Everything You Need to Know About Working from Home Effectively

avatar
By Spike Team, October 13, 2021
wfh1

Plenty of people have been working from home effectively for a long time, but it was never really the norm until the pandemic hit. However, since early last year, a considerable chunk of the workforce found themselves working from home for the first time in their lives, some of whom have spent decades in a traditional office environment.

 

At the same time, business owners and managers found themselves thrown into a whole new way of working, attempting to manage remote teams that they could no longer interact with through the channels they knew.

 

There has been a shift, and we are doubtful to ever ultimately return to the way things were. Studies have found that employees are getting increasingly attached to the work from home rhythms established during the COVID crisis, with a survey in the summer of 2021 showing “40% of U.S. employees would start looking for another job or quit immediately if ordered to return to the office full time.”

 

In short, remote work is here to stay, so instead of wasting time and energy dragging people back to the office, let’s figure out how to work from home effectively! We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to working from home, covering everything from managing your time to choosing the right furniture to simple tricks to keep your cat off your keyboard (it’s way more of an issue than any of us knew!).

 

 

The Benefits of Working from Home

Before we get into the how of working from home, let’s take a quick look at the why. From an employee’s perspective, working from home can be very appealing. However, it can often be a considerably harder sell to businesses – but it really shouldn’t be since it tends to benefit all involved!

 

From an employee perspective, those working from home tend to report:

  • A reduction in commuting time (pre-pandemic, the average one-way commute in the US was 27.6 minutes)!

  • An increase in work-time autonomy allows for greater flexibility in working hours.

  • An overall work-life balance (but only if you do home-working right, we’ll get to that).

  • Higher productivity.

From a company perspective, the improvement of employee work-life balance alone can lead to:

  • Increased motivation

  • A reduction in turnover

  • Enhanced productivity

  • Improved efficiency

Additionally, a work-from-home company doesn’t need a physical office and the costs associated with that. In cities like New York, an office can cost as much as $14,800 a year per employee (and that was back in 2015!). Even taking into account a little digital infrastructure, this means significant savings for remote work.

 

Enough about the benefits of working from home – let’s take a look at how it can work for you and your team while navigating the potential pitfalls that work from home can bring.

 

 

Create a Workspace that Works for You

wfh

Your workspace doesn’t have to be a completely separate home office (most of us don’t have the space for that), but you should ensure that you have a place carved out just for work. Then, make that space work for you – make it functional, inspiring, and suited to your needs.

 

Some of the critical aspects to consider when creating your work from home space are:

 

 

1. Proximity to Other People

The location of your home office (even if it’s a table) is key to staying focused and effective. For example, if you require silence to focus properly, choose an area that is far from loud parts of your home, such as road-facing windows. Additionally, make sure that your space doesn’t encourage housemates or family members to come over and chat.

 

On the other hand, if you like the hubbub of an office and find this missing when working from home, consider setting up your space in the same room as another member of your household who also works remotely. This can be especially effective for people who find themselves procrastinating when left alone.

 

 

2. Connectivity

If all your work from home is running through a computer, you’re going to need access to electricity and good internet connectivity. Ensure there are enough power sockets and ethernet ports/Wi-Fi signals to get your work done in the location you choose. The garden table can be a tempting office, but it rarely works out in the long run.

 

It may seem silly to talk about getting close to your Wi-Fi router, but poor internet connectivity can be a huge source of stress. A study conducted back in 2016 by Ericsson found that a single delay in the loading of web pages or videos resulted in a 38% increase in heart rate – a key indicator of stress.

 

If you find that your Wi-Fi drops out frequently, but internet speeds aren’t too bad, consider buying an ethernet cable for a wired connection. They only cost a few dollars and can make all the difference – if in doubt, talk to your company’s IT department.

 

 

3. Natural Light

Natural light enhances focus, improves productivity, provides vital vitamins, boosts sleep, and much more. Basically, natural light is king, and you should try to get as much in your work-from-home office as possible. Of course, having a window is vital, but you can boost the light further with mirrors and reflective color choices for walls and furniture (pastels are a great option to avoid white).

 

If you don’t have much access to natural light in your workspace, make sure to get outside during your breaks.

 

 

4. Aesthetics

Make your space yours. Think about the type of space you want to work in and create it! Picking paints and choosing desk decorations may not seem like it will change much, but enjoying the place you’re in makes a massive difference to your mindset and, in turn, your work.

