Right now, more and more people are working from home than ever before. Whether you typically work remotely as part of your job or you’re working from home due to the COVID-19 crisis, I want to share what I’ve learned from my 11 years of working from home.
As a Senior Software Engineer at DialogTech — we’re headquartered in Chicago but I live in North Carolina — working remotely is my norm. Plus, I’ve worked remotely in my past roles and have been since 2009. Over the years, I’ve stumbled upon some things that have worked for me — and I’ve also had the chance to discover things to avoid doing. Make yourself a home-brewed cup of coffee or tea and maybe you’ll learn some helpful tips!
1. The Importance of Routine
The most important thing to keep in mind when working from home is your daily routine. I find it extremely important to keep myself on a rather rigorous schedule every day, and I try to not deviate from that routine under any circumstance, as much as possible.
This means starting work at the same time every day, taking lunch at right around the same time every day, and essentially establishing a cadence with your teammates about when they can expect you at your desk versus when they can’t. It’s all about taking the guesswork out of your availability to your colleagues.
Taking a little bit of time before work to get showered and dressed is something I’ve found to be hugely important to start the day off in a productive headspace. It also helps me create that mental space between home life and work life. It feels good to go to work dressed (sorry, sweatpants!)
2. Create a Workspace
Create a space in your home that is dedicated to your work. This can be an office, a specific chair, or any other space where you can sit and not be disturbed. If you need to shut the door and block out the rest of the people you live with, then it’s important to establish those boundaries early.
There are plenty of things you can do to signal to your household that you’re working on a particularly focus-intensive task or if you are in an important call and can’t be disturbed. This can something like closing a door or putting on headphones. It’s good to have an open conversation with your family or roommates about this — so when do you need to work undisturbed, you know you can go into it with your full attention and no interruptions.
One last thing: Keep your space clean and tidy. If my office gets cluttered, it’s just a bummer, but it makes me feel less productive as well. Take a few minutes every morning to tidy the space around you. You’ll thank yourself for it all day long.
3. Communication is Key
When you’re off-site, it becomes increasingly important to digitally communicate with your team as much as possible. This means providing frequent updates to your direct teammates, scheduling video calls to connect face-to-face, and ultimately taking the guesswork out of your projects and progress.
Since you’re no longer in the office having those incidental conversations, the burden is on you to fill that gap and be a proactive force of communication. Try to lean into your video chats, as opposed to taking meetings with the “audio-only” option. Face-to-face communication — even when it’s virtual — can make meetings more effective and collaborative.
4. Bad Habits Stick Quickly
As important as it is to build up good habits, it’s also equally important to avoid bad habits. A thing that you tell yourself you’ll only do for a couple of days (like wearing pajamas or working in bed) can quickly become something that bleeds into your day-to-day work life, killing your productivity. Set some ground rules for yourself! What may seem innocent for a while can add up to a long-term bad habit that’s really tough to break.
5. Know When to Change It Up
One thing I really miss about working in an office is being around other people. I miss the camaraderie that comes with being able to chat with colleagues over coffee or taking a walk. Try building in time to chat with your coworkers about things outside of work or scheduling time every day where you call a friend.
Recently, DialogTech just started a #snack-break Slack channel. Even if you’re remote, who says you can’t still chat with your coworkers over a snack break? We’ve been using this channel to provide snack recommendations and even video conference coworkers while brewing coffee.
As key as that remote “routine” is, you have to also know when you just need a break from it. Take walks, talk to friends, take your work to a quiet cafe where you can work for a couple of hours every now and then. Enjoy the freedom that working from home offers you from time to time. It’ll make you all the more productive at home.
6. Get in the Zone
If I can’t seem to get myself into a productive headspace, I turn to music. I’ll get my headphones on, turn on something I love, take a deep breath, tell myself, “Okay, let’s do this,” and just make it happen. You would be surprised what a motivator music can be. It can change your entire headspace. Use it to your advantage. Try it sometime when you just can’t seem to switch from home-mode to work-mode.
7. Know When to Quit
Just as important as starting on time every day, stopping on time is extremely vital. This means shutting the laptop and walking away at the end of the day. Just set the time, turn off the computer, and enjoy the evening. Take a short walk to make a mental break between your workday and your evening. I know, I know, you really want to just get this thing “wrapped up,” but let me tell you: attacking that problem the next day, rested, is going to be much easier. I promise you that.
8. Try These Helpful Tools
There’s lots of software that can help you stay productive in the workplace. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Shush (MacOS): Shush is a big one for me. Do you find yourself switching between video conferencing software and needing to re-learn how to mute and un-mute in each one? Shush essentially gives you the ability to easily mute and unmute your mic at the system level. This way you don’t need to even think about the individual software’s mic control. You can just use Shush to un-mute and mute, and it allows you to set up custom keyboard shortcuts (so you can enable a “push to talk” mechanism if you like).
- Fantastical (MacOS): I always have to mention this one, because it’s an absolutely superb calendar application, which will give you reliable alerts when meetings are coming up. It’s not free, and not even necessarily cheap, but I use it every day, multiple times a day. The integration with G-Suite and other calendars is excellent too.
- Droplr (MacOS): Droplr is another very helpful tool. It allows you to take screenshots or videos, and will immediately upload them to the cloud and put a short URL in your clipboard for easy sharing to colleagues. I find this very helpful to give a conversation context when I’m talking about something application-related. Furthermore, it allows you to shorten URLs, put quick text snippets in the cloud, and even annotate screenshots before sharing them. Very cool.
- Google Meet: Yes, we use video conferencing a lot. One thing that many people find annoying is hunting down a meeting’s permalink before a meeting starts. It usually involves digging into the calendar event itself. Want to save time? Head to this URL Google will show you a list of all of your upcoming Google Meet meetings that day. Very handy indeed.
- These little camera covers: These are super handy for disabling your laptop camera when you’re not using them. Some video conferencing software can start video without prompting you. This will ensure that you are only on video when you are ready.
- DialogTech (shameless plug!): If you typically deal with prospect calls as part of your day-to-day, you might be used to being at a call center or an in-person location. When you work from home, DialogTech’s advanced routing technology allows you to continue answering calls driven by marketing channels — from paid search, SEO, your site, and so on — so you can connect with prospects from home. With DialogTech, you can have calls routed to a remote employee or group of employees’ phones simultaneously, in a round-robin, or in a hunt group until someone answers. And if you already have ads running with phone numbers, there’s no need to change them. You can simply change the routing in the backend of DialogTech to have these numbers direct calls to remote staff.
9. Above All, Be Patient
Remember, working from home is a huge change in your daily life. It’s going to create all sorts of new dynamics both in your family and in your own self. Be patient and mindful of your good and bad habits. Reassess on a weekly basis what’s working for you and what isn’t, and make a plan to make the next week better. If you’re just started to work remotely for a long period of time, it’s a learning experience. Be open to giving yourself what you need!
P.S: If you’re interested in learning more about how our technology can help you right now, you can read all about how DialogTech is supporting our customers during the COVID-19 crisis.