Remote Working Guide: Tips to Stay Productive and Effective While Working From Home

how to be productive working from home

Across the globe, the world is changing. The way we interact, how we approach both personal and professional relationships, the way we do business and generally the way we live have all been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 virus. As we adjust to the impact this crisis has had on all of us as a society, we also have to adjust to changes it has had on the way we do business. Like many other professionals across the world, you may find yourself working from home.

For many, working from home is a brand new, almost foreign concept. For those of you without much (or any) experience working from home, making the transition from the office to home can bring about confusion, uncertainty and unneeded stress. To help ease those concerns, I decided to put together some tips and advice based on things that have helped me during my career in remote working situations.

Hopefully you find value in these tips and they make your remote working life at least a little bit easier. Let’s kick things off with some ideas for how you can stay on track throughout the day.

Staying on track

One of the most challenging things to do when working from home is ensuring you stay focused on your work and maintain productivity. To make sure you are staying on top of your obligations and being as productive as your employer or your client expects you to be, try these tips.

Create a to do list – This is one of the most important things you can do when working from home. I like to keep two lists.

  • A big picture list – This is a running list of items that need to be completed over the next several months. It helps you visualize the current state of work, but also helps to visualize what you have coming up in the pipeline.
  • A weekly list – List out what you want to accomplish each day. Be realistic, and make sure you list the highest priority action items first, so you don’t get distracted by other, less important tasks.

Maintaining lists is a simple way to stay on track. Make sure to update your lists daily so you don’t miss out on anything. Get in the habit of adding things to your list as soon as you find out about them. Otherwise, they can get lost in the shuffle.

Set boundaries – One of the most challenging things about working from home, especially with a sudden transition such as our current situation, can be setting clear boundaries with your family, friends, pets, neighbors and anyone else you might interact with while in your home environment. To make sure everyone (including your pets) understands the difference between you being home and you working from home, follow these tips.

  • Home office – Designate a place (preferably with a door you can close) in your home that’s known to be your workspace. When you are in that workspace, make sure everyone understands that you are off limits (except in the case of an emergency).
  • Clearly define lunch time – It’s not fair to be home and never see your family, so make sure you take lunch and define that time as family time. This allows you and your family to connect and allows everyone a chance to gather together for a bit to avoid any frustration that might build up from you being in the home and being so out-of-communication.
  • Define your hours – For some people, working 8 to 5 works whether you are in an office or working from home. For others, it’s easier to work in chunks of 2-4 hours broken up throughout the day. Whatever fits your lifestyle best and helps you stay more productive, be sure to define your optimal schedule and stick to working during those hours. You’ll likely want to make sure you dedicate a certain time frame to working during the hours your teammates are working. Be sure to communicate to them that you will always be available during those hours.

Set goals – Setting goals gives you something to shoot for as you work through various projects. Whether it’s something simple like cleaning out and organizing your inbox (simple, but tedious of course) or something more complex like finishing up a challenging project that’s been bugging you for weeks, accomplishing goals not only keeps you on track but also keeps you motivated. Achieving your goals can revitalize you and give you a sense of accomplishment to provide you with more energy as you move on to the next task.

These things can help you stay on track. As you work through adjusting to remote work, you’ll find that putting these in place creates a sense of normalcy. Eventually, working from home will feel just as familiar to you as working in an office setting.

Maintaining communication

At your workplace, it’s easy to stop by your colleague’s office when you have a question. For first-time work-from-homers, communication and staying in touch can be a bit more confusing, but I have good news. There are lots of great options available for staying in touch. Here are a few tactics you can use to stay in touch and collaborate with your team when working remotely.

Email – Yes, the tried and true email tactic should be your first line of communication. Maintain the same habits you typically had in the past. Don’t go overboard checking your email every ten minutes. If you check too often, you’ll end up becoming distracted, breaking your concentration and ultimately becoming less productive. So, check your email at the same regular intervals you did before you transitioned to working from home.

Chat – For more real-time communication, set up a chat system that you and your team (or you and your clients) can use. You can use Google’s chat feature, Microsoft has a great option with Teams, and I really like Slack as well. There are tons of options available, so figure out what works best for you and your team and then get set up. Make sure you turn on and configure your notifications, so you receive a pop-up notice on your screen when someone sends you a message. This allows teams to communication seamlessly throughout the day.

example of microsoft chat
Image: Microsoft Teams chat

Video conferencing – Tools like GoToMeeting, Zoom and Teams have great video conferencing capabilities. For meetings, using these tools can help you maintain a more personal connection to your team. Phone calls are great, but video calls have that added personal touch. An important piece of advice to follow, however, is to remember that others on the call can see you, so dress appropriately. This doesn’t mean you have to put on your office finest. It does, however, mean you should at least dress somewhat respectably, as your appearance on video calls can have a lasting (positive or negative) impression.

