20 Tips for Working From Home

Whether you’re new to working remotely or just looking to level up, these tips can help you stay productive and maintain balance.

Starting around March 2020, more people than ever before began working from home, and quite suddenly. Organizations and individuals didn’t have time to prepare for remote work or think about the best ways to transition teams, processes, and culture to an online-only environment. No one knew (or yet knows) how long the COVID-19 pandemic—and thus an increased number of remote workers—would last.

If you’re new to the work-from-home lifestyle, whether due to the coronavirus or because you’ve managed to find a remote-based job, you may have found that you need to change your habits and routines to make working from home a success.

I’ve worked 100 percent remotely for more than seven years all told, most of it long before the COVID-19 pandemic started, and I have even written a book on remote work(Opens in a new window). Several of my friends and colleagues have led entire careers from home offices. Each of us faces unique challenges working remotely, not only because of our different personalities, but also due to our various lifestyles and the type of work we do. Still, many of the core issues we face as remote workers are the same.

Everyone who works remotely has to figure out when to work, where to work, and how to create boundaries between work and personal life. In other words, what’s the best work–personal life balance for you, and how do you achieve it? What about office equipment, career development, training opportunities, and building relationships with colleagues remotely? 

Working remotely, especially when working from home most of the time, means figuring out these issues and others. Here are 20 tips for leading a better and more productive remote-work life, based on my experience and what I’ve learned from others.

1. Maintain Regular Hours

Set a schedule and stick to it…most of the time. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance. 

That said, one of the best benefits of remote work is flexibility, when the job allows for it. Sometimes you need to extend your day or start early to accommodate someone else’s time zone. When you do, be sure to wrap up earlier than usual or sleep in a bit the next morning to make up for it.

Automatic time-tracking apps, such as RescueTime, let you check in on whether you’re sticking to your schedule. They can also help you figure out what times of day you’re most productive versus when you slack off. You can use that information to your advantage by protecting the hours when you’re most likely to get difficult work done. For example, if you tend to have high productivity between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., don’t schedule meetings during that time.

RescueTime productivity dashboard


2. Create a Morning Routine

Deciding you’ll sit down at your desk and start work at a certain time is one thing. Creating a routine that guides you into the chair is another. 

A routine can be more powerful than a clock at helping you get started each day. What in your morning routine indicates you’re about to start work? It might be making a cup of coffee before you tackle your to-do list. It might be returning home after a jog or getting dressed. (Wearing pajamas is a work-from-home perk for some, but a bad strategy for others.) Look for an existing habit that you have, like brushing your teeth or coming in from a dog walk, to act as your signal. That way, you can tack on the new habit of kicking off your workday.

I say “morning routine,” but not everyone who works from home follows a nine-to-five schedule. Yours might be a “getting started” routine at another time of day. Nevertheless, look for an existing habit you have and try to start your work day after it. 


3. Set Ground Rules With the People in Your Space

Set ground rules with other people in your home or who share your space when you work. 

For example, if you have children who are learning at home or who come home from school while you’re still working, they need clear rules about what they can and cannot do during that time. If you share a space with another adult who’s working from home, you may have to negotiate quiet times, meeting times, and any shared equipment, like desks and chairs.

Additionally, just because you’re home and can let service people into the house or take care of pets doesn’t mean other family members should assume you always will. If that’s how you choose to divide up the domestic labor, that’s fine, but if you simply take it all on by default because you’re home, you may feel taken advantage of, and your productivity may suffer.


4. Schedule Breaks

If you work for an organization, know the policy on break times and take them. If you’re self-employed, give yourself adequate time during the day to walk away from the computer screen and phone. A lunch hour and two 15-minute breaks seem to be the standard for full-time US employees. For computer-based work and other sedentary work, it’s important to stand up and move to get your blood circulating every so often, at least once an hour. It also helps to move your eyes off screen regularly, even if it’s a micro-break of 10-20 seconds.


5. Take Breaks in Their Entirety

Don’t short-change yourself during breaks, especially your lunch hour or meal break. 

There are apps, such as TimeOut for Mac(Opens in a new window) and Smart Break for Windows(Opens in a new window), that let you set a schedule for when you’ll lock yourself out of your computer. RescueTime also has a pause feature that lets you time 15-minute and one-hour breaks. Don’t need any more apps in your life? Set an alarm or timer on your phone, or mind the time with a standard clock. No matter how you track your breaks, make sure to take them in their entirety. For example, if you plan for an hour break and return to your desk after only 40 minutes, walk away for another 20.

