How to set up for remote work from home

Written on 
March 11, 2020

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While still a foreign concept to many businesses, remote work from home isn’t as difficult as it’s often portrayed. It’s also not nearly as glamorous. While you will need to establish certain boundaries and structures, and become a lot more self-directed, your ways of working won’t necessarily change dramatically.

As a company that has been successfully working 50% remote, 50% in-house for the last five years, we’ve learned exactly what it takes to make “remote” work. Here is an unfiltered list of our biggest learnings on how to set up for remote work from home.

Know your boundaries

There are a few things every new remote home worker should be aware of before diving in. Here are a few boundaries you’ll need to navigate:

  • You are working where you also relax
  • Nothing will signal the end of your day
  • You have no commuting routine
  • You alone must structure your time
  • You will have next to no distractions
  • Only you know what you’ve done each day
  • You will likely be a lot less active
  • You will receive a ton of notifications, all the time
  • You might feel guilty taking breaks
  • You’ll probably work longer hours and more intensely
  • You can quickly feel isolated

While some of these points seem pretty obvious, it’s worth keeping them in mind. It can help you recognize warning signs early and create effective strategies for managing potential problems if you plan to work from home long-term.

Get the right remote technology

Remote work does require a certain technological infrastructure. But most businesses have unwittingly laid the ground work for this already, adopting staple remote work technologies like instant messenger, email, video calls and cloud-based working in their workplaces. Before you set up your home office, just make sure you’ve got access to the following essential virtual tools:

Slack

This instant messenger will soon become the main site of daily communication across your company – whether in project and team channels, global threads or one-on-one chat with individual colleagues. It’s also easy to share files and directly call people within the app, for quick syncs.

Zoom

As a light-weight alternative to Skype, Zoom acts as your main technology for heftier group discussions, meetings and presentations. While you probably won’t need it, it can support 500 video participants at once. Great for fleshing out ideas, sharing weekly team updates and keeping vital face-to-face contact.

Basecamp

Billed as a project management tool, Basecamp is more about neatly centralizing communication around company-wide projects. To-do lists, message boards and scheduling help teams keep all project work transparent, keeping people aligned on upcoming tasks and any changes in direction.

Dropbox

This one needs very little explanation. When you’re working remotely from home, you need a secure cloud-based platform for accessing and sharing work. The added Paper feature helps to keep all work documents within one space, avoiding the need to use a separate tool like Google Docs.

Timely

Since managing time effectively is so central to remote work, time tracking is a no-brainer. Thankfully, Timely can do the whole task automatically for you. From your private timeline, you can see everything you do in a day and work out how long different tasks take you. You can also easily keep tabs on how long you work each day, so you don’t exceed your weekly work capacity.  

Remote work from home tips

1. Have a dedicated work space

For your own mental hygiene, try to separate work and personal time as much as possible. Setting a dedicated work space in your home is key to achieving this, as it can help provide a physical boundary between work and downtime. A regular, stable working environment can help you tap into focused deep work, and remove the need to constantly set-up your gear (tip: don’t work at the kitchen table).

2. Establish a loose structure

The flexibility of working from home is extremely refreshing, but it still needs some basic structure to be workable. Give each day a loose structure and lay out what you want to achieve by the end of the week. You should be able to change this plan when needed, but it should still clarify and prioritize the tasks you’ll be working on. It’s important to communicate this to colleagues, in case you’ll need their input on anything. It’s a good idea to start with your hardest task, and in case you need help getting started, time blocking can help – dividing your day into large chunks of focused time with a competitive time pressure.

3. Set availability hours

With all communication transposed to a digital setting, you will likely be inundated with unstructured pings, emails and notifications throughout the day. The best way to protect yourself against incessant distraction while ensuring collaboration stays fluid, is to have a set time for managing communications. Create hours for checking your inbox and answering Slack queries, and communicate them to your colleagues so they know when you’re available to help them during the day. This also helps you fight the urge to be immediately available for everything – which many people feel pressured to do to make up for their physical absence.

4. Take breaks (often)

Research has shown that remote workers are 13% more productive than their in-office peers; with fewer distractions, you can settle into intense deep work very easily. But as a result remote workers also tend to work longer hours and take fewer breaks. This is clearly an unhealthy mixture that only ends in burnout. You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking breaks – they are an important part of managing your energy and necessary for your work. Don’t fill these breaks with new stresses or passive interaction – go for a walk, change your scene, or do something completely unrelated to your work.  

5. Have a set end to your day

When work makes its way into your own home, you need to protect space for your own personal wellbeing. Set boundaries and make commitments so you know when daily work is over. Setting the end of your working day is obvious, but you actually have to commit to “disconnecting” – resisting the urge to check email and new messages. To aid the transition, some people like to schedule workouts at the end of their day. Others find simply writing a quick structure for the following day to be an effective “shutdown ritual” – and it helps you pick up straight from where you left off the next day.

6. Advocate for yourself

It may feel weird, but you’re going to need to blow your own horn – spelling out the progress you’ve made and broadcasting your achievements. Without this, people won’t know what you’ve worked on or what impact you’ve made in the past week. A short global update detailing what you achieved, what blocked you and what’s next is great for this, but it’s also good to have a mechanism just for celebrating milestones – like having a channel for sharing weekly wins each Friday.

7. Get up and stay active

As a remote worker, you’re going to be a lot more inactive. While many people assume remote work gives you greater opportunity to maintain an active lifestyle, in reality there’s less reason to move about than in an office and few things will justify ever leaving the house. As such, it’s super important to make sure you actually move about throughout the day. Get a standing desk, take active breaks and actually commit to a fitness routine.

8. Socialize proactively

As a remote worker, it can feel like you shouldn’t be communicating about anything other than work. But this pressure can quickly breed cultural isolation and disconnect. Personal interactions are hugely important, so be proactive about working them into your day. Create non-work-related Slack channels, have remote lunches via video, post pictures, recommend films and books – whatever it takes to sustain team community virtually. Back in the physical world, try co-working spaces, working with friends or moving to a secondary workspace a few times a week, and make sure you plan an active post-work social calendar.

9. Stock up on healthy snacks

Food can become an easy replacement for company. Don’t just eat because you’re bored, want a distraction or need a break. You’re likely sitting down all day, so the last thing you want to do is overeat. If you are tempted, do yourself a favour and ensure those snacks are actually nutritional.

10. Wear what you’re comfortable in

There’s a pretty tired stereotype floating around the internet about remote workers living in their pyjamas – only dressing from the waist up for conference calls. In reality, what you’re wearing doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to “dress for the office” to do good work – the whole beauty of working from home is that you don’t have to observe weird office strictures. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in – if that’s pyjamas, great. If not, who really cares.


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