Working remotely seems like a dream come true—at first. No need to wake up early, get dressed, or sit in traffic. That should mean more productive time during the day, and more time for yourself and your family, right?
As many Americans are discovering, working remotely from home can be a real challenge—especially when partners, roommates, and children are home, too. The realities of working remotely from home look a lot less like what you saw on Instagram, and more like a competition for time at the kitchen table.
So how do you succeed at telework without losing focus, angering spouses, and going crazy? Keep these working remotely best practices in mind.
Working Remotely Best Practices: 9 Ideas for COVID-19 Times
- Set realistic expectations. Chances are, you are not the only one at home—and you are all more stressed than you think. Whether you are caring for children or worried about increases or decreases in work, remember to be gentle with yourself.
- Get dressed every morning. Though this may seem like a silly formality, swapping sweatpants for jeans is a great way to differentiate between relaxation and work time.
- Make a schedule for working remotely. That may mean treating weekdays just like a day at the office. It also means that the workday ends at a specific time.
- Communicate with your partner or housemate(s). If you're sharing a workspace or childcare with a partner, work with them to divide work time fairly. Communication and mutual support are key.
- Reach out to colleagues and friends. The #1 thing people miss about the office is socialization. Take a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting to check in with people. Chances are, they are struggling at home, too.
- Exercise. This can be as simple as going for a walk or doing a few jumping jacks. Exercising pumps additional oxygen into the brain, according to The Scientific American, making it easier to come up with creative solutions.
- Set up a comfortable workspace, ideally outside of your bedroom. This may mean investing in a standing desk, getting a monitor, or some noise-canceling headphones.
- Avoid social media and news during the workday. These are two major sources of stress and great time wasters. Now, it's your job to hold yourself accountable for all that time wasted on Instagram.
- Take breaks. Did you know that taking breaks is the best way to increase productivity? Make sure you have dedicated moments during which you don't think about work.
What No One Told You: Pros and Cons of Working Remotely
Scroll through social media and you might see images of neat, modern workspaces or entrepreneurs who seem to have it all. Despite what it may look like, working remotely from home is challenging and requires a lot of discipline. It's especially difficult for former office workers, who may be used to the change of scenery and time away from their home life.
One thing is for certain: how and where we're employed will look different after the pandemic. Here are the challenges and benefits of working remotely, and a few solutions for telework beginners.
Benefits of Working Remotely
- No commute time. That means no more cramped subway cars or long drives in traffic.
- Time at home with loved ones: For some parents and spouses, the added time together is the pandemic's silver lining. Pre-pandemic, telework was an up-and-coming way for new mothers to keep a flexible work schedule after childbirth.
- Emphasis on independent work. If you are a self-starter, the added independence of your home office may be a game-changer.
- Less wasted time. Ever feel like you wasted time commuting or chit-chatting at the office? Working remotely from home may be an amazing transition if you're looking to get more done or tackle a new project.
- You can work from anywhere (with a wifi connection). This is one of the biggest reasons why people love remote jobs. Families can move out of the city into a larger home; Young professionals can explore the world. The options can be limitless—and sometimes overwhelming.
- Job flexibility: Don't love your job? You can apply for remote work anywhere in the country without having to move.
Challenges of Working Remotely
Thanks to COVID-19, some people have realized that the office really wasn't that bad. While some love the independence and mobility of telework, the isolation, time at home, and structure necessary to succeed can be a major challenge.
- Less social time. For many of us, our colleagues are our closest friends. Less time at the office means less time socializing and collaborating with your team.
- Too much time at home. Setting a boundary between "work time" and "relaxation time" is a critical working remotely best practice. Many find they spend more time working—and less time truly relaxing.
- Lack of a designated workspace. Having a home office is a game-changer. Background noises, people diverting your attention, and lack of personal space make concentrating much harder.
- Childcare: For many of us, switching to remote work would be a dream if we didn't have to care for children, too. For women especially, juggling childcare and work is an unresolved challenge. Talk with your partner about diving childcare equally so you can work, too.
- The challenge of self-motivating. Feel like you can't reach your full potential without a boss or your team nearby? Working remotely may not be for you. You may need to find a different way to hold yourself accountable or structure your time if you're struggling with self-motivation.
Stressed? 4 Tips to Solve Common Remote Working Issues
Some days you may feel like you're getting everything done. Others are full of social media spirals, crying children, and bickering. Though COVID-19 vaccines have been announced, telework will continue well into 2021. Here are five common problems associated with working remotely—and best practice solve each.
