Working from Home: Best Practices

Working from Home: Best Practices

09 Apr 2020

Working from home is by no means a new trend, nor is it an obscure and potentially unprofitable approach to employment. Rather, it’s a well-established alternative to traditional notions of commuting to remote physical offices or other employment spaces – with distinct advantages.

The advent of COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the global economy – which naturally extends to employment and workplace conditions. Working from home has thus become a very beneficial, appealing alternative; what was a viable way of conducting business, to begin with, has become many employers’ first, or only, choice.

Working from home already came with such distinct advantages as a flexible schedule and lower transportation costs. Reduced physical proximity to coworkers was also deemed a welcome benefit for many employees and freelancers, as it reduced socializing distractions and demanded no adherence to dress code requirements. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, when social distancing is of paramount importance, working from an isolated environment of one’s home has become a de facto ideal choice.

That is not to say that working from home does not come with its own unique pitfalls. Whether one has chosen to do so or has had to for safety, be it an option or a necessity in these trying times – it can be challenging for the uninitiated to adjust to the unique nature of working from home. While the hardships some employers now face when transporting vehicles to any address are rather circumstantial, most of the challenges remote workers face tend to be unchanging. Specific practices should either be adopted or avoided for optimal results, and being aware of said practices in advance can only help one adjust more easily.           

Establish and maintain a regular schedule – including breaks

Among the primary challenges that come with working from home is self-discipline, in that one may find it hard to adhere to a constant schedule. When working from home, it is among the best practices to set a clear schedule early – and adhere to it.

A schedule for remote workers does not necessarily need to replicate office hours or a traditional 9-to-5 schedule. It is more beneficial for the individual to assess one’s own productivity during the day and adapt to it instead. Such modern utilities as time-tracking apps can be an invaluable tool in monitoring one’s productivity as well, so that a regular, daily schedule can be arranged around it.

A woman in a white buttoned-up shirt holding a pen as she keeps notes on a notebook.

Keeping notes on tasks at hand can help one maintain a regular schedule.

This practice may not simply boost productivity; most remote workers struggle to maintain life-work balance, working too much rather than too little. That is, in part, understandable, given that remote work may need to accommodate different time zones and that incoming workflow may be flexible rather than steady – but excess should still be avoided where possible.  For large businesses, emergencies related to pricing may arise and should be addressed swiftly – especially in turbulent times. But such cases aside, a regular schedule can both ensure that working hours are distributed more evenly across a given week, as well as that one does not overwork beyond one’s optimal productivity thresholds.

It is vital to emulate office conditions to avoid distractions, such as turning one’s phone on silent and avoiding interruptions. It is equally vital, however, to remember lunch break times; too much mental strain can only reduce productivity, and taking breaks and concluding the day when needed can only be healthy.

Designate a work area

The importance of setting up a dedicated workspace cannot be overstressed.  Realistically, it may not always be possible to convert an entire room into one’s home office, or to maintain separate computers for work and personal use – but all possible steps should be taken. One’s work area should be distinct, equal parts comfortable and inspiring, and respected by all of the home’s residents. Much like a company’s name, your workspace boundaries carry specific connotations.

It is a wise practice to maintain a consistent workspace instead of relocating it; emulating a constant, unchanging physical office tends to boost productivity. Since a home office does not need to abide by traditional workspace etiquette, it only needs to be functional and comfortable – decoration and even structure are entirely up to the individual. Choose brighter colors for the walls, as well as décor and office storage that are best suited to inspire your productivity. You may even opt not to be seated during the entirety of the workday, using elevated work desks that allow you to choose whether to sit or stand.

A wooden table next to indoors plants, with an orange Himalayan lamp and a laptop on it.

When working from home, one’s workspace can be highly personalized – but it is still a wise practice to keep it distinct.

Nonetheless, it is significant that a workspace remains visually distinct and isolated. When the workspace is not a separate room, various factors should set it apart from the surrounding home spaces, such as:

  • Rugs and carpets of district colors and materials   
  • Different wall colors, when possible or preferable
  • Different décor

By setting the workspace apart through such means, you can set clear, visible boundaries. As welcoming and inviting as it may be, it should still be immediately recognized as a space meant for a different function than the surrounding spaces.

Avoid distractions

While working in physical office spaces often entails some social distractions, the relative lack of accountability when working from home may entail others. A home environment may offer an array of distractions that relate to one’s personal life, from chores and errands to personal social media use. It is thus a highly advisable practice to set clear work time boundaries and avoid all unnecessary distractions.

A white smartphone and ear buds on a wooden surface.

Avoiding distractions is among the best practices when working from home.

Business hours should ideally only include business-related duties and activities; consistent productivity will be hard to ensure otherwise. Home-related tasks, unless absolutely urgent, should be left for after one’s schedule concludes; even taking up such tasks during one’s break can be counterproductive, as breaks are intended to provide some needed relaxation. Likewise, constant internet access may present many alluring distractions – social media, emails, websites. It is vital to limit the time spent on such distractions to an absolute minimum unless they are somewhat related to work.

It may be an equally optimal practice to avoid business-related distractions during your personal time. Setting up a phone number, and even emails, social media, and VoIP service accounts that are strictly dedicated to work can be an invaluable practice. Likewise, answering work-related inquiries and requests during your personal time is best avoided; emergencies can certainly arise, but it is only healthy to not overextend one’s schedule.

Bio: Sandra Jones is a freelance writer and web designer. She often works from home but also enjoys the great outdoors. She usually hikes with friends on the weekends but is not one to scoff at a quiet evening at the movies.