 

 

5. Comfort and Ergonomics

Working from home doesn’t mean having to set up a costly office in your home, but there are a few basics everyone should have: a desk, a chair, and a computer. These should be positioned to fit you and your working style. Doing so will reduce potential aches and pains, making working from home generally more enjoyable.

 

When setting up your equipment, remember that your:

  • Head should be facing forward, which means keeping the top of your screen at or below eye level

  • Forearms and thighs are parallel to the floor

  • Elbows are close to the body (not reaching forwards, for example)

  • Lower back is supported

  • Shoulders are relaxed

  • Thighs are not being trapped by the desk/table

 

There is actually a complete computer workstation checklist by the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) if you want to see how your work from home setup stacks up.

 

 

6. Get Some Plants

During the pandemic, especially during total lockdown, house plant sales experienced a boom, with shops shipping tens of thousands of plants across the United States. It’s not really a surprise, with plants offering people a window to the great outdoors and numerous physical and mental health benefits.

 

In an office, plants can improve air quality, boost productivity, and increase well-being, reducing stress and sickness. The same is true if you’re working from home! So consider getting a little potted plant pet for your desk, windowsill, or floor. You might find that it adds just what you need to your physical space.

 

 

Time Management when Working from Home

Time management can be tricky at the best of times, and working from home only exacerbates the problem. Some companies try to tackle it by keeping a “clocking-in” mentality, where everyone has to be at their desks for a particular time. However, this undermines the benefits gained from giving people more autonomy over their time.

 

That said, the most significant time management problem of working from home is often employees overworking. Not stopping at the end of the day or powering through breaks. While it may seem like a boost in the short term, overworking will quickly lead to burnout, resentment, and inefficiency.

 

When working from home, there is no separation between work and home, so you need to be extra diligent about switching off.

 

 

Create a Schedule

The first step to good work from home time management is creating a schedule. Of course, if you manage a team, you could do this for them, but giving some autonomy over time is an excellent benefit of remote work.

 

As an individual, mark out your month, week, and day in a way that suits you, your workflow, and your company! Don’t forget that you’re still working with other people, so they need to be considered when making a schedule.

 

Many businesses are now exploring asynchronous communication to account for greater time autonomy while maintaining good company communication, which we’ll get to later.

 

 

Try Cutting Your Work into Blocks

Even with a schedule, it can be too easy to hop on a call, take a quick meeting, or even just check your emails while you’re trying to get focused work done. Sometimes the ease of digital communication when working from home can be the downfall of your productivity through context switching.

 

A simple time-management method to avoid this issue is carving your workdays (or weeks) into dedicated blocks. For example, however, your morning could be dealing with emails and meetings while your afternoon is only for deep-focus work, with another 10-minute slot for emails at the end.

 

 

Minimize Distractions

Another easy way to get distracted from work and end up wasting your time is having your focus pulled by all the notifications designed to do just that. Every social media pop-up and work-app ping can keep you from actually getting things done. This can lead people who work from home to feel like they haven’t done enough, work later to “catch up,” and spiral out.

 

The simplest solution is to just mute notification! Turn them off in apps for your working hours or put your computer and phone in “do not disturb” mode. So long as this doesn’t interfere with your team’s communication channels, it is a great way to stay laser-focused when working from home.

 

 

Take Care of Yourself When Working from Home

wfh4

 

You may be out of the office, but you’re still at work, which means dealing with all the stress and pressure of your typical workday. What’s more, working from home brings its own unique set of problems such as poor work-life balance, overworking, and a lack of social connectivity that usually comes with in-person offices.

 

Self-care may not be the first thing on people’s list when they think about working from home, but it is essential.

 

 

Take Regular Breaks

 

walk

 

One of the most important ways to look after yourself when working from home is taking regular breaks. It can be all too easy to “just work through,” especially for lunch breaks since you’re alone at your desk (doubly so if you’re working in the kitchen).

 

However, doing this reduces productivity and your well-being. One survey found that 90% of North American workers reported lunch breaks helping them feel “refreshed and ready to get back to work.” Just a few of the ways that taking regular breaks can help are:

 

  • Preventing decision fatigue

  • Restoring motivation (especially for long term goals)

  • Reducing stress and exhaustion

  • Increasing productivity

  • Increasing creativity

  • Improving memory and learning

 

If possible, you should try to make some of your breaks “movement breaks” when working from home. Staying sat in your home office without getting up to move can lead to numerous problems such as a higher risk of heart disease, depression, and diabetes.

