20 Tips for Working From Home

The global spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is keeping people at home. Much of the world is on lockdown, and, even in places that aren’t, people are encouraged to stay at home. Where it’s possible, employers are encouraging or requiring people to work from home for an indeterminate amount of time. If you’re new to the work-from-home lifestyle, whether due to coronavirus or because you’ve managed to find a remote-based job, you’ll need to change some of your habits and routines to make working from home a success.

1. Maintain Regular Hours

Set a schedule, and stick to it…most of the time. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance. That said, one of the benefits of remote work is flexibility, and sometimes you need to extend your day or start early to accommodate someone else’s time zone. When you do, be sure to wrap up earlier than usual or sleep in a bit the next morning to make up for it.

Automatic time-tracking apps, such as RescueTime, let you check in on whether you’re sticking to your schedule. They can also help you figure out what times of day you’re most productive versus when you slack off. You can use that information to your advantage by reserving your hours of high focus for your most important tasks.

2. Create a Morning Routine

Deciding you’ll sit down at your desk and start work at a certain time is one thing. Creating a routine that guides you into the chair is another. What in your morning routine indicates you’re about to start work? It might be making a cup of coffee. It might be returning home after a jog. It might be getting dressed (wearing pajama pants to work is a perk for some, but a bad strategy for others). A routine can be more powerful than a clock at helping you get started each day.

I say “morning,” but not everyone who works from home follows a nine-to-five schedule. Yours might be a “getting started” routine at another time of day.

3. Set Ground Rules With the People in Your Space

Set ground rules with other people in your home or who share your space for when you work. If you have children who come home from school while you’re still working, they need clear rules about what they can and cannot do during that time. Additionally, just because you’re home and can let service people into the house or take care of pets doesn’t mean other family members should assume you will always do it. If that’s how you choose to divide up the domestic labor, that’s fine, but if you simply take it all on by default because you’re home, you may feel taken advantage of, and your productivity may suffer.

4. Schedule Breaks

Know your company’s policy on break times and take them. If you’re self-employed, give yourself adequate time during the day to walk away from the computer screen and phone. A lunch hour and two 15-minute breaks seems to be the standard for full-time US employees.

5. Take Breaks in Their Entirety

Don’t short-change yourself during breaks, especially your lunch hour. You can use an app, such as TimeOut for Mac and Smart Break for Windows, to lock yourself out of your computer for 60 minutes. Or you can just launch a simple clock or timer on the screen when you take a break. If you return to your desk after only 40 minutes, walk away for another 20.

For more on breaks, see How to Take Better Breaks to Boost Your Productivity.

6. Leave Home

To the extent that it’s allowed and safe where you are during the COVID-19 outbreak, get out of the house, provided you can maintain social distancing of course. The same advice applies to people who work in traditional office settings, too. Leave the building at least once a day. Your body needs to move. Plus, the fresh air and natural light will do you good.

You don’t have to go to crowded public spaces to get away from your solo workspace (and you probably shouldn’t right now, either). Take a walk. Weed the garden. You get the picture.

7. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for What You Need

If you’re employed by a company or organization that supports your work-from-home setup, request the equipment you need as soon as you start working from home, or within a day or two when you realize you need something new. It’s extremely important to set precedents early that you will ask for what you need to get your job done comfortably, including the right monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair, printer, software, and so forth. Organizations that are accustomed to remote employees often have a budget for home office equipment. Ask what it is and how often it’s renewed. It also doesn’t hurt to ask whether there’s a loan agreement or who will pay for return shipping or disposal of outdated equipment.

If you’re working from home unexpectedly due to coronavirus, ask for what you need within reason. You could be working from home for weeks on end and you should be comfortable, but ordering a new office chair and desk might be asking too much. Consider a mouse and keyboard, plus a back-supporting cushion instead. For more tips on getting your new space in shape, you can read our story on everything you need to set up an ergonomic office.

8. Keep a Dedicated Office Space

In an ideal world, remote employees would have not only a dedicated office, but also two computers, one for work and one for personal use. It’s more secure for the employer, and it lets you do all your NSFW activities in private. But not everyone has a separate office in their home, and keeping two machines isn’t always realistic. Instead, dedicate a desk and some peripherals only for work use. For example, when your laptop is hooked up to the monitor and external keyboard, it’s work time. When it’s on your lap, that’s personal time. You may want to go as far as partitioning your hard drive and creating a separate user account for work.

9. Maintain a Separate Phone Number

Set up a phone number that you only use for calls with colleagues and clients. It doesn’t have to be a landline, second mobile phone, or even a SIM card. It can be a free VoIP service, such as Google Voice or a Skype number. Similar to some of the other tips, having a separate phone number helps you manage your work-life balance.

10. Use a VPN

Use a VPN whenever you’re connected to a network that you don’t control. That includes Wi-Fi at co-working spaces, cafes, libraries, and airports. Some organizations have their own VPNs that off-site employees need to access certain servers or websites that store information meant only for internal use. In those cases, you’ll also need to use a VPN at home. In any case, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of leaving your VPN connected as often as possible because it’s always safer to have it on than not.