*note: this was originally published in the beginning of 2020*
In a household with two people who work from home there’s no doubt we’ve been through our mix of “best practices.” With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world and more people working from home likely than ever before, this is a good time to reflect on some at-home best practices.
I suspect that when all is over and we are back to “normality” we will find that more people will have started their own businesses, and more companies decide to allow employees to work from home than previously thought they would by this time. Though keep in mind, while this is new for many, the trend of a gig economy, contract workers, freelancers, and work-from-home opportunities was already growing. In a way, the COVID-19 pandemic only sped up the process of American economic practices. In fact, if you jump down the rabbit hole of my blog posts you’ll find considerable insight into working from home (the good and challenging). Those posts seem to be more important now than ever, and in this blog post I want to refine previous advice into 10 short work from home best practices.
Sure, you may be working in your underwear and if you work from home you’ve realized that showers are a premium typically sought only after two days and a foul odor that you assume is coming from the sink. Nope, that odor is you. However you function in the day, remember that communicating with colleagues and clients should remain professional. That means if you are on Skype or Zoom you should be wearing a professional shirt or top. If you are texting, emailing, etc. you still need to use punctuation and stay away from profanity. Though, with all the etiquette and advice I can give you on communication the most important is to remain timely. Working from home has the ability to seem like everyday is the same day. Without responding to people immediately time can take over and two weeks down the road you will realize you forgot to send an important email.
We all get into working from home with the same thoughts of setting a specific schedule and organizing our lives. Working from home is the opportunity for that isn’t it? Well, the fact is there are so many more counter-productive variables working from home than anywhere else. When you were in an office, assembly line, or construction crew you had a dedicated work environment. When you are home you have a dedicated family – dedicated to ensuring you can’t work. These homebound distractions mean that you need to be open to experimentation with your time, work hours, work space, and much more. You don’t need to figure it all out at once, and I can assure you that years from now you will still struggle to find that “perfect” work area and schedule.
Sure, this kind of fits into the experiment section, but this is an important reminder. Being flexible means that sometimes you need to think outside of the box. Sometimes you need to move furniture around, work in the middle of the night, or even work with kids in your lap. It’s frustrating (very frustrating) when you need to get something done and the kids are arguing over whether you can resume watching Frozen 2 from its current location or need to start over from the beginning. The challenge for many people is that we step into working from home with the idea that we are improving our organizational skills, scheduling, and everything else in our lives. If you can do this then kudos! If not, remember, that from one day to the next your at-home schedule will change and you need to find comfort in flexibility.
Create boundaries between work and life (Laugh)
So, umm, yeah, I just wrote that. Again, kudos if you’re able to set boundaries between work and life while working from home. I have not yet. I’ve tried… Fail! I think it is season 1 of Workin’ Moms when the character of Anne Carlson, played by Dani Kind, sets up her psychology office inside her home. If you want to know what real life is like beyond LinkedIn professionals extolling the importance of setting work and life apart, watch this season. You’ll get it.
Yes, if you can do this then you’re a boss. If not, then welcome to the club.
Focus on your health
Again, do what I say, not what I do. Working from home has challenges, and one of those is that you feel empowered to do whatever you want. So, when you’re inner voice is like, “I’m going to binge watch Netflix until 2:00 a.m. and still wake up at 6:00 a.m., you need to go melatonin on those thoughts. Since you feel like the time is your world, it is easy to bypass important health advice such as get adequate sleep, eat a well-balanced meal, and exercise today not tomorrow (you know because tomorrow is never today).
Keep your work stuff out of the reach of sticky fingers
Yesterday I opened my notebook where I hand write my to-do list. When I got to the first blank page I found my kindergartener’s name scrawled on the top of the pages and sketches of flowers, rainbows, and hearts on the rest of the page. So, if you have a need to keep your paperwork, computer files, and other work-related items free of cute kindergarten love then find a place to store them. No matter how many notebooks you buy or give your kids, your current one will always be the most prized. Why? Because your kids want to “go to work” just like mama and dada. Do they want to do chores? Nope, that’s beneath them.
Make lists – lots of them
I’ve made lists for as long as I remember. Nowadays I use Google Tasks to track most of my home to-dos, work projects, client lists, and long-project task lists. I also have a notebook where I keep lists of daily things I need to do that day as well as notes on phone calls and quick jottings that I will later move to my Google task lists.