Technology has really changed the way we communicate. In-person meetings are great, but they are no longer a necessity to get business done. I’ll lay out a few recommended tools later in the article that can help you more effectively communicate and collaborate, among other things.

Staying motivated

At the office, you likely take breaks throughout the day without thinking about it. You get up to grab a snack from the break room, use the restroom, stretch your legs or talk with a colleague. When working from home, however, it’s easy to forget to take these little breaks. Failing to take them can lead to burnout, strained eyes from staring at your computer, and even physical issues like sore legs and back pains from sitting too long. Try these tips to stay motivated and avoid the negative impacts of sitting still for extended periods.

Step outside –  Air can do a lot for the mind and body. If your situation permits, venture outside for brief breaks here and there throughout the day. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the sun and sounds of the outdoors. Doing this will help you come back to your work fresh and ready to be more productive.

Stretch it out – Stand up, stretch your legs and back, and move around a bit. You wouldn’t sit for 8 straight hours at the office without getting up even once, so don’t fall into a trap of not doing so at home. It’s good for you physically and mentally. Stretching can help your blood circulation and keep you feeling good.

Grab a snack – Think of your kitchen like your break room. Your co-workers (aka your family) may be stopping in for a snack. Go grab a snack yourself, make some small talk and head back to your home office. The interaction is good for your spirits, and a quick snack can help you maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

Take these tips into account and put them into practice to stay motivated throughout the day and give your energy levels a boost.

The right tools and resources

To be successful working from home, you need to have certain tools and apps available. Without tools to help you stay productive and keep your operations running smoothly, you’ll struggle severely in your remote role. Here are a few recommend tools, resources and apps you should consider putting in place to be at your most productive.

High-speed WIFI – This is absolutely critical. If your WIFI cuts out, your connection is slow, or you experience other internet-related issues, your productivity can dip significantly. Don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t work because your internet is out. Or worse, you’re on an important video call with a client, or your boss, and your internet drops you off the call.

Laptop computer – I find that having a laptop is very valuable in creating a successful work from home environment. You may want to shift locations from time to time and having only a desktop computer eliminates the opportunity to do that.

Evernote – I have been using this tool for years, both for in-office roles and remote roles. It’s a great app for taking notes, saving related documents and really keeping organized. I use it as a sort of to do list but with many more bells and whistles. I also use it to store my meeting notes, and you can easily share notes (and related files) with team members.

templates for Evernote
Source: Evernote Templates

Microsoft Office 365 – One of the biggest frustrations I come across in my day-to-day business world is document sharing and collaboration. Not because I don’t enjoy it or see the value. I actually love collaboration and being able to work together to improve a document is hugely valuable. It’s controlling the versions of the documents you’re collaborating on that can cause serious frustration. Microsoft Office 365 allows teams to easily share, collaborate and store documents to ensure everyone is working on the same version.

Zoho Projects – Zoho really could be an all-in-one business solution, with lots of tools available. For the sake of this post, however, let’s keep the focus on the projects tool. I use this tool for complex projects involving multiple team members, contractors, clients, document sharing and collaboration and more. That’s just my situation, but it would likely fit your needs as well if you have large projects you work on regularly and need to keep track of.

what is zoho projects
Image: Zoho Projects task management

Google Hangouts – Google Hangouts is a video meeting app created by, you guessed it, Google. You can easily connect with your team members and get some (virtual) face-to-face time by using this app to host meetings or just simply quick conversations. It creates a much-needed connection that can be lost sometimes when working from home.

Zoom – Another great video conferencing app, and probably my favorite. Zoom is free (although there are paid versions), and it’s a very reliable, easy-to-use video conferencing app. I’ll take Zoom over something more complex like GoToMeeting any day of the week.

Digital signatures – Another great tool to help you work from home more effectively is a tool for e-signing the documents. These kinds of tools allow you to sign any legal documents or contract with a legally binding electronic signature.

Dropbox – This is one of my favorite tools for sharing files. A free account gets your something like 2 GB of space, so if you are looking to share and remove content as projects wrap up, a free account will suffice. If you need more space, it’s relatively affordable to get 2 TB of space or more. You can even collaborate and update documents now using this tool.

