The modern workforce has slowly been transforming to more mobile, more “office neutral” environment over the last two decades. In fact, regular work-at-home among those not self-employed has grown by 173% since 2005 and 11% faster than the rest of the workforce, according to Global Workplace Analytics. They further report that nearly 4.7 million employees (roughly 3.4% of the US workforce) work from home at least half the time as of August 2019. Given current conditions, that number will surely rise—with many employees joining the “work from home” trend this year. However, as as an employee trying remote work for the first time—there are some tried and true methods for staying engaged, happy, and productive as a remote worker. Exact Market—who has enjoyed an exclusive work-at-home workforce since 2007—hast some pointers for those joining the work-at-home revolution.
- Set your work schedule, and keep to it. Since work and home life now overlap, it’s easy to lose focus on both. For those working from home, it’s important to draw clear lines between the two—and the easiest way to that is to keep regular “office hours” when you’ll be available for work—and clearly set “non-office” hours for enjoying your personal life. Work with your manager to set common expectations of when you will be available, and when you’ll be “not in the office”.
- Set up a task board—and use a “meeting schedule” to block off time to accomplish your tasks. Modern productivity suites all have calendars. Don’t be afraid to use to block off time to accomplish your tasks. Using the “sprint method” to break down large tasks into small “sprints” of effort, followed with short breaks to clear one’s mind, can help keep you focused and productive. Using your calendar and setting up “appointments” to accomplish your tasks is a great way to do that. For the next 1.5 hours, I’m going to work on task X and just task X. Put it into your calendar as an appointment, complete with reminders—just like it was a meeting. This helps you stay focused and gives clear work structure to your day. This also can help when working on multiple projects to help you plan out times to accomplish your tasks in small sprints.
- Have a dedicated work space. This is particularly important if you have a shared living arrangement of some sort. While spouses, partners, kids, pets, or roommates are great and add richness to our daily lives: they can create distractions that can be the death of your productivity when working at home. Having a dedicated workspace that is free from distractions can help keep you focused.
- Regular “face time” with both co-workers, team-mates, and your manager is a must. Work at home employees can often feel isolated from work, so having regular phone meetings or “touch points” with co-workers is important. If possible, taking advantage of video services can help add a level of professionalism, while helping build a sense of connection to other remote workers. Make sure you have at least a once a week meeting with your team, along with a personal meeting with your manager. A phone call is nice, but often, adding video means you’ve taken
- Don’t fail to plan your work day. When working from home, it’s often easy to get distracted by things around the house: that stack of dirty dishes, or some home improvement task. Failing to clearly establish daily work tasks for yourself will be the death of your work-at-home productivity. Often, it may help to check in each morning with your manager and tell him or her what you will be working on each day—with a report or check-out each night of what you accomplished. Using the sprint method outlined in the “do” can help give you time to accomplish your tasks and give you plan for each day.
- Don’t “disappear” during your office hours. The “do” of establishing your work hours, also means you MUST be available and responsive during those work hours. It is important to respond to email in a timely manner, answer the phone, and respond to chat requests. You should expect your manager or co-workers to be able to ‘drop in” at any time during your office hours. Nothing casts doubt on your ability to work-at-home than being non-responsive or “missing in action” during those office hours.
- Don’t become a meeting maniac. Meetings are necessary, but often work-at-home employees are tempted to set up a large amounts of meetings with others to demonstrate how dedicated they are. Unless your job is simply to sit in meetings—you need to use meetings judiciously. Yes, you need to be available during your office hours, but jam-packing your day with meetings to show how busy you are will kill your work productivity. Set up short meetings with key team-members for regular check-ins, but remember your most important task is still getting your work done.
While working at home may be new to many this year, it is a growing trend that many employers are exploring. Taking of advantage of a work-at-home program as an employee means you have more responsibility to stay focused and avoid distractions that can negatively impact your work performance. Following the guidelines above learned from Exact Market’s years of experience can make you a more productive, happier, and engaged remote worker!