Many small businesses are now allowing employees to work remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even aside from this recent reality, working from home has been steadily gaining popularity among business owners and employees for years.
It’s not all bad, though. About 91 percent of workers actually think they’re more productive when working remotely. So it is possible for small businesses to get a lot done when they’re not working from the same office.
Having remote employees can be a challenge for any small business, but our guide on how to work from home can increase your chances of success.
How to Work from Home
Working from home looks a bit different for everyone. But by focusing on a few key areas, you can stay productive while also enjoying a comfortable and healthy work environment. Here are a few of the areas discussed in this guide:
- Setting up a home office (design, equipment, etc.)
- Software and Apps for Working at Home
- Managing a remote team
- Staying healthy Physically and Mentally while working at home]
Setting Up A Home Office
Working productively from home starts with a quality home office. Having a dedicated space to work provides better focus and gives workers more division between their work and personal lives. Not everyone has a separate room that they can use to dedicate to their office. But with the right features and tools, you can set up a space that works for your needs. Here are some of the top things to consider.
1. Find a Quiet Place
You might not have access to a separate room. But your office should be as secluded as possible from the hustle and bustle of your home. For example, choose a corner of your bedroom rather than the centrally located kitchen table. You might even set up a room divider or other physical barrier if a door isn’t an option.
2. Get a Comfortable Chair
You’re going to be sitting a lot while working from home. So you might as well be comfortable. Office chairs tend to be ergonomic, but many remote employees just settle for the couch or a dining room chair. Do yourself a favor and invest in one that supports your spine while you sit at your desk all day.
3. Declutter Your Desk Space
Clutter can easily distract you from your work. Whether you have a dedicated desk or are working from a makeshift office, keeping your workspace clean is a must. Before you start work for the day, stack papers and remove anything that doesn’t have to do with your to-do list.
4. Raise Your Computer Monitor
Working from a laptop or a short monitor means you’ll be slouching all day, which can lead to back and neck problems. It can also be tougher to see a small screen, which leads to eye strain. Purchase a large monitor or at least raise your current one to eye level so you can easily see your work in front of you.
5. Bring in Sufficient Lighting
Another important element that can help you see your work clearly and avoid eye strain is lighting. Natural light is always best. So if possible, set up your desk around windows. If that’s not possible — or even if you have some natural light, you’ll also need lamps and overhead lighting to supplement.
6. Set Up Storage Systems
To keep your workspace clean and ensure that everything is easy to find, you need to have a clear organizational system. Set up filing cabinets or just use folders and desk drawers so that all your work materials have a home. Then actually use that system by putting things away when you’re done with them.
7. Add Plants
Plants add visual interest and life to a space. But they also serve an important functional purpose. They can help to separate your office from other parts of your home, providing noise insulation and blocking your view of distractions around you.
8. Decorate the Space
Your home office doesn’t need to be a plain, sterile desktop. You’ll enjoy working a bit more if your workplace has some personality. Decorate it with family photos, artwork, or a bulletin board of favorite items. If you’re going to be working from home long-term, you may also paint the area a pleasing color.
9. Invest in the Right Tech
In order to do your job properly, you need the right tools. Depending on your actual job function, you may need a printer, scanner, fax, work timer, or various software programs.
10. Put a Sign on the Door
Regardless of whether or not your office is in a dedicated room, your family needs to know that it’s your workspace so they don’t interrupt important calls or barge in while you’re focused on an important task. If you think it would help, create a sign that indicates you’re working and put it up when you don’t want to be interrupted.
For more on this topic, see:
- Top 10 Home Office Essentials
- 21 Home Office Must Haves
- The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Home Office
Software and Apps for Working at Home
Technology is what makes working from home possible. Aside from a high speed internet connection and your computer, smartphone, and printer, there are some apps and software programs that can make it easier for you to stay productive while telecommuting. Here are some of the top options to consider.
