Remote work is a reality – in every region and every industry.
What was once a limited option/benefit is now the way work gets done. However, this doesn’t mean everyone knows how to do it well – yet. Most work from home (WFH) practices focus on productivity – the ability to do the job just as efficiently at home as you typically do in the office. This is sufficient for brief remote work experiences. When you work away from the office most of the time, building good WFH habits is critical for two additional reasons:
- Wellness. When not properly considered, remote work can negatively impact a person’s physical and psychological well being. For example, people may unwittingly adopt more stationary lifestyles, develop feelings of isolation or adopt a misguided sense of value. With support from the organization and their peers, employees must continuously focus on building good WFH habits and continuously evolve their practices as needed to protect their long-term wellness.
- Community. When you are one of a limited number of WFH employees, the on-the-job practices of your office-based peers can have an oversized impact on your sense of belonging and connection. When everyone works remotely, individual practices have increased influence on the overall workplace. Divergent or conflicting habits can negatively impact both individuals and the team. Therefore, everyone must take care to build harmonious WFH habits that support individual productivity and wellness as well as a balance and complimentary workplace environment.
Work is a personal experience. Companies establish frameworks and provide resources. Managers offer timely coaching and support. But every employee must find the best way to do their work while balancing their personal and professional needs. Therefore, there’s no one-size-fits-all set of WFH practices everyone should adopt. It’s up to you to try new tactics and find what works best.
Here are 35 more options for next-level remote work practices that are proven to help balance productivity, wellness and community.
- Calendar Blocks. Pre-book time on your calendar two weeks ahead for focused work. Make it clear that you are not available for meetings and other activities during these periods. If you want to also block flexible periods that can be double-booked, make this clear in your titling. If you fail to enforce these blocks, people will continue to schedule meetings over them, and you’ll be forced to find other time for focused work. Likewise, if you are scheduling a meeting and see a work block, avoid it at all costs. If you really, really need to use that time, contact the person beforehand to see if they are able to adjust their workflow schedule.
- Add Personal Responsibilities to your Calendar. Working from home, especially during disruptive periods, can cause personal responsibilities to overlap with professional schedules more often. This is totally understandable. You may have to carve out periods of your day to focus on things at home. However, your peers, especially those outside your immediate team, won’t know this unless you make it clear. Your calendar is a great way to do this. You don’t have to reveal anything private. Just add blocks that reference personal responsibilities. This will make sure people scheduling meetings respect this time. Likewise, if you work an atypical schedule to help balance your personal and professional responsibilities, identify periods that may be available outside standard operating hours.
- Schedule Your Own Breaks. How many times have you intended to take a lunch break only to find that you unknowingly worked straight through to the next meeting? Use your phone or watch to make sure you step away for periodic breaks. Set alarms when you first arrive at work to remind you that it’s time for a break. Use a watch app to remind you to stand up and move around during the day.
- Schedule Team Focus Periods. Your individual work team is often a primary source for meetings. Work as a group to identify meeting free periods in the week. Designate these periods as time for focused work within your team.
- Written At-Home Schedules. Calendaring isn’t just a work thing. Make sure the people with whom you live also understand your schedule. Post a written schedule in a common area so people know when you are/not free. Use a dry erase board so you can update your schedule as needed.
- Clearly Define Meetings. What is a “meeting” when everyone works remotely? Many times, unstructured, in-person office chats turn into scheduled meetings when you work from home. This can create additional stress as your calendar fills up, leaving you less time to do your own work. If a conversation would take less than 10 minutes in person, don’t schedule a meeting. Just send the person a note, asking them to call you when they’re free – just as you would if you popped by their desk in the office.
- Limit Recurring Meetings. Many meetings are pre-scheduled weeks or months before they happen. While recurring meetings may be high-value in the beginning, their importance can often taper off – or at least become inconsistent. Only schedule recurring meetings when absolutely necessary. Review your calendar at the beginning of the week to determine if you really need the next recurrence. Cancel if you don’t see clear value. Reassess your recurring meetings on at least a quarterly basis.
- Always Include Invite Details. Why did you schedule this meeting? Why did you cancel this meeting? Always include notes with your meeting invitations and cancellations so people aren’t left guessing and can prepare properly.