1. I'm Sick of Zoom Happy Hours But I Miss My Colleagues and Friends.
And they miss you, too. Today more than ever, it's critical to spend time socializing and talking about things besides the coronavirus. Though, you may be sick of online happy hours with too many people. Instead, here are a few alternative ways to connect with other humans:
- Take a few moments to ask your colleagues about their personal lives before meetings. Think of an online meeting the way you would an in-person one. How was their weekend? How are their children?
- Schedule a walk with a friend. Vitamin D, social distancing, and socializing all in one.
- Play an online game with your friends. We like Dominion and Settlers of Catan. Pro Tip: Cap the number of players at 4 for best gameplay and talking time.
- Impromptu FaceTime with a friend. Chances are, they'd love to hear from you just as much as you want to hear from them.
- Go on a weekend hike. It's a great way to get exercise and follow CDC protocol.
Remember that though you may be working remotely alone, we need social time to be happy in and outside of work. Regarding telework, this means collaborating with your team and not being afraid to reach out if you're stuck. It's also a great way to connect.
Beyond work, staying in contact with your friends is critical. Even if it takes more effort, making friends and colleagues a priority is more important than ever.
2. Since I Started Working Remotely, I Find Myself Working Way More.
People who telework spend more time working than those who commute to an office:
- 27% of people who work from home struggle with work/life balance, according to a new study.
- The average digital worker spends 1.4 days more a month working compared to an office worker.
- Other research has found that, for women, working from home means more work — specifically, 3 hours more a week of additional childcare.
The key to success (and feeling normal) is structure. In other words, schedule breaks and actually taking them. Try to keep your workdays consistent and on the regular side (not 3 pm to 3 am). And, when the workday is over, leave your workspace and transition to your “at home” time.
Remember: Just because you can’t go to restaurants doesn’t mean that you can’t be social. Human connection can be as simple as talking on the phone, going for a walk, and making bread at home.
Burnout is just as real during COVID times as it was before.
3. When I Work Remotely, I'm Struggling to Motivate Myself.
It can be tough when the only person holding you accountable is you. Here are a few things that our remote team does to keep themselves sane and on track.
- Set a schedule. When will you be sitting at your desk, eating lunch, taking a break, and closing your computer for the day?
- Create a separate space for working. If you don't have the luxury of an office, designate a part of the kitchen table as your "workspace."
- Pretend you are going to the office. In other words, take a shower and get dressed.
- Make a daily schedule. Check things off your list when you've completed them to give yourself a feeling of accomplishment. Keep track of your priorities.
- Do fun things outside of work. Taking breaks is not a waste of time. In fact, it's great for your mental health and overall productivity.
- Set reasonable expectations for yourself. You are a human in the midst of a pandemic. Your baseline stress level us undoubtedly higher.
For many, telework is a luxury. In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people negotiated working remotely with their bosses so they could travel more, spend more time with family, and do things on their own terms.
But there are some major cons that go along with telework, too. For starters, you've replaced the office with a whole new set of distractions. On top of that, we are all dealing with the stresses of living during a global pandemic.
The best way to succeed is to acknowledge how new all of this is. Then, make a realistic schedule, including fun things outside of work, and stick to it. Give yourself a mental and physical space for your job and for your home life. Always remember that this is hard because it's new.
4. I Feel Like I Can't Focus When Working Remotely.
Focusing can be really challenging—especially for people who are used to an office space. All of a sudden, it's up to you to self motivate and stop staring at your phone.
This doesn't mean that you have to have the mind of a Jedi. There are plenty of apps and good ol' fashion tricks to help you focus. #1 is forgiving yourself when you make mistakes and learning from them. Beyond that, here are a few things that our remote team recommends:
- Avoid social media. Social media is designed to distract you. So instead of forcing yourself to close Twitter, set a timer on your phone that you're only allowed 30 minutes of social time a day, for example. You can also check out a plugin called Freedom (or similar), which blocks social media on your computer, too.
- Stay away from the news. Though it's critical to stay up-to-date on the evolution of the pandemic, the workday is not the time to do so. Stop binging on news by doing simple things like limiting Apple News time on your iPhone.
- Create space when it's OK not to focus. Yes, that means taking a 20-minute break, going for a walk, working out, or having family time. You are not a robot and need rest to focus.
- Set boundaries with roommates and partners. Never worked remotely with your spouse before and not loving it? Tell them more about your wants and needs (ex: I'm more productive in the morning; I need quiet to focus) and hear theirs, too.
