Telecommuting and distributed offices have become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly with the rise of digital productivity tools which teams can use to collaborate just as they would in-person. While the majority of employees still work from an office, the share of people who work from home in the U.S. has been steadily increasing in recent years.
However, as an employee working remotely—whether full-time or the odd day here and there—not being in the office presents a unique set of challenges. The following tips can help you to stay sane and increase your productivity while you’re outside the office.
Perhaps the first and most significant problem that arises from remote work is the lack of structure in your day. If you’re working from home, for example, it can be tempting to work from your bed or while lounging on the couch, but doing so can not only impact your productivity, but also blur the lines between work and your personal life. In addition, being outside of the office often allows greater flexibility in your schedule, but that also means you might end up unintentionally procrastinating for an afternoon, meaning you’ll need to work through the evening to make up for it.
While the flexibility can be nice, particularly for people with children or other commitments which would make a traditional 9-5 job more challenging, it’s important to be intentional about your hours, rather than working nights and/or weekends just because you haven’t managed to be productive during normal working hours.
In addition, set boundaries around your physical work space. If you work from home, limit yourself to one or two working “spaces”. This can help to get you in the mental game when you’re in your working space, whereas your bedroom and other non-working spaces will remain safe from the stresses of work.
You might also learn that working home isn’t for you, or perhaps it’s only a good solution some of the time. In this case, find another place where you can reliably go for at least a few hours at a time—public libraries, friendly coffee shops, and co-working spaces are good starting points. Remember to account for your key needs as you look for alternative working environments; For example, if you’re on the phone a lot, a library likely won’t suit your needs, or if you need reliable internet access some coffee shops might not be an option.
Another factor to consider when working remotely is the lack of human interaction, which can be an adjustment for even the most introverted of employees. For both your own sanity as well as for the sake of your working relationship with colleagues and/or managers, make a point of over-communicating whenever you’re not in the office. This might be a daily or weekly conference call or email, or perhaps a shared task board. Regardless of the method, work with your team to figure out the best way for everyone to be kept up to speed on how you’re spending your time.
Having this accountability can also keep you on track in the less-structured environment. If you know your manager or colleague is waiting for a certain project or task to be completed by an agreed-upon date or time, you’re more likely to push to get it done rather than adding it to an endless to-do list.
Whether it’s a work trip to see your team in person, spending part of your week in a co-working space, or even making frequent evening plans with friends or family, spending time with people is an underestimated—but crucial—part of working remotely. While it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’ll be more productive if you just stay at home for days on end, the lack of human interaction will get to you over time.
Instead, be proactive about scheduling things to get you out of the house (or wherever you’re working from). Contact your manager to see whether the company would be open to paying for you to travel to spend time with the team on a regular basis. If you work from home, consider a routine such as going to a favorite coffee shop once a week. And your life outside of work is important too—perhaps even more so if you’re not around people in your day-to-day working environment—so the extra effort to establish routines and social events can be worth it to keep you sane, even if you spend your working days alone.