- Send Meeting Recaps. It can be hard to pay attention during remote meetings, especially if it’s late in the day or you’re experiencing at-home distractions. Designate someone to record and distribute notes during important group meetings. Link a meeting note document to the calendar appointment for easy access. This will allow participants to engage in conversation without worrying about taking their own comprehensive notes.
- Use Meeting Kickstart Questions. Small talk is difficult during remote meetings, as people can’t step aside and connect without engaging the entire group. This can make introductory conversations awkward or prompt you to get right down to business. Instead, replace the common small talk period with a kickstart question. This may include a wide range of topics that prompt people to share brief tidbits about their personal lives. For example, you may ask “if you were an astronaut, what one condiment would you bring with you into space?” Ask someone who regularly attends your group meetings to pre-plan a simple question for each session.
- Cut Meetings Short. Get in. Get out. Only use the time needed during your meetings. If you scheduled 30 minutes but only need 15, avoid the temptation to fill time and let people go. Avoid saying things like “I’ll give you some time back” as a way to normalize right-fit meeting habits. Recommend your team members use the extra time to step away and reset rather than just getting back to work.
- Limit Meeting Invites to Contributors. The only people in the meeting should be people you expect to contribute to the conversation. If someone may need the information later, send them the notes. If the entire purpose of the meeting is to present information without any supporting conversation, cancel the session and send an email or video message instead.
- Use Video Instead. Remote work allows you to use video in new ways – beyond just live-streaming your presence during structured meetings. It can be hard to put all of your thoughts into an email as a way to avoid holding a meeting. Instead, record a video of your presentation. Make sure you are on-screen alongside your presentation, just as you would during an in-person meeting. Make this video available to your intended audience so they can engage on their own time. Designate a chat channel for ongoing discussion to avoid stress-inducing email chains and reply-alls.
- Go Full Screen. Distractions are rampant when you work from home. To stay focused on meeting conversation, make the related application full screen on your monitor. Go one step further by minimizing or closing other applications so you aren’t tempted by other tasks. If you’re invited to the meeting, you’re expected to contribute. Therefore, you shouldn’t be able to work on anything else anyway.
- Hold a Walking Meeting. If a meeting doesn’t require you to view your screen, consider joining the meeting from your phone while going on a walk. If your team is amenable, make one of your recurring meetings a walking session. Don’t require everyone to join this way every time. People could walk outside or just around their house. Encourage additional movement to make it easier for people to fit exercise into the workday.
- Pre and Post-Meeting Blocks. Your meeting is scheduled for 10am – 11am. Consider adding a prep block to your calendar for the 15 minutes before and after the meeting so you can properly reset for the conversation, make sure you’ll arrive on-time and avoid the stress of having to rush. This works much better than the 25-minute meeting time that always runs over.
- Provide a Clear Meeting Agenda. Make sure people know why they’re joining a meeting and the role they are expected to play. Give people enough information so they can prepare properly. This will also help you hold people accountable and make sure the meeting is worth everyone’s time.
- Start One-on-Ones with a Check In. The people you work with are often stuck in back-to-back meetings throughout the day. Make time to start your meeting with a personal check in and give the other person a moment to get settled. Ask if they need to grab a beverage or visit the restroom before you get started. They’ll appreciate the attention, and you will increase the value of the meeting.
- The Virtual Commute. You may not be “leaving for work” in the morning. However, you can establish a series of habits that psychologically replace the traditional commute. This may include getting dressed, exercising, making breakfast or arriving in your workspace at a regular time. Maintaining this routine will help you get mentally prepared for the workday. Likewise, building an end-of-day routine that includes habits such as turning off your computer, leaving your workspace, exercising or connecting with friends/family can help you mentally shift away from the workday.
- Personal Meeting Rooms. People can often associate specific types of work with specific spaces. Physical spaces can help you shift your mindset and focus on the work at hand. This association is altered when you work from home, as every work type is completed in the same space. You can restore this balance by moving to different areas of your home for select work activities. For example, you may move from your office to your dining room to join your on-one-on with your manager.
