If you're new to working remotely, you're not alone. The remote workforce has boomed this spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but remote work has been on the rise for some time—although it's hard to enumerate exactly how many people work from home.
Analysis of U.S. Census data published by Global Workplace Analytics found that 5 million employees were working from home in 2018, but data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that number was closer to 36,000. Those numbers don't necessarily take into account freelancers, business owners, and people who work remotely only part of the time.
Most workers who can work from home are working from home right now. If you've never done it before, remote work can be challenging. You might not have the tools that you're used to having at your disposal, your family might be at home with you, and you might not have a dedicated workspace.
How can you quickly get set up as a remote worker? By knowing the basics—and the common pitfalls that you'll need to avoid.
What you'll need.
Before you can even think about setting up your first meeting or opening your first document, you need a few very important things.
If you're just starting to work from home this week, chances are that you might not have an office at home. That's fine. You might be working from whatever room or chair happens to be empty at the moment. No matter where you're working, though, you must carve out a work space you can call your own.
Be sure that your work space is as quiet as possible and that you can work comfortably there for long stretches of time. Make sure, too, that you have some space to get up and move every once in a while.
You probably won't have everything you normally have at your office, but you should have the most important things you'll need to do your job. If you're a knowledge worker, you should have a computer, an internet connection, and whatever software you need to do your work. (If you've been using your neighbor's Wi-Fi, you might want to get your own connection if you're going to be in Zoom meetings every day.)
This might seem obvious—after all, you kept a schedule at the office. However, your remote work schedule might not be identical. You might be homeschooling your children or alternating work times with your partner or roommate to keep your home's internet bandwidth from sagging. You might work at night so that you can spend time with your family during the day.
Set your schedule—whatever it is—and stick to it. It'll help make your transition into remote work life smoother. If you need to change your schedule later, that's OK, too.
Common mistakes (and how to avoid them).
It can be easy to lose your way when you're working remotely. After all, when you don't have a boss or coworkers sitting nearby, who's going to know when you're taking more breaks or coming to work a little late? Here are some of the common mistakes that people new to remote work make—and how to avoid them.
You take breaks at work. Make sure that you're getting up and taking breaks at home, too. Most office furniture is meant to support you for hours on end. Your home furniture isn't—not even your couch or bed.
So about once an hour, stand up and move around. Get up, stretch your legs, get some water, and sit back down. Your back and your brain will thank you.
It can be hard to stay on task at home. You see chores that need doing. Your kids need help with their schoolwork. UPS knocks on the door. The dog barks. You need another cup of coffee.
But taking too many breaks because will seriously disrupt your productivity. According to a study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, it takes a worker 23 minutes and 15 seconds, on average, to get back on task after an interruption. So if you stop in the middle of a task to scroll through your social media feeds, it might take you 20 minutes to get back to work. Limit yourself to that one break an hour.
Meetings can be a challenge when you work from home. Kids run into the room, pets sneak into the shot, spouses wander in and out of frame, and suddenly everyone you work with is distracted by the chaos of your home. Learn where the mute button is on Zoom or whatever conferencing software you're using is so you can reduce distractions on your end. Reach out to your IT management team for assistance with any productivity tools.
If you need to use the video chat function, position yourself in front of a wall—and learn how to turn the camera on and off. Warning the rest of your household when you're going to be on a call will help eliminate unwanted surprises.
Don't hold yourself to an impossible standard. You've just started working from home, and that's a huge adjustment, even in the best of times. Your work output isn't going to be what it would be at the office right away. There will, invariably, be glitches, connectivity problems, and family issues. The stress of an ongoing pandemic might hinder your productivity, too.
Don't demand the impossible—not from yourself, not from your team, and not from your family. You're just getting started as a remote worker. Things will get easier. Giving yourself time to identify where you can improve will help you build good working habits and make working from home feel as natural as going into the office.