The future of the workforce is going digital. The numbers are in: nearly 5 million U.S. professionals work remotely, and in the UK, 50% of workers are slated to continue the trend through 2020.
This curated selection of tips will help you be your most efficient when working outside of an on-premise environment.
1. Determine Your Working Style
When you’re not limited to the office, you get to choose the environment. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you. To reach your potential, you need to figure out what suits your individual needs.
- Best Working Hours: Are you a night owl or an early bird? While some obligations may require you to be available at the same time as the rest of your team, you get to work on your schedule. If you find you’re most productive just after waking up, take advantage of your mental clarity to work in the morning. Conversely, people who have more energy in the evening should structure their work days around those hours.
- Ideal Noise Level: Background noise is a productivity killer. But some research indicates that some music can boost concentration, especially during repetitive tasks. It’s up to personal preference, so find what works for you. If you prefer to operate in total silence, consider investing in a pair of noise-canceling headphones and avoid high traffic areas. If total quiet is distracting, tune out extraneous sounds with classical music or white noise to keep you focused.
- Location, Location, Location: Most professionals report working from their home, which can be either a comfort or a challenge. Trying to stay on task while sitting on the couch isn’t easy. If you plan to stay home, you should dedicate a specific space for work and keep others from disturbing you during work hours. Otherwise, you might prefer to work at a different place such as a cafe or library.
2. Create a Schedule
Not only do you get to choose how and where you get your work done; you get to choose when. If you’re not careful, this can lead to a disorganized schedule. It’s all too easy to get distracted, focus on personal tasks, and lose precious time by getting the wrong things done.
To combat this, develop structure in your day.
- Get Ready for the Office: The act of washing your face, styling your hair, putting on clothes, or wearing makeup is a powerful reminder to your brain that you have things to do. If you’re still in your pajamas, isn’t it tempting to sit on the couch and watch Netflix instead? Research supports that dressing for work boosts productivity, and preserves the boundary between our job and our personal life.
- Set Priorities: It may seem obvious, but a key to success is establishing your priorities. When you are able to work on whatever you want whenever you want, you need to organize your responsibilities effectively. You could wind up drowning in tasks – or worse, missing an important deadline. Classic options are to-do lists and planners (either analog or digital). The act of writing out what you need to do and when it needs to be done is surprisingly powerful. Another handy tool for figuring out how to prioritize your tasks is the “Eisenhower Box”
- Time Management Strategies: If you feel like you work a ton of hours and get nothing done, you need better time management. It’s not about how long you work; it’s about how well you work.
Developing the discipline to use your time wisely can be a struggle, but there are a number of strategies you can use. Splitting your day into chunks dedicated to separate tasks is a popular choice. “Front-Loading” is another one – doing your most important tasks early on, so you’re less likely to put them off for tomorrow. The more structured your day is, you have fewer decisions to make and more time to spend working.
3. Use Tools
If you have trouble being productive right off the bat, you’re not alone. Even at an office job, no one is instantly motivated to check all the items off their to-do list. Thankfully there are many tools available that will create a more productive environment and keep your head in the game.
- Create an Ergonomic Space: The surroundings where you work matter a great deal. The equipment you use and the setup in which you work can either encourage or kill your productivity. You want your space to be both comfortable and functional. Purchasing a chair with lumbar support or an ergonomic keyboard can help you avoid pain and Repetitive Stress Injuries that can sometimes occur with desk jobs. Some people enjoy adjustable or standing desks. Investing in your work space is extremely beneficial.
- Use Productivity Apps: There is an abundance of software available to facilitate your work. Many of them are intended for video conferences, instant messaging, and file sharing with your team. What you might not know is the multitude of apps to stave off distractions and track your productivity. When we’re constantly on our phones and computers, social media and other time-wasters are a click away. If you need help, these programs are designed to keep you on track.
- Too Much of a Good Thing? Access to useful programs is a boon to anyone in the digital workforce, but overloading yourself with technology can actually hurt performance. Navigating between business apps can eat up an hour of your work time daily. Office-optional professionals need to communicate and collaborate with the team through various tools, but try to keep them curated.
4. Promote Self-Care
All across the workforce in 2019, we’re seeing increased rates of burnout. Fully or partially working outside of the office can perhaps reduce the chances for burnout. Less time spent commuting, control over work hours, and less exposure to office politics can reduce work-related stress.
- Set Boundaries: Schedules aren’t only for optimizing your work time. You need a schedule to keep work from spilling over into other areas of your life. The main complaint of remote workers is difficulty unplugging from their work. It’s vital to one’s mental health to “leave your work at work”, which is hard when your job takes place at home. Working at a secondary location is an obvious option. If you can’t or don’t want to do that, make sure you aren’t responding to work emails with your free time. Establish a schedule and boundaries with your co-workers and clients alike.
- Stay Healthy: The flexibility of your schedule should include provisions for your physical health. It’s common knowledge that being sedentary is unhealthy. Try setting periodic alarms to stretch or walk around a little bit. You should also ensure you are eating well. Without proper nutrients, your concentration will tank. However, cooking multiple meals a day is time-consuming – meal prepping and keeping healthy snacks on hand will keep your mind and body nourished. And perhaps, most importantly: sleep. It is all too easy to get sucked into working late hours and lose precious shut-eye. Over-committing and depriving yourself of sleep is extremely harmful.
- Stay Connected: Not clocking-in to an office daily usually means not seeing anyone at all throughout the day. Next to unplugging, loneliness is another major concern for the remote workforce. Therefore, it’s important to engage in activities that offer social support.
Spend more time with your friends or family. You might even try meeting new people in group activities, such as cooking classes or dance lessons. Social relationships are an antidote to the isolation and stress of working at home.