 

The movement doesn’t necessarily have to be vigorous and can be as simple as stretching or walking around your house. But, of course, the best option is actually to get outside for short walks throughout the day since this helps beyond just the benefits of exercise.

 

It’s also important to note that if you feel “in the flow,” don’t be afraid to not take a break when you’d planned, so long as you don’t skip it entirely. But, again, this is a benefit of working from home since time autonomy allows workers to focus when they’re focused and take breaks when they’re not.

 

 

Stick to Your Schedule

We’ve already talked about sticking to your schedule as a way to stay on track with work, but it is also essential for staying on track with your free time! So if you create a weekly, daily, or monthly schedule, make sure to include time slots for when you are not working, and more importantly, stick to them!

 

It can be easy to say you’re going to wrap things up by 5 pm, but then the end of the day rolls around, and you tell yourself, “I’ll just finish this last bit.” Stop! Taking scheduled time for yourself is vital to your well-being and, in turn, your work.

 

Nobody likes leaving things undone, but instead of working on into the night, try writing out a to-do list for the next day. It’s been found that the simple act of creating a to-do list is enough to reduce the stress of an unfinished task because it gives our minds some closure.

 

 

Communicate Issues

Communicating concerns or problems you have at work is significant for a healthy workplace and looking after yourself. It may have been easy to spot when someone was struggling or not quite themselves in a traditional office and cater for this. However, it’s all avatars and emails in a remote team, so you have to communicate your problems directly.

 

Having robust communication channels specifically for these issues and a culture that encourages and actually deals with employee concerns. Just as important as your willingness to use them!

 

 

How Does Working from Home Work for Communication

One of the most important things to consider when switching to working from home is communication. What may have once been a quick chat in a corridor must now be thought out and planned. Both formal and informal communication is switched online, which presents both challenges and opportunities.

 

 

Create Channels That Aren’t Work Focused

It can be easy to write off idle chatter about last night’s game or the latest Netflix release as a waste of time and thus not account for it when switching online. However, this small talk actually plays a vital role in the office.

 

A pre-pandemic study found that employees reported higher positive emotions such as gratitude, pride, increased energy, and general friendliness on days where there was more small talk early in the day. What’s more, these positive emotions and energy boosts helped improve the participants’ well-being and reduce feelings of burnout.

 

Small talk acts as a social bond between team members and enables smoother transitions into deeper, work-related topics. When operating in person, this small talk tends to come quite naturally, but working from home means that it needs to be consciously fostered.

 

For the most part, this means creating specific channels for team members to chat in with no pressure to talk about work. Group chats with pictures, GIFs, and interesting stories being swapped. You’ll likely see small talk transition to work when pairs or groups of team members say something along the lines of “shall we switch this to an email so it’s not in the group chat?”

 

 

Beware of Zoom Fatigue

Video conferencing can be a fantastic way to keep conversations flowing and work happening. However, too many video meetings can work against you as Zoom Fatigue sets in. If you’ve been working from home for a while, you’ve probably experienced it yourself – on calls for 6 hours straight, and you just feel entirely beat.

 

Video meeting fatigue can cause, among other things:

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Eye irritation, pain, and general problems

  • Decreased attention

  • Sleep issues

  • Decreased mental capacity

  • Emotional exhaustion

  • Reduced motivation

 

Watch out for these symptoms and try to avoid the issue by exploring other communication channels, which we’ll look at below.

 

 

Choose The Right Tool For The Job

A big part of communication is choosing the right tool for the job. For example, an Instant Message for a simple question or a video call when you need to discuss a more complex issue. Luckily for us, we live in the digital age with an abundance of tools that have made working from home easier than ever.

 

 

Some best tools to explore when looking to work from home are:

  • Instant Chat Apps

    Spike multi devices

    When used correctly, an instant messaging tool can be a great way to stay in touch with your team and company as a whole. People are familiar with IM communication, so it has a slightly more accessible learning curve and encourages a more conversational speaking style. This helps foster the environment needed for small talk and the benefits it brings to a company.

     

    What’s more, it can simplify the way team members talk, which can cut down the confusion that arises when unable to talk face to face.