When team members work remotely, they still sometimes need a way to communicate face to face. Skype provides a video conferencing solution that also includes voice calls and text chats. There are other video calling solutions available. But Skype is widely used, so it’s also easy for communicating with clients or others outside of your organization.
Keeping your team communication organized is a must when you’re not working in the same place. Slack provides threaded chats you can use to discuss various projects and campaigns. You can set up chats for specific departments or tasks, and even create one-on-one discussions.
13. Focus Keeper
Staying focused is a major challenge involved in working from home. A timer can help you stay on task for a specific period of time, and Focus Keeper is available for free on your smartphone to help you stay on schedule throughout the day.
Whether you need to track hours for a specific project or just want an easy way to improve productivity, Toggl can help. The time tracking tool works across multiple devices and provides reports that detail how you spend your time.
Your team probably needs to share documents or files at some point. Dropbox provides cloud storage that your whole team can use to collaborate on documents, share photos, and organize files that you all need to access for various projects.
16. Calmly Writer
If you tend to get distracted by things off to the side on your computer screen, Calmly can help. This tool provides a distraction free writing platform that you can use to stay focused while you work on client proposals, blog posts, copy for an upcoming project, or even emails.
Hubstaff is a time tracking tool that’s built for teams. It’s meant to help companies track how their employees spend time while working remotely. It offers features like screenshots, timesheets, reports, and billing functionality.
Splashtop allows users to control and connect to other devices from a remote location. This function is perfect for teams that need to train or collaborate remotely, or those that need to offer IT support without being in the same location.
Cybersecurity can be an even bigger challenge when working from home, since it’s harder for companies to maintain uniform standards. 7-Zip is an open source file compression and encryption for files sent remotely.
If you need a fully featured platform for managing projects, Trello is an option. It’s available for both web and mobile apps. And it offers communication channels, task management, and collaboration options to serve as your main dashboard for managing team projects.
Zapier is a platform that integrates with tons of other tools you may use online or on your desktop. Basically, it helps you systemize and automate the tasks you work on every day to improve productivity and cut out the tasks that don’t require a ton of brainpower.
Keeping a daily, weekly, and overall to-do list is essential for staying organized — even more so when working from home. Todoist provides an app form of the traditional to-do list so you can constantly access and update your tasks while checking items off for the day.
There may be times when your remote team needs to schedule a call or meeting quickly. Doodle gives you a quick and easy way to schedule these meetings. Basically, you post a poll and it gives you an answer right away so you can all hop on a call.
Join.me is another video conferencing and collaboration solution. However, it focuses on free meetings and easy screen sharing. Unlike many other video platforms, the people you’re chatting with don’t need to have their own account. So it may be a good option for those that need to make client presentations or train new team members.
25. Google Drive
The quintessential collaboration and productivity suite, Google Drive allows you to easily create, collaborate, and share documents, photos, and other files with basically anyone.
For more on this topic, see:
- How to Increase Productivity in a Highly Collaborative Remote Workspace
- 10 Security Measures for Remote Workers
- The 15 Best Team Management Apps for Small Business Users
Managing a Remote Team
If you’re a small business owner, working from home might not just be about your own personal habits. You may also have a team to worry about. So how can you keep everyone happy and productive when you’re not all in the same office? These tips can help.
26. Check in Daily
Employees may not always go out of their way to ask you questions or bring up concerns if you’re not working in the same office. So it’s up to you to make sure they have everything they need to get their work done effectively. Just a quick email or Slack message may be enough.
27. Communicate Goals
Sometimes, it’s not enough to tell people to do something — you may need to also explain why it’s so important. Communicating your overall goals effectively can help you all stay on the same page and keep team members motivated.
28. Set Deadlines
Someone else’s idea of “ASAP” or “whenever you get a sec” may be different than yours, especially if you’re not communicating face to face. If you need something done by a certain day, state that clearly. In fact, you should create deadlines even for items that aren’t urgent to keep everyone on a steady pace.