Google Drive – This is a great app for both sharing and collaborating. Google Drive allows you to create and collaborate on files like presentations, spreadsheets and documents, and the best part is that you can save them to your computer in various formats, including Microsoft Office documents like PowerPoint, Word and Excel.

LastPass – This app lets you store encrypted passwords online, and you can even share them with your team. It’s a great app to help you stay secure while working from home. It also offers the ability to autofill passwords.

Slack – Slack is a great tool for organizing your conversations by project, team or whatever other factors you like. It’s also useful for sharing files and can keep your team communicating more effectively and staying on the same page.

Screenshot of Slack app
Image: Slack collaboration

There are tons of great tools and resources available. Start with these, and then do your own research. Find out what works best for you and fits your work style, then get your tech stack setup and see your productivity rise.

Useful websites and articles

Companies are becoming more and more open to and realizing the value of working from home. With advances in technology, the work from home experience can be equally as productive as working in an office, and oftentimes it can be even more productive for a variety of reasons.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed and benefited from this article. To enhance the value and add to your ability to boost your work from home capabilities, I want to also leave you with a few more great resources you can check out. Here are a few websites and articles with excellent work from home resources to help you improve your remote game.

Top Resume – Workplace Section

This website has advice for improving your career, but the workplace section of the blog specifically offers lots of great insights to improve your work from home capabilities. Here’s an article they recently posted about working from home while parenting.

The Productivityist

Staying productive has been a theme throughout this article, so I wanted to be sure to include this one. The Productivityist is a blog focused on tips to help you focus and complete tasks more effectively and efficiently. Here’s one of their latest articles on how you can use email as a sort of to do list.

Evernote – Blog

I mentioned Evernote earlier as one of the tools I find hugely valuable in working from home. Their blog also offers a ton of valuable to help you keep on track and maintain productivity. I recommend starting out with this recent article about creating positive habits.

Wall Street Journal (WSJ)

It’s important to stay on top of the larger business world happening around you. WSJ helps you keep tabs on business, technology, politics, world and other news that could impact your job, your company or other aspects of your life. If the WSJ isn’t for you, then look for a site that speaks more to your industry specifically or another all-encompassing business site. The important thing is to keep a site like this bookmarked and check in regularly to stay in touch with the world around you and how it’s impacting your job.

Whether you use these sites, or you have others that you prefer, the important lesson here is to stay on top of things and always look to improve. Keep in touch with the world around you as it relates to your career and your work, and you’ll become a better work-from-homer as a result.

Wrapping things up

So, whether you are a seasoned remote working pro, or you are on day one and completely confused about where to start, hopefully this article gave you some tips and insights to help you be more productive and be a better remote worker. Technology has really knocked down a lot of the barriers that previously existed between the business world and successfully working at home. Put the right technologies and practices in place, and you, too, can be a successful remote worker in no time.

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8 thoughts on “Remote Working Guide: Tips to Stay Productive and Effective While Working From Home

  1. Thanks, Chayan. I’m glad the article will help in some way. I wanted to offer my insights to anyone who might be struggling with the shift to working from home. It’s not an easy transition if you aren’t used to it, but there are so many good things about working from home if you embrace it.

    1. Thanks, Chris. Much appreciated, and hopefully it helps! Hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy! I think it will subside, but it will take a united effort. And when it does, perhaps more companies will realize the value of remote workforces.

    2. Great tips Anthony.Its very helpful for people who are working from home..Your article is very much informational just loved it..

      1. Lots of people are facing unfamiliar challenges with the shift to working from home. I’m hoping these tips can help at least a few people ease the transition. Working from home can be beneficial to both company and employee if the right things are in place.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you on this ultimate guide to working from home. As someone who has been working from home in the past 5 years, I will say with certainty that you got it covered. Setting boundaries is vital for productivity and focus. Your communication tactic is a must for those who want to work remotely. You also mentioned some of the tools that one needs to work effectively. As an addition, I also like to use a good seat and working table. They help me stay fit and productive because I work hours due to trading forex. I also make sure my office is well ventilated as I prefer fresh air to air-condition. Thank you for this detailed guide. I am sharing it.

    1. The fresh air, great seat, etc. are all great additions. It’s so important to maintain physical health, and a little fresh air can go a long way. Unless it’s stifling hot outside, I prefer to keep the windows open and have some fresh air coming through as well.

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