Remote work has been steadily increasing in popularity for years. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit—and all of a sudden, businesses were forced to shut their doors, send their workers home, and shift to a 100 percent remote environment.
As a result, more employees work from home than ever before.
Research from The Ladders projects that 25 percent of all professional jobs (1 in 4) will be fully remote work-from-home jobs by the end of 2022—a number that’s projected to increase even more in 2023.
So, now that it looks like WFH (work-from-home) is here to stay, it’s important employees working remotely take steps to create the right environment for themselves. If that's you, your WFH setup should not only prompt productivity, but also support your mental and physical health and well-being (and help you avoid burnout).
Let’s take a look at everything you need to know to make working from home work for you.
The Good News: Working from Home Is Working for Workers
Before we jump into the steps you’ll want to take to set yourself up for success while working from home, let’s quickly touch on some of the perks of telecommuting/remote work.
Working from home offers a huge variety of benefits—both to employees and to employers. Here are the top ones:
- WFH can increase productivity. One of the biggest hesitations around remote work was that employees wouldn’t get as much done while working from home. But as it turns out, that’s just not true—and in fact, many employees are getting more done since shifting to a WFH environment. According to an Owl Labs report, 90 percent of remote workers reported being as or more productive when working remotely than in the office.
- WFH can lower stress. Working from home gives employees more flexibility and control over their time (goodbye, long commute!)—and for many, that flexibility and control equal less stress. In fact, according to the same Owl Labs report, 82 percent of workers said working remotely is better for their mental health.
- WFH aligns with what workers want. Eighty-four percent of workers said that they’d be happier continuing to work remotely after the pandemic—and 38 percent said they’d be willing to take a pay cut to work remotely at least part-time. So, WFH aligns with what workers want in a job, and that alignment can lead to increased employee engagement and job satisfaction. That's a win for employees and businesses.
Clearly, working from home can be a beneficial work experience—but only if you do it right. So how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s jump into the top strategies you can use to improve your WFH experience.
One of the key elements of a successful WFH situation? Setting clear boundaries.
Boundaries allow you to create a clear sense of separation between your work life and your personal life—which is always important, but is especially important when your home is working double-time as your office.
There are a number of boundaries you’ll want to set around working remotely, including:
Boundaries around your time. When you work from home, it can be easy to work more hours than you intend. According to the Owl Labs report, 55 percent of workers reported working more hours while working remotely.
That’s why, if you want to maintain a better work-life balance, it’s important to set clear boundaries around your time. Set clear start and end times for each workday—and then, stick to them, even if you’re tempted to “just check your email before breakfast” or “just tackle one last thing before I sign off for the day.”
Boundaries around when people can get in touch. You can set boundaries around your time—but if people are reaching out to you outside of those hours (and expect you to respond), you’re going to feel like those boundaries are being violated.
That’s why it’s equally important to set boundaries around your communication. Let your co-workers know what times you’re available (for example, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday), what methods of communication you prefer (for example, Slack or email—but no phone calls), and how quickly they can expect a response (for example, within 12 hours of receiving a message).
Boundaries around your space. When you work from home, it can be easy for your work life to bleed into your personal life. For example, you might be trying to relax and catch up on your Netflix queue at the end of the day—but then you catch a glimpse of your work laptop and are suddenly stressing out about tomorrow’s deadline.
That’s why, if possible, you’ll want to completely separate your workspace from your personal space. If you have a home office, great! Limit your work to that space—then when you’re done for the day, close the door, leave work behind, and enjoy your personal time.
If you don’t have a separate room, no problem! Confining your work to any space in your house (whether that’s a bedroom closet or a corner of your living room) can help you create a better sense of separation between your workspace and your home space. That will make it easier to transition to enjoying your personal time at the end of the day.
Boundaries with your housemates. If you live with anyone—like family members or roommates—it’s also important to set boundaries with them. Let them know that, even though you’re in the house during work hours, you’re focused on work and getting through your to-do list—and (unless, of course, there’s an emergency!), they should treat you like you’re at the office and unavailable.
Boundaries around sick days. When you work in an office, you take time off when you’re sick. You most likely don’t have the energy to get to the office, and going in sick would put your co-workers at risk. But when you work from home—and there’s no office to go to or co-workers to expose—it can be a lot easier to justify working when you don’t feel well.
That, however, can not only make you feel worse, but can also put you at risk for burnout. So make sure to set a boundary, both with yourself and with your company, that if and when you’re sick, you’ll take time off to recover.
Bottom line? Settling clear boundaries helps you separate your work life and your home life—and is an absolute must when you’re working from home.
