help you feel energized.
If you have a flexible remote schedule, figure out the times of day that you’re most productive. A 2019 study by Accountemps found that 44% of Americans are at their peak productivity in the early morning, while just 2% said their best work comes in the middle of the night.
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Part of managing expectations and having a happy work-life balance means disconnecting from work. If you’re in the middle of a project or awaiting updates on something, it makes sense to touch base or check your email. If you’ve reached the end of a normal workday, those emails can wait until morning.
Nothing cuts through tough online conversation like a well-placed emoji. Be sure to check in with your managers, coworkers, and reports in order to spread some levity and maintain a sense of humor.
Working on your balcony for the day? Working from an alternate location for the week? Let your coworkers know, even if it doesn’t mean taking a day off. New locations can mean different expectations regarding schedules and connectivity.
For the old-school among us, there’s nothing like a pen-and-paper checklist to mark when tasks are done. For the more savvy, services like Trello or Google spreadsheets can help you manage your workflow alone or with coworkers and collaborators.