TimeOut for Mac settings

6. Leave Home

To the extent that it’s allowed and safe during the pandemic, get out of the house and move your body. Your body needs movement and blood circulation. Plus, the fresh air and natural light will do you good. Ideally, step outside for at least a short while before, during, and after your working hours.

This same advice applies to people who work in traditional office settings, too. Leave the building at least once a day during working hours.

If your personal circumstances and local conditions allow for you, you might also go to cafes, libraries, and co-working spaces to break up the monotony of being at home. That’s great, too, but the really important part is to leave your home, get some air and natural light, and move. 

You don’t have to go to crowded public spaces to get away from your solo workspace. Take a walk. Weed the garden. Sit on the stoop. You get the picture.


7. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for What You Need

If you’re employed by a company or organization that supports your work-from-home setup, request the equipment you need as soon as you start working from home, or within a few days of realizing you need something new. 

It’s extremely important to set a precedent early that you will ask for what you need to get your job done comfortably. These items might include the right monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair, desk, printer, software, and so forth. Organizations that are accustomed to remote employees often have a budget for home office equipment. Ask what it is and how often it’s renewed. It also doesn’t hurt to ask whether there’s a loan agreement or who will pay for return shipping or disposal of outdated equipment. Some remote organizations allow employees to bring in a consultant to make sure their workspaces are set up to be ergonomic. 

If you’re working from home short-term and are expected to return to an office when it’s safe, ask for what you need, but be willing to make acceptable compromises. Ordering a new office chair and desk might be off the table. Instead, a mouse, keyboard, laptop riser, and a back-supporting cushion go a long way and all together can cost less than $200. There are other cheap and easy ways to improve your home office, too.

Laptop on a laptop stand with a keyboard

Image from Sonic Electronix (Sonic Electronix)


8. Keep a Dedicated Office Space

In an ideal world, remote employees would have not only a dedicated office, but also two computers, one for work and one for personal use. It’s more secure for the employer, and it lets you do all your NSFW activities in private. 

But not everyone has a spare room to use as an office in their home, and keeping two machines isn’t always realistic. Instead, dedicate a desk or table space and some peripherals that will be used only for work. For example, when your laptop is hooked up to the monitor and external keyboard, it’s work time. When it’s on your lap, that’s personal time. You may want to go as far as creating a separate user account for work (or school). Making even small points of differentiation between work time and personal time helps your brain know when you’re off the clock, and that contributes to better work-life balance.

For more tips on creating a great workspace, take a look at some inexpensive and easy ways to level up your home office.


9. Maintain a Separate Phone Number

Set up a phone number that you only use for calls with colleagues and clients. It doesn’t have to be a landline or a second mobile phone, or even require a SIM card. It can be a VoIP service, such as Google Voice or Skype. 

Similar to some of the other tips, having a separate phone number helps you manage your work-life balance.


10. Use a VPN

Use a VPN whenever you’re connected to a network that you don’t control. That includes Wi-Fi at co-working spaces, cafes, libraries, airports, hotels, and so forth. Organizations often have their own VPNs that off-site employees need to access certain servers or websites that store information meant only for internal use. In those cases, you’ll also need to use a VPN at home. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of leaving your VPN connected as often as possible because it’s always safer to have it on than not. 

VPNs are one security measure, and there are other steps you can take to increase security while working from home. One more point about VPNs: When you’re connected to an organization’s network, your employer could conceivably see what you’re doing, so don’t view porn via a corporate VPN.


11. Socialize With Colleagues

Loneliness, disconnect, and isolation are common problems in remote work life, especially for extroverts. Companies with a remote work culture usually offer ways to socialize. For example, they might have channels in a team messaging app, like Slack, for talking about common interests or organizing meetups for people in the same region.

Figure out how much interaction you need to feel connected and included. Even if you’re highly introverted and don’t like socializing, give a few interactive experiences a try so that you’re familiar with them if you ever decide you want them. If you’re not at a company with a strong remote culture, you may need to be more proactive about nurturing relationships.

As much as team messaging apps are excellent venues for socializing, they tend to create distractions, too; check out these tips on how not to get overwhelmed by Slack.

Slack channel with poll

12. ‘Show Up’ to Meetings and Be Heard

Certainly, you’ll take part in video conferences and conference calls while working remotely, but it’s a good idea to attend optional meetings sometimes, too. Be sure to speak up during meetings so everyone knows you’re on the call. A simple, “Thanks, everyone. Bye!” at the close goes a long way toward making your presence known.

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