Working remotely comes easier to some than to others, and there are important considerations when deciding if you’re a good fit for a telecommuting position. Currently, however, many people are being thrust into remote work by the COVID-19 pandemic for the first time, and it looks like this will be the situation for at least a few months to come. This presents unfamiliar challenges, which is why we thought this a good time to share some tips for productively working from home.
Of course, different people have different work styles, different distractions at home, and even differing levels of susceptibility to those distractions. And so, everyone has to test out different tricks and routines to find those that are personally most helpful. But there are definitely tips for productively working from home that are widely applicable, and they’re a good place to start when trying to adapt to telecommuting.
So, whether you’re new to remote work due to changes forced on us by the COVID-19 virus, or you’ve taken on a remote position once the crisis has passed, use the following tips for productively working from home to make sure you stay on top of your workload and thrive in your position. Again, some may be unnecessary for you personally, but pick out the ideas that resonate most, or that address issues you’ve already been experiencing.
How to Stay Productive While Working Remotely
- Find a designated place to work in your home where you are best isolated from potentially distracting sounds and activity, and make sure everyone else in the house knows not to disturb you during work time. Also, think of where you situate yourself and how it will affect you; for example, do you function best in front of a window with sunlight streaming in, or are you prone to staring out it and getting lost in the view?
- Create a plan with your family if you have a spouse, partner, and/or kids at home with you. This might include things like a schedule of when each adult is on child-care duty, who’s making lunch for everyone, when you can and can’t be disturbed, whether you and your significant other can work in the same room together, and so on.
- Establish your schedule and stick to it. Be careful about getting sucked into work after your expected working hours. People can be especially prone to this when they’re eager to look like they’re on top of things because they’re working remotely. Log off, close the laptop, and do whatever it takes to create boundaries that prevent your work life from bleeding into your home life.
- Set timers so you know when it’s time to start and stop working. It’s easier to lose track of time without the cues around you that exist in the workplace. This includes timers that tell you when it’s time to have lunch or take breaks; see the next tip.
- Take breaks during the day. Working straight through the day without pause deprives you of chances to stretch, clear your head, and return to your tasks refreshed with more energy and renewed focus. Spend at least a few minutes out side here and there.
- Get dressed for work. Sure, working in your pajamas or underwear is the cliché about one of the best parts of working from home, but it prevents a lot of people from successfully getting into the right mindset. If you struggle to start working or to be productive and haven’t been getting dressed, give it a shot.
- Maintain a prioritized to-do list each day to help keep you on track and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
- Eat in the kitchen, not at your desk. It’s helpful to keep your work space dedicated to work. Plus, it’s easy to get distracted for an extended time if you’re sitting there using the internet recreationally or playing a game while you’re eating.
- Keep your desk and the surround area of your work space free of clutter.
- Keep online distractions like Facebook, Twitter, news pages, etc. closed while you’re working. These easily pull your attention away and suck up more time than you realize. There’s none of the inherent accountability at home that comes from possibly having co-workers or your boss seeing you off-task.
- Close your email and turn off your phone notifications and computer alerts while you need to focus.
- Rediscover the lost practice of making phone calls when you need to speak to someone. This is often more efficient than sending emails, texts, or other messages back and forth, and it keeps you from having to watch for notifications.
- Use a dedicated work-only browser if your usual browser has bookmarks, open tabs, notifications, add-ons, or other potential distractions.
- Don’t try watching TV while you’re working. If background music helps you work, go for it; if it’s distracting, keep it off even though you may be enjoying the freedom to blast it.
- Take good care of yourself and be attentive to your personal life once work time is over for the day.
There’s a piece of career advice—and really, it’s good life advice in general—that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: Honor your commitments while job hunting.
In terms of what we do here at SRI, we’d like to draw attention to two commitments every job seeker makes, but that sometimes don’t get taken seriously:
- When you have an interview scheduled (whether it’s a phone interview, video interview, or in-person interview), that’s a commitment.
- When you formally accept a job offer (with or without signing a contract), that’s a commitment.
Disregarding These Commitments
How do some job seekers fail to honor these commitments?
If you don’t answer the phone or show up for your interview, you haven’t delivered on your commitment. Even if you cancel the interview at the last minute, you neglect your commitment.
Sure, sometimes there many be a real emergency that prevents you from attending your appointment. But almost always, there’s not. Go to your interviews if you can’t cancel at least 48 hours ahead—even if you accept another job or decide against the one you’re interviewing for. Consider it practice, and an opportunity to make a new connection in your industry.
And once you formally accept a job offer, it’s not professional or ethical to back out. It’s your responsibility to be sure you want the job before accepting it. Don’t agree before doing all the research you need to do about the position and the company, or before following up with any other pending possibilities you’re more interested in.
If you need time to make a decision, be upfront with the employer while assuring them you’re excited for the opportunity. If they’re unwilling to give you a reasonable amount of time to consider such a big decision, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway. Because this is a major decision; don’t make it lightly, and if you choose to accept, you’ve made a commitment.
