More people are working remotely than ever before. While the pandemic was an undisputed catalyst for compelling millions of people to take their work home, the shift toward remote work has been developing for years. The number of people working from home tripled between 2019 and 2021. Even as many office workers have gone back to the office since then, the popularity of working remotely continues to grow among American workers and continues to compel many people to leave their office jobs for entrepreneurial ventures that they can do remotely.
The number one benefit of working at home, cited again and again by both self-employed entrepreneurs and company-employed knowledge workers, is flexibility: flexibility to determine where one works, when, how, and on which projects. Remote workers enjoy a greater degree of control over their jobs and, therefore, over their work/life balance. However, working from home has some serious downsides, and while productivity can be greatly enhanced when remote work is implemented carefully and collaboratively, it can also suffer from lack of structure, self-discipline, and communication. Tech tools are widely available to help people transition to working from home and can keep at bay some of the biggest obstacles to productivity.
Nothing gives workers more control over their workspace environment than being able to work from home; remote employees are free to choose any space in their home and design it according to their own needs for optimal productivity and efficiency. Of course, not all “at-home” workers even stay home. Many also work out of coworking spaces, cafes, libraries, public places, client homes, and various travel destinations. While working remotely gives people a lot of flexibility in creating a workable space, control over the working environment can be a bit illusory, as non-office spaces also come with more unpredictable variables than typical office buildings—variables that can usher in enough distractions and interruptions to impact how much productive work one can get done in a day.
Tips: Have a few location options for where you can work, including at least one that you know will be quiet. Reserve that space for those days when you know you need to concentrate closely or have a private meeting. If you work in a home that you share with others—like children or pets—schedule break times when you know they will need attention in order to minimize their interruptions during your work time. Turn off phones or other devices when you don’t need them so that they will not interfere with your work.
One of the most widely-cited benefits of shifting to remote work is the time saved commuting. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people commuting to work dropped 8% and led to nearly 15 million fewer vehicles on the road. Public transportation for commuting also dropped significantly. The amount of time saved commuting, ideally, should translate to a more productive workday because it saves time while creating a better mood and morale when people don’t have to rush out the door and deal with the headaches of the heavy traffic and crowds. But that extra time afforded only translates to productivity when it is used for something purposeful. Many remote workers find that time is easier to squander when they work at home and suddenly don’t have the familiar pressures and time reminders that are inherent in an office environment. Staying productive at home requires a high level of personal discipline.
Tips: Scheduling tools can be helpful for reminding you of meetings, appointments, and looming deadlines. Making a to-do list for yourself each day with a (realistic) checklist of items you want to accomplish will keep you reminded all day of your goals. When possible, arrange your breaks around your completion of tasks so that you can stay focused until each is finished.
Working at home is ideal for disciplined self-starters who can accomplish a lot on their own and don’t require a lot of management. However, remote work is also a lonely, solitary pursuit that can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. It can also lead to insecurities that one is out-of-touch with company goals or not up-to-date on important projects and plans. This leads to a lack of confidence and a reduced engagement—both things that compromise productivity. Maintaining communication is vital for people who work at home, and Zoom meetings are usually not enough. Staying connected improves collegiality among coworkers; it is also important to get outside the home sometimes and connect to other people in professional and non-professional ways so that one does not become too isolated and cut off from the outside world.
Tips: Participate in some of the online social events your company offers so that you can get to know colleagues in a more well-rounded way. Take breaks in your workday, as well, to go out, exercise, and be around other people so that you don’t become too isolated. Attend some networking events in your area to stay professionally connected and up-to-date while also interacting with others. Take advantage of your remote flexibility by blending work time with leisure time, when feasible, so that you don’t become overly immersed in seclusion.
Just as working productively at home requires heightened self-discipline, it also requires a higher level of organization than many people are accustomed to. With no one there to organize your documents, appointments, schedules, or finances, you have to get used to doing it yourself. Being disorganized and having a disorganized space will present constant challenges to finding important documents and to staying focused.
Tips: Make a habit of decluttering your work space, deleting unneeded computer files, and emptying trash at the end of every work day to help establish good organizing habits and prevent desks and computers from becoming overloaded with junk. Utilize the some of the online tech tools that are widely available to keep administrative and bookkeeping tasks as organized and streamlined as possible. The wide availability of cloud storage means that you don’t have to save as many physical papers, documents, and receipts and can instead scan and upload them to store electronically. Online financial tools simplify the accounting and bookkeeping by recording all financial transactions, sending invoices when needed, recording incoming payments, issuing payments, and balancing the books. Many of these can be used by virtual assistants and bookkeepers, should you find that organizing your schedules and finances requires outside help.