Millions of people are trying to figure out how to make the most out of working from home. Most of them are still figuring out how to make remote work, work for them. Many people revamp their houses while others dive into self-help books on productivity.
In this article, I'll go over how you can make remote work, work for you. With the right approach, time, and mindset, you can create the best work environment for yourself. And yes, I believe that this environment will be 10x better than any office where you inevitably have to make concessions.
Know how and when your team works.
Before we start making our schedule, we'll need to understand how your team and its members are working to ensure that we can set up a schedule that works for both you and your team.
At what times is your team working? Do they work from different timezones? And with whom do you need overlapping hours each day to stay on top of the project?
Now write down the answers to these questions, but try not to dwell on any of them. For instance, if you need overlapping time with a team member with an entirely different schedule, you can get in touch and figure it out together. You share that responsibility, so also share the burden of that responsibility.
How and where does your team communicate? Are they frequent callers? Or does your team exclusively communicate via Teams, Slack, or Discord? Also, how does the team handle emergency cases?
These questions determine if you need to consider scheduling time for meetings and 1:1's. Ideally, you want your team to communicate asynchronously. However, most teams are still figuring out how to achieve that.
How will you co-work if you need to work together on a project? Are you going to meet up in the city? Or do you have a virtual work session via Zoom?
If you co-work often, make sure to allocate enough time on your schedule since most co-working sessions tend to last longer than both parties imagined.
Have a schedule
Working from home can be incredibly flexible. So much that you might recognize the slow mornings, hitting that snooze button just a couple of times more than you usually do. But not being able to handle this responsibility is also its greatest downfall towards feeling miserable and not performing up to standard.
If you need help getting out of bed in the mornings, a schedule might be the missing key in starting your days with a clear plan in mind.
What are your peak-performance hours?
Before we look at the questions about the team we answered in the first section, let's first ask ourselves; "at what hours of the day am I the most productive?". Some of us are the most productive in the early hours of the day, while others are more likely to achieve peak performance towards the end of the day and into the early evening.
If you want to find out your peak performance hours, read this section.
What outside of work activities requires time?
Having the flexibility to work from home also means that you can allocate traditional working hours towards activities outside of work. For example, if you want to attend some two-hour workshop at 2 PM on Wednesday, with the proper planning/schedule, that shouldn't be any problem.
But also think about doing groceries, picking up your children, and anything else you want to allocate time for. Also, see them as opportunities to take breaks. For example, walking to and from the grocery store is a great way to spend your break.
What hours are available to the team?
We zoomed in on how and when your team operates in the previous section. Instead of taking this information as is, look at your schedule and see where these meetings and other team-related activities fit on your schedule and try to protect your time outside those time slots.
It might require coordination with your team to see if you can agree on timeslots that make everyone happy. Everybody might have to make some concessions, but knowing this before you "lockdown" makes it much easier to stay on schedule.
Find your flow
Now it's time to sit down and come up with your first schedule for the remainder of this week.
The schedule you just made is likely not the one you'll follow three weeks from now. Suppose you are actively and critically looking at your schedule from week to week. In that case, I am confident that you will make suitable adjustments towards a balance between tranquillity and productivity.
Set your boundaries.
Now that we have your schedule, it's time to learn how to protect it.
Let's start with the most important thing, the one boundary you should have clear for yourself (and your team); at what hour do I stop working? Look at your schedule again and highlight time on your calendar/schedule.
To stay or not to stay connected?
Now that you have decided on that time, think about the extent to which you feel comfortable staying connected after work hours. Do you feel comfortable with being available even after working hours for questions? Or do you need to disable your notifications after a specific time?
If you decide on disabling your notifications, communicate this clearly to your team. Don't forget to think about how your team can reach you in case of an emergency.
Do not disturb
Besides team boundaries, communicate with your family (or roommates) about when and how they can disturb you during working hours. This boundary will never be airtight, especially if you have young children, but it all works towards creating the best possible working environment for you.
Find out where you work best.
Now that you have your schedule locked down, we'll move on to another vital aspect of getting the most out of working remotely; knowing where you work best.
I miss the people around me!
Working remotely doesn't mean that you are required to work from home. Especially now that most COVID restrictions are lifted, you are free to work from anywhere that connects you to the internet. If you crave more people around you, this is what you need to try out.
From my personal experience, if you crave more social interactions, I can advise you to try out co-working spaces. For me, they work better than the coffee corner because they strike a good balance between an office environment (with phonebooths, meeting rooms, and proper work desks) and a network environment via the public spaces where you can hang out with other community members.
I don't want to leave my house (every day).
While I liked working from a co-working space, I prefer to spend most of my time working from the comfort of my own home. I live in a one-bedroom apartment, so I couldn't dedicate a room to an office. So in my case, I allocated a corner of my living room to my workstation.
Ideally, you want to have an office with a door so that your family or roommates know that you are not to be disturbed when the door is shut. Another benefit of having a door is that you can also close it behind you at the end of the day. However, I can say that if you work remotely long enough, you definitely can get comfortable with calling it a day by closing all your work-related apps.
If you need help finding the right place to work from, check out this guide on how to find the right place to work from at home.
Choose your weapons, and pick the shiny ones you'll enjoy using.
Now that you have located your ideal workplace, let's look at your productivity armory.
It boggles my mind when people work from a crappy laptop and spend 8 hours a day glued to the screen. The right equipment can improve your quality of (work)life, either by speeding up your workflow, improving your workspace's esthetics, or even by improving your health via ergonomic improvements.
Beyond the laptop
Once you have your laptop situation sorted out, let's look at the items around it: your chair, desk, keyboard, and screens.
If you decided to work from a co-working space, a desk and a chair are probably part of the deal. However, get yourself a decent desk and a decent chair (ideally an ergonomic one) when you work from home.
Also, look into getting a good (ergonomic) keyboard and mouse; RSI isn't a myth, so better safe than sorry.
As a final tip, look into getting a second monitor. According to a report by Jon Peddie, research using multiple displays can increase your productivity by 42%.
Remember that you don't have to spend a fortune on this. Try looking for second-hand listings. With many computer enthusiasts globally, there are great bargains for ergonomic keyboards, solid monitors, and even office furniture.
If you want some options on proper home office equipment, check out this guide for more in-depth information about products and their benefits.
Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Making remote work, work for you is all about finding the balance between workflow and personal flow. Having a schedule, setting boundaries, and working from the comfort of your favorite place all helps towards getting closer to this balance.
Also, remember that the schedule that works for the people you look up to might not work for you. Everyone is unique, so keep experimenting until you find your balance.