  • Video and Voice Calls

    Video and voice calls are the perfect communication method for more in-depth or complex topics. They allow team members to talk one-on-one or in a group and are as close to an in-person meeting as you can get when working from home. What’s more, they lend a level of personability when communicating with customers, making them vital both internally and externally.

  • Voice Messages

    In recent years, voice messages have become increasingly popular and offer a great middle-ground between a text-based message, such as an IM or email, and a phone call. They allow team members to communicate complex topics clearly without requiring the live participation of the recipient, which can be challenging if they work from home.

  • Collaborative Workspaces 

    A great way to keep communication flowing is through some form of collaborative space, such as online Notes. This offers team members a way to work together, whether brainstorming ideas, developing projects, or sharing updates.

  • Digital Teams 

    Huge, unwieldy communications channels are best avoided, and the simplest way to do this is to split your physical teams into digital Groups. Groups are the quickest and easiest way for teams to communicate and can be created based on existing departments and specific projects, clients, or anything else you need.

 

Running a Work-from-Home Team

If you’re the one managing a team that is now working from home, a few extra things are worth considering. While many of your essential skills will transfer when you work from home, you will often need to adapt them to suit the digital environment.

 

 

Consider Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication refers to methods of communication that aren’t “live” and don’t require an immediate response, as opposed to synchronous communication, which is when conversations take place in real-time. This will likely be digital in a work-from-home environment and use tools such as email or voice messages.

 

Trying to lean more into asynchronous communication methods when managing a remote team will allow you to keep communication flowing between different team members while retaining their time autonomy, even if they are based in different time zones. What’s more, it reflects a level of trust in your team members that they can handle their own work.

 

That said, asynchronous communication doesn’t exclude other methods, so shared time slots and common hours can still be found for video meetings or phone calls when needed.

 

 

Take the Time to Give Feedback

When working at an in-person office, giving on-the-spot feedback to team members can be simple, especially “simple” feedback such as an excited tone when discussing their work. However, in a remote environment, all of this is lost – let’s be fair, an email saying “This looks great, thanks!” just doesn’t have the same impact as sitting down with the person.

 

As such, when managing a work-from-home team, it’s essential to set aside time specifically to give feedback. You could make this part of your weekly schedule through one-on-one video or voice calls.

 

 

Check-in With Your Team

Just as with feedback, not seeing your team every day means not having the opportunity to check that they’re doing OK. There are no visual clues or subtle tones that can be picked up on, nor the opportunity to just pull someone aside for a moment to check-in.

 

So again, you need to set aside dedicated time to do so. As part of your one-on-one meeting, ask some direct questions about how they are doing and their thoughts on work. Make sure to ask how they think you can help them or improve the work-from-home environment.

 

 

Keeping Your Cat Off Your Keyboard

As promised, we now come to one of the most challenging problems to tackle when working from home: keeping your cat off the keyboard. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that 70% of all U.S. households have some sort of pet, with almost half of those being cats.

 

While it can brighten our days, a cat on the keyboard cuts into our ability to work, so some simple tricks to stop it from happening are:

  • Put a cardboard box near your computer – an instant cat trap

  • Create a warm area elsewhere to lure the cat away from your keyboard (laptops heat up, and this is what brings the cats over in the first place)

 

Summary

Suddenly having to work from home can be challenging and rewarding, and there are some simple ways to do it effectively.

To get you started, remember that you need to:

  • Create a work-from-home space that works for you

  • Manage your time more closely than ever

  • Look after your wellbeing

  • Communicate clearly using the right tools

  • Think about how working from home affects your team

FAQs About Effectively Working From Home

Yes. There are plenty of opportunities for remote work, and even if you’re not sure how you would practically do it right now, there are a few simple things you can do to help you be as efficient as ever.

Yes and no. Managing a remote team requires an array of different skills and tools when compared with a traditional office. That said, many of the fundamentals are the same such as good communication with and between your team, trust in your reports’ work and methods, and the ability to listen and adapt.

Talk with them! It can be easy to check in with colleagues in an office by simply pulling them aside or through subtle tones and actions. When working from home you need to make a dedicated effort to communicate clearly with your team, so consider using a one-on-one call to ask some direct questions.

avatar
Spike Team The Spike team posts about productivity, time management, and the future of email, messaging and collaboration.