Set Up Your Workstation for Success
When you work from home and are telecommuting each day, it can be tempting to just work…well, wherever (for example, on your couch, in bed, or at your dining room table). But working “wherever” can lead to aches, pains, muscle tension and poor posture. If you continue to work in less-than-ideal positions, not only can it cause your productivity to plummet (pain can make it hard to focus!), but those aches and pains can become chronic issues.
Which is why you’ll want to put the time, energy, and resources necessary into creating a workstation that helps you be productive, effective, and comfortable throughout the workday.
The “right” workstation will vary based on your job and responsibilities. Here are some universal best practices you’ll want to keep in mind:
Stock your workstation with the right equipment and supplies. Arguably the most important part of creating an effective workstation? Making sure you have the equipment and supplies you need to do your job effectively.
For example, if you spend most of your day bouncing between multiple tabs and screens, you might consider equipping your workstation with multiple monitors. If you spend a lot of time on video calls, you might want to invest in a high-quality web camera or lighting kit. If you like to take written notes during meetings, you should stock your desk drawer with plenty of pens and notebooks.
Make sure your workstation is ergonomic. When it comes to ergonomic workstations, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You need to set up a workstation that feels right for you and your body.
Start by investing in furniture that allows you to adjust the height and positioning (for example, a standing desk or an adjustable desk chair that allows you to play with the height until your feet rest comfortably on the floor). From there, experiment with different equipment and supplies to find what works best for you.
For example, if you struggle with eye strain, you might want to keep a pair of blue light-blocking glasses in your desk drawer. If you have wrist pain, you might consider a split keyboard, which keeps your wrist straight while typing and can help minimize pain.
You might also want to consider the size and positioning of the keys on your keyboard. Are they springy and easy to push? Are they close enough together you don’t have to strain to reach any one key?
The point is, an ergonomic workstation is a workstation that’s tailored to fit your body, minimize pain, and promote comfort while working. So figure out what that looks like for you—and then build your workstation accordingly.
Consider your background. How you set up your workstation is important—but, for many remote jobs, so is where you set up your workstation. If your job involves a high volume of video chats, it’s important to consider background when positioning your workstation—since that background is going to show up on camera.
For example, you probably don’t want to position your workstation in a place where your computer and webcam—and, as such, the people you’re video conferencing with—will be facing your bed or bathroom.
Get a solid Wi-Fi connection. If you want your WFH experience to be a productive one, you need good Wi-Fi. Do your research and find the best possible internet connection—then get that connection for your home. If you’re concerned about cost, talk to your employer. You may be able to get a stipend to cover WFH costs—including your monthly internet bill.
When you work from home, you’ll be spending a lot of time at your workstation—so do yourself a favor and set it up in a way that sets you up for success.
Get In a Routine
As mentioned, when you work from home, it’s easy for the lines between work time and home time to get blurred. But a great way to unblur those lines? Creating a clear routine for your day.
Your routine should, of course, outline when you’re going to start and end work. But if you want your routine to support your best work, there are a few additional elements you should consider:
Get into a solid morning routine. How you start your day is how you continue your day—so what you do first thing in the morning is the most important part of any routine (including a WFH routine).
Set aside the first hour after you wake up and create a routine that sets you up for success for the rest of the day (for example, taking a shower, reading a book, and/or cooking breakfast).
Establish transition rituals. When you were working in an office, you had a clear ritual that signaled it was time to go from work to home or home to work—your commute. But without the commute, it can be hard to make the transition from work time to personal time (or vice versa). That’s why you should consider creating your own transition ritual for the start and end of your workday.
For example, maybe every day when you end work you immediately take your dog for a walk. Or maybe after you wrap up your morning routine, you transition by meditating or listening to your favorite song—and as soon as you’re finished with the meditation or jam session, you jump directly into work.
These rituals can help signal to your brain that one activity is ending and another is beginning—which can make the transition between work and home easier.
Exercise. When you’re working from home, you want to feel engaged, energetic, and productive. And if there’s one thing you can add to your routine that will help encourage all of those things, it’s exercise. Whether you kick off your day with a 30-minute cardio session, get some fresh air and go for a jog after lunch, or do short intervals throughout the day, consider making exercise a regular part of your routine.
Routines help you get in a groove when you’re working from home and can make you feel more productive and efficient throughout the day—so make sure to craft a routine that works for you and your schedule.
Dress the Part
When you worked in an office, getting dressed for work was a non-negotiable. But it’s different when you work from home; it can be easy to roll out of bed in your pajamas, head to your desk, and jump right into work.
But for most people, that “roll out of bed and work in your PJs” experience isn’t the most conducive for productivity. It can be hard to signal to your brain you’re ready to take on the day when you’re literally still wearing the clothes you slept in the night before.