- Get out of the house. Walking can have excellent impacts on mental health, creativity, and even memory. Of course, wear a face covering, such as a face shield, and follow CDC protocol.
Remember that not every "productivity hack" is going to work for you. Keep trying new things—and when you find something that works, stick with it. The COVID-19 pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint: Developing healthy work and lifestyle habits is critical for long-term success.
The Challenges of Working Remotely Disproportionately Affect Women
The pandemic has made life especially challenging for women, who are frequently burdened with the majority of childcare even while working a full-time job.
- Working remotely can mean up to 3 hours of additional childcare per week for women.
- Women have lost more jobs than men during the pandemic.
- Many have been forced to quit due to a lack of childcare.
- 15% of mothers report that they are scaling back their careers due to the impacts of the pandemic, according to a McKinsey and LeanIn.org report.
The pandemic threatens to set us back after hard-won strides in workplace gender equality. Beyond that, having fewer working women is bad for company innovation and our society as a whole.
- Companies with a greater gender mix perform better financially, according to research. They also have more creative solutions.
- Women are more likely to hold lower-paying jobs, including jobs that are critical to our fight against COVID-19.
- 76% of healthcare workers are women, according to the U.S. Census.
The challenges of COVID-19 affect all mothers in the workforce: those who work essential jobs and those who must work remotely from home with children. And when we force women to choose between work and childcare, we hurt our economy and our ability to combat coronavirus.
How to Help Mothers Working Remotely
Whether you're a father or a mother, there are ways you can help one another parent during this challenging time.
- For fathers, keep in mind that the average woman spends double the time cleaning and preparing food as her husband, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Though you may feel that you are doing your fair share, check-in with your partner to see how they feel.
- For mothers, notice when you put the needs of your spouse/child first. Engage with your partner regarding your needs and health—and keep engaging if they forget.
A lot of the issues facing women working remotely have been ingrained for centuries. Women should keep in mind that inequality in the home is still a major issue. The only way to inspire change on a small or large scale is to be vocal.
What Does Working Remotely Mean?
Working remotely means working outside of a traditional office or work environment. Typically, it means working at home or in a public space such as a coffee shop. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote workers must work from their homes because most restaurants, coffee shops, and libraries no longer allow people to congregate.
4 Facts About Remote Work
- In 2018, 42% of Americans with advanced degrees completed some work at home compared to 12% without advanced degrees.
- 82% of job candidates want the option to occasionally work from home, according to a LinkedIn poll.
- People who worked from home made on average $2,000 more annually than those who commute in 2018, according to the Census Bureau.
- Only 29% of Americans can work from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These statistics reflect life before the pandemic. After it, telework will undoubtedly skyrocket as companies and individuals see its benefits.
Should You Make Your Team Permanently Remote?
Running a company and not sure whether you should keep your team virtual following the pandemic? Here are a few things to take into account:
- 80% of peoples surveyed said that they would turn down an offer without flexibility for another with telework abilities, according to a poll.
- A study conducted by a Princeton economics professor found that people are willing to accept 8% less pay for the ability to work remotely.
- U.S. Patent and Trade Office workers were 4.4% more productive when permitted to work remotely and had a lower margin for error, according to a study.
- Telework is cheaper for businesses. Having your team telecommute means less office space, one of the major sources of overhead for businesses.
Working Remotely May Increase Feelings of Loneliness
We spend an incredible amount of time with our coworkers. According to one poll, 38% of Americans say they would miss their work spouse more than their actual spouse.
But during COVID-19, staying safe from the virus means social distancing at home and away from some of our strongest relationships. This can lead to loneliness and isolation, coupled with the unprecedented stress of the pandemic.
- Calls to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Distress Hotline have increased 891% during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 45% of Americans feel that the coronavirus and the isolation it requires have negatively impacted their mental health, according to a poll.
Anyone suffering from these feelings should reach out to a medical professional for help and connect with a friend. They should also know that they are not alone; many Americans are struggling to maintain community during COVID-19.
DISCLAIMER: If you are feeling depressed or helpless, reach out to a medical professional for help. We are not doctors so the above is meant for educational purposes only.
Working Remotely Is the Future of Work
For many of us, telework is here to stay. Not only is it cheaper for businesses, but many prefer it too. No matter how you feel about virtual life--or whether you expect it to continue post-coronavirus--it's critical to adopt healthy habits to maintain your productivity and your sanity.
The first step is being patient with yourself. The second, is getting a better understanding of what you need. And the third is asking for it, whether you are a mother, a roommate, or working remotely by yourself.