Remote work: 11 tips to be productive from home

Home office desk with a computer, phone and pens.

With the end of the coronavirus quarantine still an unknown, an entire workforce has shifted to remote work from home. 

Being productive while also maintaining a good work-life balance from home is easier said than done.

Below are 11 tips on how you can be productive during your adjustment to remote work.

Set a remote-work schedule

Working from home without a set schedule can vary from too many distractions to working well over eight hours per day. 

A reasonable balance involves creating a time-based structure for your days. For many, this could resemble the traditional 9-to-5 workday, but communicate with your manager and team. Without a commute to factor in, the workday could start earlier (or later), but it should be reasonably similar to your colleagues’ schedules and communicated so that everyone is on the same page.

Then, stick to it. Maintain that schedule like you would in an office. 

The key is to “arrive” on time and create a daily end-of-day deadline for yourself so that you don’t get caught in the “I’ll make it up tonight” trap, which can happen far too easily without structure.

Test your ideal work times

This is similar to setting your general workday schedule, but it factors in when you are most productive as well.

Some people may be most productive in the early morning hours. Others may be most productive between 3 and 5 p.m.

If you know what time of day you are naturally most productive, commit to working on projects during that time. Try to schedule meetings and phone calls during other times of the day so that they don’t slow you down on your actual output.

Get ready for your workday

This will either sound silly or like simple common sense, but take a shower, get dressed for the office (even if it is on the more-casual side). However you get ready to go to work in a physical office is how you should strive to get ready for your day of remote work. 

It’s the mental association that connects your home space to work productivity. 

Yes, you can technically get away with wearing pajamas all day long. But set yourself up for success by getting ready. You’ll notice the difference.

Create a remote workspace in your home

There is a freedom in being able to work from anywhere, but “anywhere” isn’t always the best for productive remote work. It also can make it difficult to stop working if you’re working in a leisure-associated space (like your couch).

Take a fresh look at the available spaces in your home. Is there a separate room or surface that can be designated for work only? Even if you’re limited on space in your home, the more you can separate a work area from a leisure area, the better.

Think about it this way: Give yourself a workspace that you can “leave” and a leisure space you can “come home to.”

Take breaks (seriously)

Taking any “break” while remote working from home can sound counter-intuitive at first (you’re already home, after all), but it’s just as important as setting a schedule for yourself so that you don’t end up over-working. 

Of course, when you can technically stop working whenever you want, there also is a danger of taking longer breaks than necessary and getting distracted by any number of things around your home. 

Outside of lunch breaks, the frequency and duration of breaks can be planned ahead of time for maximum structure and efficiency. But everyone is different.

For instance, there is the Pomodoro Technique in which you work on a task for 25 minutes (using a timer if necessary) then taking a 5-minute break (also with the option of a timer). You would then repeat that four times before taking a 15- to 30-minute break.

You also could commit to taking a 5- to 10-minute break each hour. Again, there is no perfect formula, but set a plan and stick with it.

Breaks are important not only to refresh your mind but also to help your eyes by getting away from your screen. Consider taking regular, purposeful breaks a form of self-care. You can stretch, take a quick walk around the block or get a glass of water to stay hydrated.

Communicate expectations with others in your home

If you live alone, this is a moot point, and you can skip ahead. But anyone living with a roommate, child, parent or partner, it is critical to communicate your remote work schedule, your workspace and any signals as to when you should not be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.

For instance, wearing headphones or earbuds could signal to family members that you are working. Another example could be a “do not disturb” sign on the door to your home office.

The challenge is that while you are physically home, you have to be “off-limits” at times to be your best productive self (and minimize the potential of frequent disruptions and distractions). Communicate your needs and expectations ahead of time to get everyone on the same page with you.

Prepare any meals the night before

The idea of being able to cook your meals (including lunch) in real-time during remote work can sound tempting. But beware! 

Cooking can easily eat up more time than planned during your workday at home. You can keep yourself on track by prepping your lunch (and snacks) the night before. You also could meal prep for an entire week ahead as well, whatever works best for your overall schedule.

Avoid the social media rabbit hole

With the possibility of a boss or coworker catching you goofing off on social media no longer a possibility during remote work, there is a danger of the distraction that social media can create.

Options to not get sucked in? You can consciously limit social media time to your anticipated breaks (although this would not give you a break from actual screen time). You also can use the Google Chrome browser to your advantage.

In Google Chrome, you can create multiple accounts, each with a different toolbar and bookmarks. You can limit the temptation of distraction with a personal account (and toolbar) and a work account (and toolbar). You also can use an “incognito” browser window where you’re automatically signed out of all your distraction landmines. 

Plan ahead and commit to do more

Making a to-do checklist of prioritized tasks for your remote workday can help keep you on track. 

Projects run the risk of taking longer than we expect, but break it down into smaller tasks that you can check off your list. That way, progress is maintained, and you’ll have a sense of completion (as well as a blueprint for the next day) when your workday is over.

Try to stick to your daily plan, but be flexible when necessary.

Use technology to stay connected

Working from home does not mean you have to be isolated from others.

Instant messaging and video conferencing are invaluable for remote workers. Staying in contact with your manager and coworkers not only enables better overall team cohesion, but it helps prevent the feeling of social isolation and loneliness.

Zoom skyrocketed in popularity as coronavirus forced many workers to stay home, but no matter what the application, the connection and commitment to over-communicate what you’re working on will only help everyone on your team stay connected and efficient.

Also, be mindful of promptly responding to emails and messages when you are “on the clock” from home. Your responsiveness when others believe you are working can impact their perception of you and your productivity, whether you’re actually working or not. Just be clear if you’re unable to get to a task until another time.

Find the soundtrack to your productivity

Have you worked in an office where music would play in the background? We’re going to guess you either didn’t have control over that music (or the volume level), or you at least had to compromise with the rest of the office as to what genre or station would be playing.

Well, with remote work, you are now the king or queen of your musical universe.

Take a moment to think about what music really gets you motivated. Don’t be afraid to play with different genres. This is about you and what will help you get your work done faster.

For all the remote-work newbies out there, be kind to yourselves as you adjust to your new day-to-day work environment. Focus on what sets you up for success, and communicate with your colleagues every step of the way.

LinkedIn Learning also has several resources to check out regarding remote work.