by Caryl Teh

Working from home, a.k.a. “working remotely”, is a relatively new working style. Yes, we know – there’s a stigma attached to the idea, projecting the image that your colleague is diligently checking into work but then spending the rest of the day on Netflix. But brave teams (Dell, Amazon, Trello, Lionbridge) have taken up the gauntlet to debunk this stigma, and ended up with greater collaboration (on a global scale!) with greater ease and amazing results. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, working remotely has become the new normal. So we thought it would be useful to compile the best tips to put you in the best position to keep producing your best work, from home. (p.s. parts 2 and 3 are now available on our BTRT etc page!)

Part 1: Individual Preparations for Working Remotely

Home is normally where we unwind and relax. So if home is now also your office, it’s no surprise that it’ll take some time to define and keep clear boundaries between your personal and professional spaces at home. 

1. Plan ahead

Avoid early-onset decision fatigue by keeping routine choices and chores to a minimum. What does this mean? 

(a) Plan your outfit for the day the night before
It may seem silly to plan a work outfit to wear at home, but you’ll avoid the rut of wearing uninspiring exercise pants and a three-day-old shirt. More importantly, looking your best (outward appearance) can inspire better focus, confidence and productivity (inner mentality). 

(b) Plan out healthy and nourishing snacks and meals
This will prevent you from mindlessly grazing on unhealthy food. 

2. Choose your workspace wisely!

(a) Have a designated office space
Not your kitchen counter, living room couch, or bed. Your brain often forms mental associations between a given physical space, and what you normally do there. That’s why it’s important to create a conducive mental space to focus. If you don’t, you may start to feel like you’re always at work and lose a place to “come home to”. 

(b) Have a door that closes!
This is not just to shut out noise that may distract you during working hours. It’s also so that at the end of the day, closing that door serves as a mental signpost that tells your brain “I am leaving work behind that door until next week! Now I can fully focus on enjoying the weekend!” 

3. Control your schedule

When working from home, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of “Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.” So take control of your schedule, and don’t let yourself become an overworked workbot!

(a) Motivate yourself for the day ahead!
Instead of making “work” the 1st thing on your agenda, start each morning by delving into personally productive projects or hobbies – something that you find interesting, engaging, and rewarding. For example, meditate, get creative (read, write, music, art), try out a new smoothie or meal recipe. This could help get your gears going so you can take on the rest of the day like a boss.

(b) Build breaks into your schedule
Breaks are a key part of productivity. Here’s some things you could try to avoid becoming permanently bonded to your office chair:
Suggestion 1: place important (but not urgent) things that need your attention out of reach, eg. snacks and drinks, or even your phone. (Of course, you would need to have all your work communication platforms on your work laptop so your teammates can still reach you.)
Suggestion 2: do simple stretches or movements every 30 minutes. If you think you might have trouble remembering, you could set pop-up reminders to do the remembering for you.

(c) Notifications
Block hours of time as “work focus” time. But outside working hours, set notifications such that unless it’s an emergency, work emails don’t distract you from quality time with your family, or much-needed meditation sessions! 

4. Set the mood – build a playlist

Canadian scientists conducted an MRI study and concluded that listening to new music is good for the brain because it activates the centre that makes us feel rewarded and excited. In other words, new music keeps you receptive to learning new things. So maybe consider a “side project” of building some personalised playlists: one to get you pumped for a productive work session, one to relax you, and one that’s just all your jams. These will give you constructive energy in a low-key way all day.

5. Fend off the loneliness – watch Netflix! 

Loneliness. It’s real. And we’re all the more susceptible to it, especially when spending work hours (which is the bulk of our day) physically alone. Thankfully, studies have found that the “parasocial” relationships you form with characters from your favourite shows actually gives you a sense of belonging. This is called “social surrogacy”. Besides, who doesn’t like another reason to watch Netflix, right?

Now you’re all set to work remotely as an individual! If you found that helpful, then you’ll enjoy Part 2 on how to keep collaborating and communicating effectively as a team even with members who are working remotely.