At Nozbe, we all work from home on a regular basis. We don’t have a physical office at all. Throughout all these #nooffice years, we’ve learned how to be the most productive while working remotely.
Work-from-home as the ultimate solution
Companies across the world are already encouraging more and more people to work from home. Businesses’ and employees’ daily routines don’t have to be hindered by switching to a home office system. Working from home in many cases can be even more effective than working in a shared office space, where people often work in noisy, open spaces and are constantly interrupted.
Our best tips for working from home
Here are our top guidelines for working from home and making the most of it.
1. Set up your work space
When working from home it’s crucial to have your office space arranged. It can be simply a table or a desk. Clean and tidy. With all the reference materials or equipment you might need at hand. I suggest that rather than cooping yourself up in your bedroom - a place that you associate with leisure time - you choose another room or surface in your home that will be dedicated specifically to work.
Some people can afford a real home office - like a separate room, but some folks simply work from behind a well-arranged kitchen table, have their desk in a leaving room or take over their child’s desk when the little one is at school, like I do. This motivates me to stick to my day schedule - I know that my “homeoffice” is available only till 3:45 pm everyday ;)
2. Set some home rules
One of the problems that people working from home have to face is the way others don’t take their work seriously only because they do it in their place. That can result in neighbours dropping by for a coffee at midday or people calling you and asking favors when you’re right in the middle of something important.
To avoid all that, you might want to talk to your flatmates and family and explain them that even though you don’t go to work, you actually work. It’s good to tell them at what times you are busy, what time you have breaks and when exactly you’re free. This way you will be on the same page.
3. Remove other distractions
Apart from the distractions caused by other people, you need to beware of many other traps. For example, when working from home, you don’t have to hide away from your colleagues or boss when using social media instead of getting your tasks done… You can also spend too much time in the kitchen, preparing yourself snacks and drinks or simply doing some houseworks.
To keep yourself away from these small sins and not to waste time, you can prepare snacks and drinks before you start working. You can also determine what time you will have breaks, and grab something to eat or do your loundry only then.
It is mostly yourself and your strong will that can keep you away from scrolling social media and getting distracted by other people’s lives and issues. We both know this is an utter waste of time and energy, right? If that doesn’t stops you, you might want to remove them from your browser shortcuts, log out of every account, and on top of that try some social media blocking apps for your computer.
4. Get dressed and pretend like you’re going to the office
To focus and motivate yourself to work, have your daily routine similar to the one you’d have if you worked in one of these cool downtown office spaces. Have your alarm set for the same time every morning. Get up, forget of working with your pyjamas on. Get dressed, use some perfumes. Have breakfest, drink your coffe if that’s what you would do before going to work. Have your morning ritual to tune up for a busy day at work.
5. Set your priorities and less important tasks
You can decide what you’re going to be working on in the evening the day before or as the first thing in the morning. No matter which timing you choose, make sure to know what are your most important tasks for the day. This way, you will be able to plan your actions and see the progress.
In the book “The One Thing”, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan argue that it’s best to limit oneself to the bare minimum. They suggest deciding on one key goal for the day and treating all other matters as secondary. Another way is to find your key task for the day, then go for three other big tasks, and finish up by trying to get five smaller, “nice to have” tasks done.
Try to work on the first things first because if instead of focusing on the key tasks, you decide to start with the most trivial ones, you may come to realize that the day has ended, and you no longer have the time to do that thing that was crucial.
If your to-do list is really overwhelming, read our guide to stay on top of things.
6. Plan your day in time
Greg Mckeown, the author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” wrote that “if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” That’s why it is really important to go through your projects and tasks, identify what needs to be done today as we mentioned in the previous paragraph, and segment what you’ll do and when over the course of the day.
Without a plan you may find yourself overwhelmed and try to procrastinate on completing larger, more important tasks.
Don’t try to schedule yourself too tightly however - you’ll only stress yourself out and feel disappointed. Adding time margin to every task is a great idea - a 20% cushion for the time you allot for each task in your schedule will be enough.