- The Meeting Wave. Adults don’t wave very often in everyday life. However, waving at the beginning and end of virtual meetings can establish a sense of shared connection that is often missing in digital communication. It also demonstrates that you are interested and engaged in your interactions with others.
- Customize Your Slack Sidebar. Your team probably has A LOT of Slack channels. Trying to decide which ones to keep up with can get overwhelming. Simplify your Slack experience by organizing your sidebar. Move channels into sections based on project, function or other factors. Star the channels that are consistently important. Keep sections collapsed so you don’t get distracted by ongoing conversation.
- Control Your Chat Notifications. There’s always something new to read in Slack/Teams/Skype/etc. That doesn’t mean you need to read it. Take control of your notifications by channel. Allow only the most important channels to notify you with every message. Otherwise, limit notifications to just mentions or shut them off entirely.
- Use Chat Formatting. How do you feel when you receive a long email filled with chunky paragraphs? Stressful? The same can be true in chat when you send a long message to a channel or individual. Use formatting, including spacing, bold and colors, to make extended messages easier to read. Include emoji as a way to add context and personality.
- Turn Chat Off Sometimes. Are you working on something that requires focus? Turn your chat app off. Let your team know that you are going “heads-down” for a while. Your peers can’t always expect you to stop what you’re doing because they have a question. The same is true when using chat when working from home. Unless there is a timely need or you are expected to respond promptly as part of your role, turn it off when you need to focus.
- Leave Your Work Device at Work. Do you have a dedicated mobile device for work? Leave it in your home office when you are done working for the day – unless there is a timely reason to remain connected. This will help you shift focus and avoid work-related distractions during personal time. Also, charge your work devices in a separate place from your personal devices.
- Remove Unnecessary Apps. You can access a variety of work tools, such as Slack, email, calendars, shared drives, etc., from your personal mobile device. But do you need access to them at all times? The average American checks their phone 96 times per day, or once every ten minutes. Using your personal phone for work-related activities while at home can make it harder to disconnect and cause unnecessary stress. Only place the apps you really need outside of work hours, such as your calendar, on your personal device(s) when working primarily from home.
- Control Your Mobile Notifications. No matter your role, there’s always a new email or chat message. Make sure your notifications align with how you schedule your work time. Restrict work-related notifications so they do not interrupt your personal time.
- Treat Your Phone Like a Phone. When you work from home, your computer is almost always within reach. This allows you to use your phone more like a phone and less like a computer. Keep it handy during the day for telephone calls and text messages, but rely on your computer for more focused work. This way, when you inevitably step away for a break with your phone, you won’t also be carrying your work with you.
- Invest in Headphones. If you have to choose one item in which to invest to improve your WFH setup, make it a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones. They can help mitigate distraction and improve the sound quality during online meetings and telephone calls. They can be used to support mindfulness activities, such as playing music or engaging in meditation activities. They’ll also be handy during travel (eventually).
- Go Out for Lunch. Never eat lunch at your desk. If you can’t leave the house for lunch, at least eat in another room. If you plan to meet with a peer over lunch, join the online conversation from a space other than your desk.
- Keep a daily accomplishment list. Write down what you accomplish every day so you can look back on your work with pride. This isn’t meant to replace task management. It’s provides you with a simple, end-of-day reflection moment to think about how you’ve contributed to the team effort.
- Work Near Windows. We often can’t choose our WFH space. We may have limited options or be forced into seclusion to avoid distractions. Whenever possible, choose a space with an outside view. There’s value in natural lighting along with the feeling of connection with what’s going on beyond your four walls.
- Watch Out for Others. Help your peers improve their WFH experience by holding one another accountable. If you notice someone sending emails or Slack messages late at night on a consistent basis, softly inquire about their schedule. They may have developed poor WFH habits or need additional help but do not know how to ask.
- Stop Apologizing. We’ve all experienced a learning curve when it comes to working from home. Apologies for common distractions, such as children, pets and landscapers, are no longer necessary. Do what you can to mitigate these issues, but there’s no need to stress about them. People get it.
Subscribe to my online magazine Untethered for the latest curated remote work practices, stories and insights.