Working Remotely: Tips from someone who’s been doing it for over 10 years

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Besides the relentless stream of concerns about the COVID-19 virus, the most popular thing people are asking me these days is “How the heck do you work at home?”.

I’ve heard it all, backs are hurting from improper set ups (read: sitting on the couch using your coffee table), distractions (kids, pets, the partner), getting bored, feeling lonely, getting lazy, not changing out of pajamas, you name it!

I’ve been working from home since 2009 when I made the transition from the Toronto Vistek office to my place in Vancouver, BC. There was certainly an adjustment period but I devised a plan to keep me on track, learned a few tricks and now that everyone is asking, can share them with all of you!

Start With a Routine

Working Remotely - Start A Routine

Get dressed!

For starters, routine is KEY in the beginning of your remote home based office.

Wake up and do your daily ritual of getting dressed and ready for work. I get it, working in your pajamas is really ideal when you’re home but trust me, it’s a slippery slope to not showering, getting messy and not caring.

Plus you never know when that video conference call will happen! Feeling like a schlub for days on end will make you feel tired, put on some colour and wear your favourite outfit even if you’re just staying home all day.

People are starting to send me their whacky at-home-office-outfits. Seems like tights, track pants and zany shirts are the most popular. No make-up and ridiculous hair-dos also seem to be winning the fashion race!

Working Remotely - Setup a home office

Setup a home office

Set up a home office even if it’s just in a corner of a room and only work from there. Have a dedicated chair and desk that is for work only and do not move your laptop to the kitchen or heaven forbid your couch or bedroom.

Use an app like Harvest to track your time. Without co-workers, breaks and lunch time, sometimes it’s hard to know how long you’ve been productive. Setting the timer option on an app like Harvest will help you stay focused and finish your tasks.

Create a visual board of a running list of deadlines/projects on the go. Taking it off your computer and making it a visual display is more interactive and a constant reminder of what you need to accomplish.

If possible, set boundaries with people in your household. No interruptions from anyone unless it is very important, they should view you as not being available. Having a separate room is even better where you can shut the door.

Ensure that you give your co-workers a window of when you are available, it’s hard to keep track of everyone if they’re not connected at the right times.

Working Remotely - Loosen the rules

Go for a walk or run an errand

Once you’ve mastered the basics of working from home, you can loosen the rules a bit if you feel like you won’t abuse the freedom. I’m not going to lie, there are definitely pajama working days but I schedule things like going for a walk or running a quick errand so I have to get dressed!

Pro Tips I’ve Learned After a Decade of Working Remotely

If you are required to work 8 hours a day but your company has given you some flexibility, I suggest you break up your day into at least two large chunks. I find that I am way more productive if I’m not slogging on the computer for 8 hours straight, by the end of a long haul most people are generally not as productive. I take a sizable break in between giving my mind to reset and start fresh later. If you’re like me and are a night owl, this is especially helpful to work late in the night as there are fewer distractions and it’s quieter.

Working Remotely - Don't get distracted

Try not to get distracted by your phone

Mute your phone or hide it. Seriously, everyone’s phone is such a huge distraction from texting to social media and everything in between. Resist the urge.

If there are other things you would rather be doing and you can’t get it off your mind (for me it’s art projects and playing with my pet co-workers), my tip is to turn these into incentives as rewards. “If I complete this project, I can spend 30 minutes on doing this fun thing.” It works, trust me.

Working Remotely - Work from a cafe

Feeling disconnected from not working in the office? Go to a cafe. Obviously during this social distancing time, this tip is only when things are back to normal. The buzz of the baristas and patrons makes you feel more human and help you stay focused. Sit near other people working on their laptops, their focus can be infectious and the general working vibe can keep you motivated for longer.

This is the time to discover new and exciting music! Although silence can get you through great concentration on a project, an awesome soundtrack can keep your mind from going stagnant.

Get your song on

Get your song on!

I personally love when people share their Spotify Discover Weekly playlist with me. It gives me a slice of what kind of music they like to listen to regularly and introduce me to artists I would otherwise never listen to.

Set up your workstation so it’s comfortable and ergonomically correct. Buy a proper chair that supports your back or train yourself to use a pilates ball. Even better, set up a standing workstation!