Why Honor Your Commitments While Job Hunting
A basic reason to honor your commitments while job hunting is that it shows respect for other people and their valuable time. As far as interviews go, when you have an appointment, that means someone has taken an interest in you and allotted time in their busy schedule to give you an opportunity. Yes—as a great candidate, you’re also giving them an opportunity to benefit from your talents—but it’s a two-way street, and everyone deserves the common courtesy of having their time respected.
Once you accept a job, you’ll much more significantly inconvenience people if you back out. The employer has stopped trying to fill the position, started on paperwork and onboarding processes, and made other arrangements to help you get started. They may have also notified runner-up applicants that they were not selected for the position.
But honoring your commitments through the job-seeking process isn’t just about respecting others; it’s also about you. People who keep their promises and fulfill their responsibilities are highly regarded for it. On the other hand, failing to honor your commitments reflects poorly on you.
You may have a good reason for not following through on a scheduled interview or for going back on a formal job acceptance. You burn bridges, though, and this can come back to haunt you in ways you can’t ever foresee.
Always remember that you’re dealing with people and employers in your industry. There’s no saying where the people you encounter along the way will be next year. You have no idea who the person you inconvenience knows at the company you want to work for even more. You simply can’t predict how your actions one day will affect you the next. People with the most rewarding careers remember this and act accordingly.
It’s perfectly normal to have problems at work, dislike certain details about what you have to do, get frustrated, and so on. But the good should always far outweigh the negatives, and it matters that you feel a sense of fulfillment from what you do for a living.
Sometimes—especially in younger years—you may feel fulfilled just by making enough money and working with people you enjoy being around. But most people need more sooner or later. They want to apply themselves in ways that feel meaningful and that stimulate them. Finding that satisfaction in what you do is a key difference between a career and a job.
If you settle for a job simply because you need one, it may suffice for a while, but over time you’re likely to get complacent. You might tell yourself, “It’s just a job” or “I’ll do something else eventually.” That complacency can gradually eat at you, though, because you know you’re not doing what you want to do.
That’s a common scenario, but certainly not the only reason people grow to resent their job. There are countless reasons (and sometimes there are external factors pointing toward the exit), but there’s no point laying them out here. More importantly, you must be able to distinguish between a rough patch and when it’s time to move on.
This starts with a thoughtful evaluation of whether there’s a way to successfully resolve your concerns and problems; if you can improve things with a conversation with your boss, feel better about your situation, and avoid having to find new work, that’s probably preferable.
But sometimes, things can’t be satisfactorily resolved. Sometimes, it’s time to go, period. And that’s why you need to know how to know it’s time to leave your job. There are some common signs, and even one is often enough to make the resolution to head elsewhere. If more than one ring true for you, consider it a green light to start your new job search.
Signs that It’s Time to Quit
- You’re not using enough of your skills, being challenged, or working at as high a level as you’re qualified for, and there’s no opportunity to step up
- You aren’t doing any work that stimulates you or relates to your interests pertaining to the job, and there’s no opportunity to start doing so
- You’ve hit the ceiling as far as promotions and/or pay go, and you’re not satisfied where you are
- You aren’t engaged or offered any type of professional development
- You constantly feel undervalued or unappreciated
- You don’t see any point to what you’re doing, or the goals and results seem meaningless or even negative
- You don’t share the company’s values or appreciate its culture
- You’re unhappy through all or most of your workday
- You spend time at work (and maybe outside of work, too) fantasizing about quitting
- You spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about your job to family or friends (more than the typical venting that everyone does from time to time)
- You regularly bring negativity home with you from the workplace
- You’re procrastinating more often or for longer
- You’re becoming less and less concerned about your productivity and/or the quality of your work—or you simply just don’t care anymore
- You frequently feel irritable while on the job, or perhaps you feel physically or mentally unwell at work
- Your work environment is decidedly negative (this can be related to co-workers, management practices, constant fear about job security, company culture, etc.)
- You see that the financial security of your employer looks grim, or there are mass layoffs or an exodus of employees
- You find yourself looking at other job listings and descriptions and see some that excite you
- You’re reading articles about how to know it’s time to leave your job
Telecommuting positions have become much more common across many industries in recent years. Constant advances in computing, communications, data sharing, and other technologies make it ever easier for people to work remotely. Some people thrive in a telecommuting position, but others end up unhappy with it, as it has significant advantages and challenges. So, as a job seeker, you should pay some attention to deciding if you’re a good fit for a work-from-home job.
General Benefits and Drawbacks of Telecommuting Positions
There are plenty of benefits of telecommuting for employers and workers. It’s an eco-friendly approach that reduces emissions and eliminates rush hour commutes. It reduces overhead associated with office space for employers, while allowing employees to work comfortably from home and often enjoy more scheduling flexibility. And numerous studies have found that people who work from home can be considerably more productive without the distractions that inevitably occur in shared work spaces.
But like everything, telecommuting setups have downsides, too. It can interfere with the energy and the synergy of a team, especially if all the team members aren’t comfortable working with people who are spread out among multiple locations. There may be communication issues (though these can certainly occur with everyone on site, too), and sometimes productivity suffers.
