If you’re like thousands of other professionals who have recently found themselves working from home for the first time, you’ve probably already discovered the weird side effects of remote work. Preparing weekly reports in your PJ’s; the dogs barking in the background of your department meeting; taking a lunch break with your kids and the cat instead of the office crew. Working from home may have sounded like an interesting experiment a month ago, but now that it’s becoming the norm, you might find yourself starting to miss the structure and routine of office life.
The flexibility of working from home is a beautiful thing, but ironically you do need to build some structure into your day to enjoy it fully. At Thinkful, our 200+ workforce has been fully remote for years, and in that time we've developed habits to integrate work into our living space without letting it take over our lives. Here are some of our personal tips on introducing some structure into your remote work day.
1.Establish your work hours
In a traditional office environment, an 8-5 workday is a given. Working from home gives you more flexibility to adjust your start and end times, as well as take breaks to walk the dog or take the car into the shop. But you’ll have to give yourself some guidelines to make sure you’re not getting too distracted or putting in 12 hour days.
Bri Pizana, a Technical Expert for UX Design, emphasizes that you should give yourself a clear stop time at the end of the day, and stick to it. “Set clear boundaries around your work time vs. personal time. It’s so easy to just keep working, but that’s what burns people out.” Try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to power down the laptop if you find yourself working into the night.
2.Use a calendar app
Sure, you were probably already using Google Calendar or Outlook. But in the world of remote work, your calendar becomes more crucial than ever before.
Choose one scheduling tool that works for you, and stick to it. Use it to plan out your day, including periods of deep work and breaks. This helps in two ways: you’ll give yourself a little more structure, and also let team members know when you’re away from your desk, focusing on a project, or available for meetings.
3.Figure out the times when you’re most productive, and let that guide your day
You’re naturally more alert at certain times of day. Reserve those periods for the projects that require a lot of concentration, when you can close out your email and snooze notifications.
Caitlin Plaza, Synchronous Programs Operation Manager, plans out her day according to when she’s most focused. Other times are reserved for responding to emails and meetings. “You need to know what time of day you’re most productive. I know I'm weirdly productive with project work and documentation in the morning and late afternoon.”
One of the best aspects of working from home is that it allows you to modify your schedule according to when you work best - even if that’s early in the morning, during lunch hours or after the sun sets.
4.Set up your work space
For many people, that daily commute you left behind was the signal to switch gears. Now you’ll have to recreate that feeling of changing environments by setting up a designated work space in your house - even if it’s nothing more than a specific area of the kitchen counter.
Set up your “desk” area at the beginning of your day to encourage a mental shift from home to work. Lauren Jacobson, Associate Director of Academic Success, always takes time to prep at the beginning of a work day: even small rituals like pouring a fresh cup of coffee and turning your phone on silent can all help transition you into work mode.
Caitlin Plaza also notes that you may need to switch up your surroundings throughout the day to stay engaged. And you can still do that even when your favorite coffee shop is closed. “Now that I’m mostly at home, I move from place to place in my apartment. I typically spend the morning at my desk, afternoon on my porch with my cats (if the sun’s out!), and then the later afternoon depends on how I’m feeling; I’m either standing at my kitchen counter (I’m short so it works as a standing desk), or relaxing on my couch.”
5.Use music to signal the start of your day
Are you the type of person who likes to work with some ambient music in the background? Designer Rachel Knobloch recommends listening to the same playlist you used to put on at the office to help you feel more like you’re in a working environment, and less like you’re sitting in the guest bedroom. Putting on some background music can signal to your brain that it’s time to focus.
Talent Acquisition Manager Lexi Bucci advises her team to take time for walks, meditation or a quick workout. If your normally scheduled fitness classes aren’t available, do some yoga or take a walk in the sun.
Erin Rosenblatt, VP of Education Operations, suggests actually scheduling these breaks into your day to make sure you’re taking the time to recharge. “Set aside time on your calendar to have lunch, take walks, stretch. Make sure that you aren't sitting in one spot all day and that you get a chance to go outside.”
7.Limit incoming communication
Change your Slack status when you’re done for the day. This is your signal to coworkers that you won’t respond to messages until tomorrow, limiting the number of dings you’ll get on your phone through dinner. (It also helps prevent you from compulsively checking email after work).
Emma Holland, Synchronous Programs Operations Manager, recommends being strategic about your push notifications. “Build boundaries around your private spaces and keep them holy. For me, that means no push notifications for work going to any personal device. I don't need to answer Slack messages from the bathroom on a smart watch.”
8.Schedule time to shut down
An office setting is full of signals that the work day is winding down: people getting up from their desks, meetings wrapping up, cars pulling out of the parking lot. Now that you’re working from home, you’ll have to simulate that transition so you can let go of work stress and relax.
Katie Dasso, Senior Product Manager, noticed that she had to schedule time to wind down when she started working remotely. “The commute time, although frustrating, was a time to process and leave work behind. Not having that makes it challenging to shift from work mode to Mom mode. I try to have boundaries at the end of the day, so I block my calendar for a walk and time to wrap up.”
9.Be prepared to let go of your routine
Now that you’ve set yourself up with the ideal remote work schedule, you’ll have to do something a little contradictory: embrace the fact that sometimes, you can (and should) let go of your routine.
Community Manager Ivy Rueb found that she had to make sure she took advantage of slower periods to balance out the late nights at her desk. “I had to learn how to ride the flow of remote work. There are days that it is super fast-paced and a ton of deadlines and then there are other times that I feel I have the bandwidth to take on new projects.” Save lower priority work for a slow week. And if you’ve been putting in 10 hour days, close up shop early on Friday and don’t look back.
Once you get adjusted to working from home, you’ll appreciate the many benefits that come along with it - and might even come to love your new lifestyle. Fortunately, there are more and more remote work opportunities in tech. Browse our online courses to find the right path for you and set yourself up for a long, lucrative career.