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Five simple tips for working from home sustainably that actually worked out

21 March 2020

I see many people struggling with adapting to remote work and face numerous problems that they have never experienced before in the office. To name a few, this is what I have evidenced in the feed of Facebook and Linkedin: some complain about losing efficiency, having problems with the workday schedule or being distracted by different factors, others experience body aches and tiredness, many lack social contacts & communication.

It’s hard to argue that the current situation is one of a kind and some would never face such distance working operation mode otherwise. However, some other professionals are, or were, exposed to the remote working scheme for quite a while, and let me tell you, it’s not that bad. In fact, working remotely has certain benefits over office work, and I had a chance to learn & pass through that in my past experience. This is why I feel responsible to share with you some basic tips & practices that I was relying on, in order to help overcome the common problems and maybe even start enjoying working from home.

So here we go, just five little things that you need to follow. No doubt it will take a while to make it right, but I’m sure eventually you appreciate the efforts spent on setting things up to work from home.

1. Keep work and life balance

The working day has its beginning and the end. Simple as that, but quite hard to follow in practice. It was one of the rules that took me a while to adhere when I was starting my remote experience in software development. Two simple principles helped me here, that is a) having a schedule throughout the entire day, b) following it by literally tracking my time.

Having your own schedule -- however strict or flexible -- is the key thing here, so please take some time and write it down. Check out an example schedule that I was following during my previous experience and look at the tips below how to make your own. As for time tracking & staying focused during work spans in your schedule, there are plenty of tools and techniques to make you covered: from pomodoro method to desktop timers or screen time trackers.

On the positive side, think how much time you save now on commuting: no need to drive, cycle or take a train/bus/underground to get to the office. You woke up, made a few steps to the working area and voila! Actually, I was about to mention...

2. Have a proper environment

A desk, a chair and a good monitor for your laptop -- these are the basics we all know from the office life. Some captious ones would also name a fancy keyboard and mouse or maybe a wireless headset. But aside from that, think what makes your working from home different, in particular, which area of your home becomes now an office. As with the work & life balance above, this gets quite crucial in the long run so you stay in the inner office during work hours and leave it when the workday is over.

From the previous experience, I was initially tempted to work from any random place within the house, like dining tables, armchairs or sofas (whilst being seemingly comfy, they deteriorate your lower back quickly), though this illusion quickly went away as a completely unsustainable option. Even at your desk, make sure you keep a proper sitting posture and don’t slide under it slowly: consider changing your chair if needed.

3. Stay fit

Like briefly mentioned above, choosing the wrong setup could impact your health in a negative way, so it’s essential to keep the body strong & fit. Fortunately, there’s plenty of workouts you can do at home: from yoga or pilates to aerobics or callisthenics. Ideally, find an online coach or a good online course, or bottom line some videos that would guide you on how to exercise properly. Try focusing more on the ABS & core strength, as well as lower & upper back. Mind keeping the room or space nice & clean and full of fresh air, before and after the workout. Some also favour doing a quick warm-up in the morning to freshen up. Whatever is the choice, you will be surprised how as little as 30min of exercise a day can boost your efficacy and productivity, especially if you didn’t follow this before.

But there’s more! Having no need to go to the office opens up great opportunities to learn new sports and activities, even with the current situation worldwide when group sports are very much banned or restricted. Let me suggest a few ideas (but you could certainly think of more):
Running, that’s my favourite! Go for a short morning jog or have a full-fledged intervals session or a long run after your business day ends -- you are the master of your time. Bring your kids or partner, take your pet or just run alone, either way, it’s plenty of energy and positive emotions.

  1. Cycling outdoors. Basically, similarly good as running but slightly more demanding to the equipment and outdoor conditions. On the other hand, this can get you quite far, so it could be also a perfect breakaway for the weekend.
  2. Cycling indoors. Yes! Be like a gorgeous lycra guy preparing to the Tour de France or one of the triathletes getting ready for IronMan (or at least, pretend to). If you happen to have a commute bike, you’d basically need an indoor trainer to set your two-wheeler. Explore the fun world of Zwift and Strava.
  3. Table tennis, because why not? Order a portable net and convert any of the desks or tables to a piece of sports inventory.
  4. Darts & archery. There are nice sets available both for indoors and outdoors.
  5. A lot more: if you have a small garden or some sports ground near your home, then certainly consider ball games and other fun stuff. Explore parks around your neighbourhood (at least on the maps online) and probably you’d find some courts or other sports facilities as well.

To boost your work productivity, mix these activities into your work schedule: have a sports break for half an hour and then get back to work refreshed.

4. Stay connected

Self-isolating at home doesn’t mean cutting off all your social connections. In fact, it gets critically important to keep in touch with colleagues and friends. The key to success here is to balance between chatting in the messengers whole day long and keeping a good productive work pace. You’d be probably tempted to spend more time socialising than in the office since your face to face communication no longer takes place: it’s normal and expected, but you might want to do this in an efficient way. A few things that helped me here were:

  • choosing the right way to communicate, e.g. preferring a quick email instead of a call where possible, or arranging short meetings if an intense and engaging discussion needs to happen with a few colleagues instead of rigorous typing altogether,
  • prioritising all the communications and doing them in batches so I could stay focused longer without any distraction,
  • separating communication at work (with my teammates & colleagues) from chatting to friends;

What also needs to be emphasised in the current situation of self-isolation is communicating with friends & family. It’s a hard time for all of us, but we all now can leverage the benefits of 21st-century technologies. To give you some ideas on how to have fun together online: play online games (RPG, actions, shooters, virtual sports etc), play word & board games which can suit this format, get some drinks & snacks and celebrate the day online, call in and watch movies or series. Or simply chat, laugh, stare on each other, stream whatever you do at the moment -- whatever you have in common!

5. Reap unique benefits of staying home

Last but not least, working from home gives you a unique opportunity to combine what you love and enjoy at home and bring it into your daily working routines. Serve yourself a freshly made salad or soup for the lunch to replace meal deal sandwiches and enjoy it on the spacious dining table in the kitchen. Have a good healthy snack with fruits from the market. Bake a cake or a stunning crunchy loaf of sourdough bread and follow all the timings properly. Spend some lovely time with the precious ones during the short break between work spans. Play your favourite musical instruments during a short break -- the list goes on and on. After all, it can be a wonderful chance to do everything you always wanted to during the work hours while staying in the office, even if it’s about taking a short half an hour nap after lunch.

So, this is what helped me to sustainably work remotely during a couple of years, and I really hope you found something useful here. If so, please share these tips with your friends and colleagues to help them as well.

As promised, below is a sample schedule that I tended to follow. Obviously, no one day is ever the same, but commonly it was staying quite alike during the time I was working remotely:

07:00 - wake up, take a light snack and drive daughter to nursery
07:30 - a morning workout routine: swimming pool or cycling outdoors
08:30 - taking a shower, having breakfast
09:00 - work span, keeping focused
12:30 - out for a lunch
13:30 - work span
15:30 - a short break to change focuses, having some snack
16:00 - final sprint to the end of the workday
18:30 - going for a run
19:30 - dinner
20:00 - social time for family & friends

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