29. Make Yourself Available
Even if you check in with team members regularly, they may still need to get in touch with you to ask questions or express concerns. Make sure you clearly communicate how employees should go about doing this. Should they email you? Make an appointment? Get in touch with their immediate supervisor? Do you have set office hours? Be very specific.
30. Provide Team Communication Channels
Team members may also need to communicate with one another to effectively collaborate on projects. Make it easy for them by setting up channels in your communication tool of choice.
31. Give Them Some Freedom
Aside from checking in and answering questions, you don’t need to stay on top of your team 24/7. Give them space to actually focus on their work and they may be more productive on their own. If they have issues, then it may be worth another conversation.
32. Temper Their Workload
A sure way to burn out remote workers is to give them way too many tasks in a short period of time. If you have extra work or need something on a tight deadline, check in to make sure they can handle it. And try to spread out the work among team members.
33. Act as If They’re in the Office
Even though you’re not all working in the same office, you can recreate some of the good things about that environment online. For example, set up a “water cooler” channel in Slack or host a Friday pizza party on Skype.
34. Have Some Fun
Generally keeping things light hearted can help employees feel more satisfied with their work and connected to your company. Building that morale and team chemistry can be tough when working remotely. But you can get creative and host fun activities or start unique traditions.
35. Use Calls for Complicated Issues
Email and project management apps are perfect for sharing basic tasks and checking in. But if you need to explain something complicated or have a difficult conversation, jump on a video or voice call. This allows you to more effectively share complex issues in a nuanced way.
36. Create a Chain of Command
If there are more than a few people in your organization, you may not want everyone to reach out to you individually with their concerns or questions. If this is the case, everyone should know who to reach out to with issues.
37. Clarify Your Expectations
Traditional office rules don’t necessarily apply in a work-from-home environment. So if you want employees to abide by any rules, like keeping traditional office hours or dressing business casual for video conference calls, make sure they know that. Create a simple policy list so everyone stays on the same page.
For more on this topic, see:
- Thinking About Using a Remote Workforce? 4 Tips for Managing Remote Workers Effectively
- How to Build Strong, Personal Relationships for a Remote Team
- How to Effectively Manage Remote Teams
Staying Healthy Physically and Mentally While Working at Home
It can be easy to just work constantly when your office is across from your living room. But the effects of burnout are real. And they can have a major negative impact on your physical and mental health. To stay healthy, happy, and productive, keep these tips in mind.
38. Take Breaks Regularly
Hunching over a computer screen all day is a surefire way to burn out quickly and to run into tons of health problems. Ideally, you should take a short break at least every hour. Even if you just walk around your office or stretch, rest your back and your eyes several times throughout the day. Set a timer if you tend to forget.
39. Move Every Day
Whether you take a break in the middle of the workday or fit it in in the morning or evening, you should do some kind of physical activity every day. Take a walk, lift some weights, do yoga, attend a class, or do whatever kind or routine you’ll actually stick with. This is a good tip for everyone, but it can be especially tough for remote workers to actually fit in workouts.
40. Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is a must. If you have trouble remembering to drink water throughout the day, keep a tally on your desk, set reminders on your phone, or get a large water bottle that’s clear so you can see your progress throughout the day.
41. Keep Healthy Snacks at Your Desk
How often when you’re working do you suddenly realize that you’re hungry? Remote workers often want to grab something fast so they can get right back to work. But this often leaves you with something unhealthy. Combat this by stocking up on things like nuts, seeds, yogurt, pre-made smoothies, and fruit. If you have room, keep them in a drawer or mini fridge by your office so you can grab them before venturing into the kitchen to find all the other options.
42. Unplug Every Night
One of the major challenges with working remotely is actually shutting down your brain and enjoying family or personal time every night. But you can burn out quickly if you just work 24/7. Protect your physical and mental health by setting limits. For example, you might have a “no phones” rule at the dinner table or set a 7 p.m. deadline to be done with work every night.