I find that when I am working from home I have a lot more to get done, and a lot more distractions to prevent me from getting things done. Lists save me all the time.
Find a management system that works and stick to it
I’ve used a lot of management systems trying to find one that works for me. From Trello, Asana, Monday, and the list goes on. However, each time I embark on a new management tool I find myself eventually coming back to Google. They offer more and can sync information between devices better than nearly any other product on the market. Plus they have dozens of useful apps such as tasks, calendar, keep (notes). While I still need to use Microsoft Office for a lot, for most projects I can use Google Drive as my cloud-based writing system and shared drive.
There are dozens of management programs out there, you just need to find one that works for you. What I suggest is using the free trials to browse features and run test trials. Some work better than others, but the importance is what works best for you.
Prodictivity at home can be difficult with so many distractions. I don’t have a solid productivity practice as each day is different. Some days like now, we must home school the kids every day which cuts away the bulk of our work time. If it is Spring and the garden needs to be planted between rainfalls, I need to make time for that. From March to November I need to jump on the lawn mower and cut about two acres of land at least twice a week. With these and other distractions productivity can be at a premium. That means I need to navigate time and projects. A couple things that work for me are:
- Write when the kids are taking a bath
- I schedule small, 30 minute projects once every two hours and by the end of the day I’ve completed about 5-8.
- I schedule book projects where I need to focus early in the morning when everyone is sleeping. If I am not working overnight I am usually awake by 3/4:00 a.m. to start the day.
- I work when grandparents take kids during the day or overnight.
- If rested, and often when not, I work 10:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
Being productive means a lot of things, and finding that time at home can be a challenge. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t be productive.
Be honest with clients
You may not always get things done on time or when you expected. At work you have people looking over your shoulders who can monitor or assume whether or not you are working. While I may not tell my client that I needed to mow the lawn before a week of storms hits, I will text or call to let them know that I am going to be late on a project. What I find is that as long as you are in communication most clients (at least in my line of work) aren’t too concerned about time.
Nowadays, most clients are grateful that I’m able to get anything done at all. The important thing is to keep in communication and be honest that things are runnning slow on your end. That could be due to distractions, misunderestimating time, or priority changes which occur often.
While you never want to be late with work it happens. I’ve found this year to be trickier than most, but this also gives me practice in communicating with clients more frequently.
Bonus Tip! Toptal’s Remote Work Readiness assessment
I was recently introduced to Toptal’s Remote Work Readiness Assessment and I wish I knew about it when I wrote this blog post in April of 2020. You can check out my review of the Toptal Remote Work Readiness Assessment here, but I’ll lay out the basics for you.
What Toptal has done is created a short (less than 5 minute) questionnaire that they use to assess your businesses strengths and areas of improvement directly related to remote work. What I note in my linked blog post, Remote Readiness, Is your Small Business Prepared for the Long Haul is:
…when it comes to remote work employees often cite the following as ways that a company has not improved the work environment while managing remote workers:
- Poor communication
- Loss of leadership interaction with employees
- Difficulty engaging with coworkers
- Non-visual communication (text, messaging, and group management platforms) create misunderstanding
- Poorly defined work tasks and goals
- Privacy concerns
- Employees and leaders feel more indebted to always “staying on” even beyond work hours
This assessment does a great job in identifying those things your small business may be lacking in, as well as introduces you to ways of improvement and provides an opportunity to speak with a professional about how to prepare your business for remote work.
While many businesses are looking at returning to work, many more are evaluating if this COVID-19 remote work experiment is the future of their company. In fact, with recent news that AstraZeneca is putting their COVID-19 study on hold this may be the perfect time to assess your company’s long-term remote work environment and capabilities.
The Toptal Remote Work Readiness Assessment evaluates the following:
- Hiring, Management, and Engagement
- Remote Strategy and Leadership
- Communication and Collaboration Tools
- Technical Infrastructure
- Policies and Compliance
- Security and Privacy
These work from home best practices are important to me. They have helped me navigate the challenges of working from home, and while I practice some more than others they are all useful.
Now, my three-year-old just woke up crying, so I need to get going, but I would love to hear some of your best practices!
I am a full-time freelance writer specializing in books, though I also write blogs, web-content, and handle several other types of projects. To see what I offer visit my rates page or contact me with specific queries and questions. I’m also available to help mentor you through your first book. I’d love to work with you, and if you know anyone else looking for a writer I offer a generous referral fee.