Even before the coronavirus pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in March 2020, a little over 7 million individuals in the United States worked from home at least some of the time. When we look back to the year 2015, the expansion of remote work has increased by more than 44%. It is estimated that by the end of 2020, more than 10 million Americans will be working on a remote capacity, and many of these jobs are bound to become permanent after a vaccine is developed to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
The most common profile of the typical remote worker is a freelancer or self-employed professional contracted for specific tasks and services. In other cases, individuals who work from home are actually small business owners who take advantage of the growing e-commerce sector. As for wage workers and salaried employees, working from home is somewhat of a luxury or a perk granted by their bosses on an occasional basis. Aside from necessity, most employers still think that higher productivity is something that is easier to obtain in a traditional office workplace.
What is interesting about the remote work explosion prompted by the coronavirus pandemic is that productivity has increased for many companies. Fidelity Investments, for example, has seen an incredible boost to productivity in 2020; more than 50%, and enough to justify plans to hire about 2,000 new employees by the end of the year. Many of these new hires will be working from home not just as a means to prevent contagion but also because Fidelity executives have developed systems to encourage productivity among their remote workers.
Companies already know that efficiency and maximum productivity is something that they must foster at the personal level; this means coaching their remote employees and providing them with advice and good practices. Here are some of the tips that you can adopt to make your work-at-home experience more productive, manageable, and even enjoyable:
Focus on Ergonomics
When setting up a workplace at home, ergonomics is one of the most important aspects that many people do not pay enough attention to. For some lucky workers, their kitchen table or even the desks they routinely use to manage household paperwork will have the minimum ergonomics, which should be:
- A chair that allows you to keep an ideal posture, meaning that it supports the natural curvature of your spine.
- The distance between the computer monitor or laptop display should be about a full arm's length away from your eyes, and it should allow you to work without having to crane your neck.
- Your desk should provide you with enough space to comfortably arrange your knees, legs, and feet. As for the height, it should either be adjustable or high enough to support a monitor display so that it is right in front of your eyes.
- Many aspects of ergonomics are ultimately up to each individual worker. Even if you invest in a Herman Miller Aeron or Mirra chair, you will still need to sit up straight.
It is generally better to deal with ergonomics first before focusing on other factors such as workplace location. The reason for this recommendation is simple: Your physiology will thank you for this effort.
Establish a Dedicated Workspace
Some workers who had to migrate from the office to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic thought that their home theaters, gaming rooms, reading dens, or even garage workshops would be ideal workplaces, but this does not always work out. When you have living spaces that are used to lounging, leisure, and entertainment, it is better to transform them into dedicated home offices than to split them into business and pleasure spaces. If you are able to convert a closet into a workplace, for example, this would be better than taking away the home theater from other household members for more than eight hours each day.
Mix Up Your Working Locations
This will be easier for executives, managers, and self-employed professionals to take advantage of, but it will also depend on the level of social distancing restrictions according to the COVID-19 pandemic. From time to time, and whenever it will be reasonable to do so, try move your remote office to a library, a Starbucks, or a WeWork-style of shared workspace for at least a few hours. Being able to work from alternate locations can boost productivity when projects require creativity or decision-making that is based on analysis.
This strategy will work wonders for people who used to work at an office and are relatively new at working from home. There is a certain simulation of a traditional workplace when you temporarily move your remote office: Some people find the white noise of coffee shop chatter to be soothing, and they also like being away from some of the distracting temptations they typically find at home.
Block Off All Household Chores
One problem that many remote workers find is directly related to what normally happens at home, a place where there is always something to do. You may find it empowering to multitask and get the laundry done at the same time you start your shift in the morning, but this is not a good idea in terms of productivity; the same goes for other tasks such as preparing a recipe in a slow-cooking pot or making baked goods.
Household chores can turn impulsive when you are already home; they can easily get in the way of getting more things done at work, which is why you should ignore them just as if you were in the office. If you do not have to work shifts, try to make a flexible schedule so that you can complete whatever household chores you need in the middle of the day or at night. Needless to say, you will have to coordinate with other members of your household; remind them to not interrupt and to wait for chores to be completed after work hours.
Unless your work from home involves continuous telephone interaction throughout your shift, one of the greatest benefits of remote working is being able to listen to music you enjoy on a personal level. If you are able to play your favorite music at home at a decent volume level, by all means get a nice set of speakers; otherwise, headphones will do the trick. You can listen to the radio or to a favorite playlist, but the choice of music will have an effect on productivity.
Hip-hop, rock, reggaeton, and other popular music genres that feature lyrics can be distracting. If you are working on highly repetitive tasks that do not require a lot of concentration, you can listen to just about anything you enjoy; in fact, you can even listen to podcasts or even talk radio, but this should be limited to checking emails, managing employees, monitoring systems, and other actions that can become second nature. With more analytical tasks such as writing, coding, and problem solving, you will be better off with purely instrumental music. Here are some recommendations from programmers:
- Any compositions left by the legendary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
- "The Inner Mounting Flame" 1971 album by John McLaughlin with the Mahavishu Orchestra
- Anything by Don Caballero, an acclaimed math rock group active in the late 1990s.
- "Donuts" 2006 hip-hp beats album by J-Dilla.
- "Music for Airports" 1978 album by Brian Eno.
- The 1898 tone poem A Hero's Life by Richard Strauss.
- "Blue Train" 1957 album by John Coltrane.
Some writers and coders prefer the ambient sounds of coffee shops, train stations, rain, waves washing upon the shore, or birds chirping in the morning. To this effect, apps such as Coffitivity are excellent to listen to during the work shift.
Dress for the Office When You Stay at Home
In terms of work from home tips, this one is one of the most unusually effective. Think about your remote working position as being pretty much the same as if the office was just down the road from your house, which means that you do not have to commute but must still adhere to a certain dress code. When you sit down dressed as if you were going to the office, something will happen to your psyche and productivity will flow easier. This does not means that you have to wear a full business suit; a skirt and a formal blouse will feel good at home, and you can skip the make up, heels, and elaborate hairstyle. The idea is not dress as a slob or wear pajamas on the job; you do not even have to shave, but be sure to show up at your home workspace freshly showered and with brushed hair.