43. Try a Standing Desk
It’s tough on your back and neck if you sit in the same spot all day, especially if you’re working from home and tend to work extended hours. A standing or adjustable desk can improve your posture and help you move a bit more. You might even set up a workstation on a treadmill or take meetings while you walk or ride a stationary bike.
44. Get Outside
Sunlight is good for your mental and physical health. Whether you go for a walk or just take your laptop out to your porch for a few minutes a day, it’s important to change up your environment and get fresh air every once in awhile.
45. Prepare Meals Ahead of Time
Last minute projects pop up all the time while you’re working from home. So even if you plan on making a healthy lunch, that may turn into fast food really quickly. Avoid that by prepping meals ahead of time on Sundays or a few times per week. Use whole foods like vegetables, grains, and proteins wherever possible.
46. Try Meditation
Meditation is the simple act of sitting with your thoughts and focusing on your breathing. This helps to keep you grounded and improve your mental wellbeing over time. You can do it right at your desk and there are plenty of apps like Headspace or Calm that can help you get started.
47. Find a Support System
As with any other type of job, working from home comes with challenges. It can help to sometimes vent or discuss those issues with someone who can relate. Find friends who commiserate with you or connect with others online to get the support you need.
48. Try a Fitness Tracker
If you have trouble getting in enough physical activity throughout the day, use a fitness tracker that updates you about your steps or heart rate. This can help you set and track goals and keep you accountable.
49. Schedule Meals and Workouts
Additionally, it may be necessary to actually build in breaks for meals and workouts when creating your daily schedule. This prevents you from taking meetings or putting too many projects on the docket for one day.
50. Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is essential for both your physical and mental wellbeing. Though it may be tempting to work late into the night, it will leave you groggy and unproductive the next day. Set limits and prioritize at least six or seven hours of sleep per night.
For more on this topic, see:
- 6 Reasons to Unplug for Greater Health and Productivity
- 69% of Employees Say Working at Home Improves Their Mental Health
- Wellness Programs: Improve Workforce Health, Reduce Healthcare Costs
Last Point About Working at Home
In summary, working from home comes with a unique set of challenges. But it’s also an opportunity for businesses to build a happy and productive team and integrate top talent from around the globe.
Whether you’re working from home temporarily or plan on making this change long-term, creating a supportive office environment, finding helpful tools, managing your team effectively, and keeping up with healthy habits can all help you make the most of your remote work.
Related reading: Video Conferencing from Home: Tips to Become a Pro
More in: Coronavirus Biz Advice, Popular Articles
Personally I try to make my work at home as much like “regular” work as possible. I get dressed like normal. I say goodbye to my family and say I’m going to work. Then I walk downstairs to my office in the basement and close the door.
Oh, and a kid-proof doorknob cover on the outside of the office door keeps the kiddos at bay.
The differnce of working from home is the distractions that you can be exposed to. It is important that you develop a system to counter this.
Those tips are very up-to date as for COVID-19 situation that appeared recently… We all have to work from home and try to stay productive.
But – do you have any tips for specific spheres? E.g. for real estate brokers?
What a comprehensive list! I will say that after my agency team has moved completely remote, very little in output has changed.
We like to use Zoom to communicate regularly, I have a Zoom meeting scheduled for every work day during our operating hours where my team can log in and speak with me at any time. We also have scheduled meetings twice a day just to touch base.
I have had very little success with platforms like slack, but this is perhaps because we are just a small team. Maybe this is also because I’m a bit ‘old school’ and like face-to-face interaction. Our clients LOVE Joining in on Zoom as well…
HOWEVER, everyone working from home says that the levels of distraction are so much higher. So many of us are having to school kids at home.
“The reason why most startups fail or struggle is that their focus shifts when some issues grow up. Priority should be given to finding a solution rather than discussing the problem.”
Above mentioned tools are good. Additionally, one can also use tools like Webex, R-HUB web video conferencing servers etc. for working remotely from home. Businesses and employees globally are using these tools for all their remote working needs.