CODE Exitos is a “remote work” company – we are accustomed to working and interacting with clients and teammates remotely. During the challenges of the global pandemic, we decided to share some experiences of working remotely – experiences and suggestions we don’t see frequently offered up as advice. Please note these suggestions are for individuals who need to work from home (WFH). We will discuss advice engaging in projects and delivering work for clients in a different post.
Use Your New Free Time Well
Working from home gives you extra free time in your schedule. In the United States, the average commute is a little less than 30 minutes according to the US Census Bureau. Add in a little time to get ready, to get home, etc. – and you have an hour or more a day that has magically become available! And there are plenty of people for whom a 30-minute commute would be a gift – their commutes eat up much more time. So… how can you use this time to your advantage?
One bad answer is to “work more.” This isn’t really a good idea… working remotely should not mean working a ridiculous number of hours. (More on this later.) One of our favorite recommendations: commit this time to be physically active! You know that exercise routine you just don’t have time to get done? Here you go! Get your body moving! Thirty minutes of excercise will do wonders for your physical and mental health, and it will take up less time than you just saved by not commuting to the office. Better still, plan your exercise to hit some time during the work day when you feel yourself starting to drag. A break from the desk, a brisk walk, and a quick shower can set up the second half of the day to be highly productive!
Another bad idea is to use your new time in a lot of small, tiny chunks of “chores” that have nothing to do with work. These errands become distractions, and they always seem to take up more time than you planned. The result is you never get into a flow of work, your time gets wasted, and work and personal tasks both suffer. Protect your work time, just as if you were at the office!
Manage Your Diet
Don’t eat everything in the house! Switching to being at home should not turn into a perpetual food-fest! Making things worse, if you are not exercising more (see our first suggestion!), the last thing you want to do is start eating more. Sadly, if you convert to working at home suddenly, your supply of “snacks” becomes instantly available. Consider removing the junk food soon after switching to WFH, or expect to see your diet take a momentary turn for the worse!
Another important aspect of managing your diet is when you WFH, you have the opportunity to match when you eat with your body’s natural cycle of being hungry. If you are the sort of person that works well with four small meals in the day – take advantage of the flexibility of you schedule and eat this way. If you find yourself prefering to eat at times that are not “office normal” – then you can match your prefered schedule for food. But eat well and eat consistently. If you find yourself skipping lunch one day, then gorging the next day… make adjustments. Remember: working from home is a chance to integrate your work into the normal flow of your day.
This is another important balancing act when moving from an office to a remote work situation. There are two major changes you can make in the area of sleep – and there is a big pitfall you should avoid!
Don’t turn your remote work liberty into an excuse to sleep as much as you can, or an opportunity to spend the day lounging. You are working remotely. Notice the word “working”? Letting your sleep schedule fall apart and behaving like you are on spring break is a terrible idea. You shouldn’t throw away your alarm clock, but you can make some important improvements in your sleep routine!
See if your natural body rhythms (look up circadian rhythm!) can be a little more in sync with your expected availability as you work from home. With the liberation from the “office schedule” – you might not need to be on active work exactly from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm. Generally speaking, we need a few hours of the day to overlap with coworkers and clients – we need to interact with each other. But there can be staggered starting times and ending times.
The other opportunity is to dedicate some of your free time (no commute!) to get a bit more sleep. But like most good things in life, don’t over-indulge. Use half of your commute time for exercise and the other half for additional sleep, for example. The key here is to maintain or establish good sleep habits – not to become a sloppy sleeper who is hibernating!
If you want to brush up on your sleep habits, you can begin with what the CDC recommends for healthy sleep hygiene.
Take Breaks from Work
We love our work and we hope you love what you do, too. Sometimes it is difficult to get started, but the opposite is true as well – sometimes you work too much without stopping. Stop it! Pace yourself and create opportunities for your mind to rest.
As big fans of mental wellness and happiness, we like a lot of the content from the folks at Headspace. Taking Better Breaks is an article we encourage you to read and practice!
You can combine a number of other tips into “high value breaks.” For example, set a reminder for mid-morning, and focus on your work until the reminder time. Then, get up from your work and take a 15 minute walk. Boom! A break from work and a bit of excercise. Or, make yourself a healthy snack, knowing the time you spend making it is part of your time away from work. It’s better than tearing opn a bag of Oreos and eating them all in 5 five minutes! No matter how you structure your break time, try to step away from your work every couple hours during the day. Remember, this is all about balance!
Create A Sustainable Routine
One of my friends recently converted to being a remote worker, and one day he told me that his moring went like this: “I opened my eyes, walked to the computer and turned it on. I ate breakfast while booting and signing in. I have not showered yet.” Yikes! This is not a sustainable way to work!
Finding a balance is important, and routines help make the mental separation between personal time and work time more obvious to us. Try to maintain regular hours for your working time – if you want to begin at 7:00 am, then try to start every work day at 7:00 am. If you feel better with a later schedule, then that is fine too, as long as you maintain some consistency and it matches with the times you need to collaborate with coworkers.
Routines are important but they don’t need to be restrictive. Building a routine that works for you takes time and some experimentation, and we like to think of our routines as “guidelines for good habits”. These aren’t rules, so have fun and enjoy the discovery process!
An office is filled with opportunities for small, relaxed interactions with other people. The “water cooler conversation” is important! When we work from home, these small mental breaks and personal binding opportunities are less likely to occur. Most of us are naturally inclined to be social, so don’t let working remotely become isolating! You might need to make a little more of an effort to have social interactions, but it is important to mix up your day with other people and with other people not talking about work!
Combine a walk in the neighborhood with one of your work breaks. This gives you a bit of movement, some time away from your work, and you can find a neighbor or store clerk to chat with for a minute or two. Magic!
The Pew Research Center has some interesting data on why people use social media at work, and in general, most of the reasons are admirable. We agree you should have mental breaks, keep in touch with friends and family, and build business relationships. Just remember to treat your time working remotely as though you were in an office – make your social media breaks infrequent and don’t let yourself spend too much time clicking around non-work activity! A healthy, well-timed break can quickly turn into a lost hour of watching cat videos on YoutTube!
Working remotely takes some adjustment. There is a lot of good advice available for mixing where you live and where you work, and we hope you find a routine that keeps you happy and engaged. At CODE Exitos, we believe the best solution requires integrating a great workplace with effective remote work. We hope some of our advice will help you be more productive and happy if you have found yourself suddenly joining the ranks of remote workers the world over!