Get ergonomic with your desktop

Set up a comfortable and ergonomically correct workstation

Raise your monitor and laptop so it’s eye level so you don’t strain your neck, eyes or back. My main machine is a laptop and it was 100% necessary to get a separate mouse and keyboard in order to maintain my posture better.

At all cost resist the urge to check social media, YouTube or any website that sucks you into the rabbit hole. You can use these as incentives like I mentioned earlier in this article as rewards.

Unagi the cat

Unagi – Photo by Author

If you have pets that are constantly vying for your attention, try isolating them in a different room, or train them to be still in your space.

I am fortunate enough to have a very chill cat named Unagi that likes to sit on my lap for a few hours every morning without disturbing me.

Keep your house clean. Having a messy house will always distract you to think about tidying it. Try to keep your space as professional as possible.

Benefits Of Working Remotely

No Commute time

You won’t miss the commute!

No commuting, you don’t know how much time you’ve saved until you have your office literally in the next room.

The average commute time in Canada is 24 minutes. That’s 48 minutes a day, 4 hours a week, 16 hours a month and 208 hours a year!

And those numbers are just for commuting alone, think about getting ready for work, packing a lunch, getting gas and everything you prep just to get to work.

If you can handle multi-tasking, working from home is a GREAT way to get some chores done at the same time so your free time is really your own. Run a load of laundry, do a quick vacuum, cook your lunch instead of having a packed one. Go for a quick grocery run on your break.

Not sharing bandwidth is probably my most favourite part of working at home. I get the fastest internet available for my building and it is lightning fast which means I can be more productive and not frustrated by waiting around.

Never Miss a delivery

Never Miss a delivery

Never miss an Amazon delivery! Sometimes it can be really annoying to miss a delivery by any carrier and having to go to a pick up location or arrange for them to come another time.

I must admit, all my electronics for work I order online, everything from the main equipment like laptop and monitors to small peripherals like a mouse, adapters and chargers.

Possible Cons of Working Remotely

You may start to feel isolated or lonely without having co-workers around. I admit there are several days where I am completely silent until I meet up with someone later in the afternoon or evening.

The way I mitigate that is to ensure I schedule in some social time outside of my working hours. I will often have lunch with another friend who also works remotely and I teach art classes on some evenings of the week. It allows me to feel human and gives me a break from staring at a screen all day and puts me in direct contact with others.

Facetime a friend

Facetime or video call a friend

With social distancing being crucial for the next few weeks, video calls are a great substitute to in person socializing. While making lunch, I’ll have my mom chatting at me in the kitchen through my iPad or create a Show and Tell moment with friends and family of what kind of creative projects we’re doing to keep occupied. Let’s face it, if any of us have pets, they dominate our picture sharing.

Speaking with other people who work remotely regularly, the most common complaint I hear is that their partners or housemates expect them to clean the house more or take on more chores.

divvy up the chores

Set expectations around chores

If you cohabitate with someone that isn’t working from home, they may not realize that you are still working a full day even if it’s from the comfort of your own house.

My advice is set boundaries of what you are willing to do while you are working. If it inspires you to add on a few extra chores go ahead but if you need to concentrate on your work and leave the chores to after hours, set those expectations.

Probably the secondest most popular complaint I hear from remote workers is that they interact with people who think they’re not working at all! There is a misconception that you can sit around all day, take naps whenever you want and that you’re not accountable for any of your work responsibilities. Try to ignore these comments (they can get really annoying), we all know you have deadlines and a whole other set of challenges working from home!

Minimalize your work space

Minimalize your work space

It can be very distracting working from home and it’s not an ideal environment for everyone. A tip that works for some people is to pick a space with very little visuals, facing a wall or in a room that doesn’t have other activities you would rather be doing.

I hope some of these pointers help those of you new to the remote working gig to get a head start in creating good habits. Although it doesn’t work for everyone, for the first time ever my friends and family are finally understanding what kind of challenges someone can face from being independant outside of an office. It’s certainly entertaining for me to hear everyone’s take on working remotely.

Stay safe, keep your in-person social distancing, keep healthy, eat well and exercise! I wish everyone great success if you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home!


Also published on Medium.

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