Ultimately though, employers make the decisions about which positions can be filled remotely. Many are open to employees or independent contractors working remotely part of the time and on site part of the time (a convenient way to test the waters of working from home). But you still need to approach the job hunt with a good idea of whether you want to pursue a telecommuting position at all.
So, mull over the following considerations for deciding if you’re a good fit for a work-from-home job.
Questions for Deciding Between Working Remotely or On Site
- Are you disciplined, motivated, focused, and independent enough to stay on task without the accountability that comes from being physically around your co-workers and bosses?
- Are you happy to be home by yourself all day, every day, or do you prefer having in-person interactions and socialization?
- Is being able to work in your pajamas—or any other outfit of your choosing—genuinely appealing? Or does putting on work clothes help get you motivated and in the right frame of mind?
- Are you comfortable communicating primarily via email, text, video chats, project management software, etc., or do you prefer being face-to-face for important conversations?
- Do you get easily bothered by feeling out of the loop? And are you prepared to be highly responsive so your co-workers and supervisor don’t start wondering if you’re slacking?
- Do you have responsibilities at home or related to your family that you can better tend to if you’re working remotely, and perhaps have more flexibility to adjust your hours as needed?
- Can you draw a clear line between work and home life? Telecommuting can be great for work-life balance, but it can also blur the lines, leave you working extra hours, and even make your home feel less homey if you lack structure, discipline, or a designated space just for work.
- And to continue the above thought, do you have a home office? Will it be quiet and free of interruptions? Do you have all the tools you’ll need to succeed working remotely?
- Does your spouse or partner have a job out of the house? If you’re both home, will this cause distractions? Also consider that problems can arise for some couples over the long term when one person works from home all day and one is on site at a job all day. The telecommuter often ends up craving socialization and chances to get out of the house after the workday, while the on-site worker is eager to get home and relax there.
Many articles have been written on characteristics of IT Professionals, some positive and some well, not so positive. I have come to the conclusion that the expectations of what is needed to be a strong IT leader in an organization doesn’t always match up with what generates a positive, realistic outcome to the organization. I also learned that some of the traits that are most valued in an IT Leader, such as patience and strong communication skills, do not fit the typical stereotypes that are so often portrayed in our society and in the media.
A great example of this is Saturday Night Live’s popular character, Nick Burns, your company’s computer guy. Jimmy Fallon will forever be the worst IT Professional known to mankind. What makes his character so popular? The fact that we can all relate to a similar experience with an IT representative at some point in our life.
What is not often recognized in society and in the media are the IT Leaders that get it right and they are numerous. These great IT Leaders have brought the world the computer, the internet, PDA’s, and cloud computing, just to name a few.
So what are the characteristics that Nick Burns needs to work on that has made his colleagues so successful and influential?
A love for learning
Adaptable to Change
Skilled Technical Writer
Master these traits and the world is your oyster! Ignore them and you might find yourself to be as popular as Nick Burns for all the wrong reasons.
YouTube, Top 10 Saturday Night Live Characters, Published August 30, 2012
16 Traits of Great IT Leaders
by: Rich Hein
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
We recently posted a very interesting Wall Street Journal article, “Secrets of the Happiest Commuters” by Sue Shellenbarger, simply because the title was so unique. When have you ever seen the words happy and commute in the same sentence? Usually we associate the word commute with aggravation, inconvenience and stress, not happiness. Is it really possible to find happiness in commuting?
After reviewing some transportation statics I realized how important this article really is to our society’s well being. There are over 128 million commuters in the US alone, over 75% commute alone in a car, and the average commute time is about 25 minutes one way. This comes to about 15 days spent during the year commuting. That’s longer than most vacations!
Whether I’m going to work, running errands, or taking the kids to ballet, I’m determined not to let those 15 days be wasted by stress and aggravation. How can I make this time more productive and joyful? Here’s what I got when I asked some of my favorite people how they make the most of their commute:
- Learn a new language with audio lessons.
- Enjoy a book or podcast.
- Have a real conversation with members of my family that doesn’t involve texting, social media or Post-it notes.
- Enjoy some music.
- Take the time to take in the sunsets, sunrises or the scenery off the beaten path.
- Meditate or pray.
- People watch at traffic lights or gridlock.
- And here’s one I didn’t think of…enjoy the silence!
Between the people, the gadgets, and the never-ending social media alerts and 24-hour news, the quest for quiet in the modern world we live in can seem more difficult than finding a solution for the national debt crisis. Living in a highly productive society such as the United States, we find it difficult to acknowledge our need for silence or solitude. We feel selfish or believe time for that will come in other seasons of life, but not now. But maybe, it’s those times when quiet is hardest to find when we really need it the most. It’s in the quiet time that we can think clearly and have time for self-reflection. If we quiet the mind before we go home or head to the office could we be a better boss, employee, mother, father, daughter, or friend? It’s definitely worth trying.
If we view our commute as our one time of the day to turn off all the noise, maybe it won’t seem so bad after all.
Source: “Secrets of the Happiest Commuters” by Sue Shellenbarger
Published on October 8,2013
Source: National Household Travel Survey, US Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Research Date: 8-23-2012