So, while you shouldn’t feel pressured to dress like you would if you were going to an office (who wants to wear a blazer and a button-down when they’re working in their own house?), taking a shower or getting dressed for work—even if it’s just swapping your pajamas for other comfy clothes, like a t-shirt and leggings—can help get you in the right mindset to tackle the workday ahead.
And if you’re one of those people who have zero problems knocking out work in their PJs? More power to you! Not every strategy works for every person, so wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable and efficient throughout the day.
There are a lot of benefits to working from home. But there are also a lot of distractions—and those distractions can wreak havoc on your productivity. According to a study from researchers at UC Irvine, it takes over 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction. That means, every time you’re distracted—whether that’s by an email or a text message or your dog barking at you to take them outside—it takes almost a half-hour to get back to your original level of focus.
And when you consider how many distractions most people deal with throughout the day—particularly when working from home? That’s basically the entire day spent trying to get back on track after a distraction.
That’s why, if you want to actually get work done while working from home, you need to look for ways to minimize distractions.
How you minimize distractions will depend on what, exactly, distracts you throughout the day. Here are some ideas:
- If you find yourself distracted by the television—and taking regular breaks to watch “just one episode”—take the TV out of your office.
- If you live in a noisy house—and you find the noise distracting—consider getting a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
- If you’re constantly being pulled away from work by text messages or social media notifications on your phone (which is incredibly common, according to recent research from Asurion, the average person checks their phone a whopping 96 times per day), put it on silent and face down during work hours.
The point is, there are tons of distractions when you work from home—and if you want to do your best, most productive work, look for ways to eliminate as many of those distractions as possible.
When you’re working from home, you might be tempted to power through the workday. The quicker you get things done, the quicker you can call it a day, right?
But while grinding through work might seem like a way to increase productivity, working all day without a break can actually make you less productive. According to a 2011 study from researchers at the University of Illinois, your attention declines when you perform a single task for a long period of time. Or, in other words, the longer you work on a task without giving yourself a break, the harder it is to focus on the task at hand—and the harder it is to actually complete it.
So, instead of staying glued to your desk all day, make sure to schedule regular breaks throughout the day. That could be a five-minute break at the end of every meeting to get up and stretch (so, instead of scheduling a 60-minute meeting, scheduling a 55-minute meeting), an extended lunch break, or an afternoon walk.
And if you want to increase the productivity-boosting benefits of your breaks, take them outside. A recent study found that spending just under a half-hour outdoors translated to a 45 percent increase in productivity.
Create Opportunities for Connection
Many people enjoy working from home. But many also miss the experience of sharing office space with their co-workers—and find the WFH experience isolating at times. For example, according to Buffer’s 2022 State of Remote Work Report, nearly 1 in 5 remote employees reported difficulties with communication and collaboration while working remotely—while more than half (52 percent) said they felt less connected with their co-workers since going remote.
That’s why, when you work from home, it’s important to be intentional about creating opportunities for connection.
There are a variety of ways to foster more connection while working from home, including:
Make time for one on ones. When you work from home, it can be easy to communicate with your manager and/or direct reports completely through digital channels, like email. But it’s hard to feel connected through text—which is why making time for real, one-on-one conversations is a must.
While email is fine to check in on day-to-day issues, schedule periodic video calls with your manager or direct reports for more important conversations (like professional development planning or performance reviews). The “face-to-face” element can help you stay better connected and can lead to better, more productive conversations.
Organize virtual social time. When you share office space with your co-workers, there are tons of opportunities for spontaneous connection—like stopping by someone’s desk to say hello, grabbing lunch with your team, or heading to happy hour after work.
But those spontaneous opportunities to connect don’t exist in a remote environment—which is why, if you want to feel more connected with your co-workers while working from home, you need to create those opportunities.
Consider planning events to socialize virtually with your colleagues—like a virtual happy hour or Zoom/Skype trivia night.
Look for connections outside of work. If you just don’t feel connected to people through virtual channels, not to worry—there are plenty of opportunities to find the connection you’re looking for outside of work.
Look for ways to connect with other like-minded individuals in your community, whether it’s by taking a class or joining a social or hobby-based group. You can even see if there are groups for people WFH-ing!
Cut Yourself Some Slack
These tips and strategies can help you better navigate the experience of working from home. But even with the best strategy, transitioning to WFH—especially if you’re used to or prefer working onsite—can be challenging at times.
So, if you find yourself facing those challenges, try to cut yourself some slack. There’s no “right” way to work at home. It’s a process of figuring out what works for you—and how you can set yourself up to both feel and perform your best. So make sure to show yourself plenty of compassion during the process!