Also, you don’t need due dates on everything. The problem with deadlines is that before you know it, you have assigned yourself 35 things due on a single day! The better way to manage this is to only use due dates on things that are really “due”, or that you need to be reminded of.
7. Try to work in blocks of focus time
In a traditional office environment, people tend to interrupt each other a lot. If they need quick feedback from somebody, they can just walk up and ask them a question. Interrupting somebody costs time, because after the chat they have to spend a few minutes getting back to what they were working on. When you work from home you can enjoy the luxury of uninterrupted, focused work. (*Unless your kids are at home like during the home quarantine. Then, please, go back to points: 1., 2., and 6. but don’t feel guilty or astonished if they turn out to be ineffective…)
Your goal is to work as long as you can without distractions. How to achieve it? By managing your time right: taking short breaks and delaying all unrelated tasks.
Pomodoro Technique can prove helpful here. This is a simple technique where you work in 25-minute-long blocks (Pomodoros) and take a 5-minute break after each. Four Pomodoros are a full session after which you’re entitled to a longer break (15-30 minutes). Of course you can modify the timing according to your needs but make sure to work in focus and then have clear breaks.
8. Reward yourself
Don’t let the guilt of working from home from taking time to relax. During a break, you can watch a video or even better - get away from your desk. Go for a walk outside, have a healthy snack or spend time with others who might also be in the house.
Remember, that breaks for making and eating lunch or doing some exercise can recharge you to do better work. Don’t assume you need to be working 100% of the time while you’re home to be productive.
(Now, that kids stay at home, the feeling of guilt that stems from the fact you can’t work full time effectively can be even more overwhelming. Remember though that we are all in the same boat and probably none of the parents can deliver as much results as they would in normal conditions.)
9. Use technology to stay productive
Working from home can sometimes require technological back up as telecommuters don’t have access to the company’s intranet or physical documents.
At Nozbe, we use different apps to get our work done. Designers use the Adobe suite apps, programmers use GitHub (collaborative coding environment.) For mind mapping we use mindmapping apps, and for brainstorming and documentation - Dropbox Paper as more collaborative writing platform. We usually save our files in shared folders in Dropbox. Everyone on our team has a Dropbox account and we have set up shared folders so that all the files we need sync to our computers right away. It’s all about posting our work and feedback for the rest of the team.
Last buy not least we all use our own product - Nozbe Teams - to share projects and communicate through tasks. Just like in Dropbox, in Nozbe we have set up shared projects where we add and delegate tasks to each other. Once we’re done with a task, we communicate the results in the comment to this task and either complete it or simply assign it to someone to let them know we’ve done something for them or that we need their feedback.
While our files, tasks and projects are all in sync thanks to the latest Internet technologies, we try to work asynchronously as we get our own work done in our uninterrupted chunks of time.
10. Stay in touch with your team
The key to team productivity is communication. But how to communicate effectively with your team especially when you work from home? You can’t rely on face-to-face communication in all-digital world right now. Trying chat-based communication results in increased anxiety as there are just too many messages coming in. And reverting back to good old email with CC and BCC feels like going back to the stone ages - good luck finding any useful and up-to-date info there!
Over the years of running Nozbe we’ve realized that for teams to work better, a different type of communication is needed - task-based communication, where all the discussions are centered around tasks and projects with everyone giving feedback. Having all the context and relevant information under one roof helps teams deliver results.
Our tool for team collaboration and communication is our Nozbe Teams app. This way, we experience:
- fewer interruptions,
- fewer meetings,
- ability to be on top of things even on the go,
- every team member being on the same page,
- our team getting projects done faster.
Working from home can be rewarding for both - the employer and the employee. This is a great opportunity to learn to work better as well as appreciate “focused time” and communicate asynchronously with the team.
As a telecommuter, you learn not to interrupt people just because you can. You and your team get more stuff done because you have significantly more time for your actual work. Sometimes, you can choose to shut off and not respond to chats or phone calls, and you are also not tempted to use these tools to work with others.