30% of the Tito team works remotely full-time — two of us in Scotland and one of us (me) on the English south coast. This figure stood at 40% before Paul returned to Dublin after a stint living in London. The rest of the team works primarily in the Dublin office, and remotely on occasion. So, between us, we have quite a few working from home tips we’ve learned over the years!
Personally, it’s been over two years since I left an office environment, and it’s the best move I’ve ever made. But I admit it’s taken some trial and error to make it work. It also might not be right for everyone.
So let’s explore just a few of the pros and cons of working remotely, and specifically working from home.
- No commute. While some short commutes can be enjoyable and beneficial for your health (cycling to work has been shown to lower your chances of getting cancer for instance), longer commutes have been linked with increased stress levels and lower life satisfaction. You can also save money on petrol/diesel/gas or public transport by working from home.
- Flexible schedule. Working from home can bring about greater freedom to set your own timetable, which is extra helpful if you have other responsibilities like being a parent.
- Greater focus. If you’re easily distracted by loud typers, phone conversations, and taps on the shoulder, working away from the office can feel like you finally have space to breathe and find “flow” at work.
- Work/life balance. Because you don’t have the same separation between work time and home time, there’s a definite risk of one spilling into the other. Remote workers have been found to work longer hours than their office-based counterparts.
- Distractions. OK, I know I said you can focus better at home, but this can be a double-edged sword. There aren’t any colleagues to disturb you, but there may be family members, pets, unwashed dishes, the TV, and any other number of distractions you need to deal with.
- Isolation. It can be easy to feel like you’re missing out on team fun and even business decisions, particularly if your colleagues in the office don’t make an effort to include you. Working from home can get lonely, especially if you also live alone.
There are many other points to consider, but let’s say you’ve weighed up all the benefits and drawbacks, and you’ve decided remote working is for you. What steps can you take to make it successful?
Naturally this will differ from person to person, but here are some of the working from home tips that our team has picked up:
Leave the house
For some, remote working means working from different locations. For many, it means working from home 99% of the time. On weeks with bad weather and no social plans, you could easily find yourself wondering “have I left the house this week?” And occasionally the answer will be no.
A change of scene is crucial. I have a regular schedule of things that get me out of the house (Zumba on a Monday, choir on a Tuesday, etc.) but you don’t have to be so rigid if you’re routine-averse. Community boards and Meetup are great places to find like-minded people to hang out with outside of work.
(brb, going for a quick stroll…)
Create a space
One of the obvious downsides of working from home is the blurred line between work time and home time. In my last flat, I worked from the dining room table and when my partner would get home we’d be in a shared space but I’d still be in a “worky” headspace. I felt distracted and tense. So if your setup will allow, one of my most importing working from home tips is to have a dedicated space as your “office”.
My new flat has a large spare room so I can do all my work in there and leave it there at the end of the day. Here are some ideas for making the space fit for purpose:
Set it up right
You probably won’t have occupational health checking up on you, so you need to look after yourself in this regard:
- Get a desk you can sit at properly, with your legs facing forward. Don’t just work from a surface area with loads of old printers and boxes underneath it so that you’re forced to contort your body weirdly. It’s easy to just put up with a non-optimal set-up, but you’ll pay the price in back problems later on.
- Get a decent office chair, and try it out in the shop. By decent, I don’t mean expensive (I spent less than £40 on mine), but given that you may be sitting on it for 40 hours a week, it’s worth investing.
- Try a standing desk, so that you don’t have to sit all day. They can be super pricey so if you don’t want to splash out, you could start out with a makeshift solution.
- Get an external monitor if you’re using a laptop. It’s better for your neck to be looking straight ahead most of the time, than looking down. A larger screen also means you have to strain your eyes less. Ideally, position the laptop directly in front of you so you’re not having to twist your body to type (or else get an additional keyboard), with the monitor on a riser behind your laptop.
- Get a good lamp. In an ideal world, there’ll be natural light coming into the room, but a lamp is essential for later in the day and during winter. I favour a yellow-toned to blue-toned light, as it’s closer to natural sunlight.
- Go minimal on equipment and paper as much as you can. If it’s not a legal requirement, try not to print it. Do away with your dusty inkjet and pop to the library if you really need to print something. Digitise your documents and back them up for peace of mind, then shred the hard copies if you don’t need them. You can turn your phone into a decent scanner, so that’s another gadget gone too.
- Open a window. In addition to leaving the house, it’s a good idea to ventilate your workspace. If your workspace doesn’t have a window, open one in the next room and keep your office door open for through-flow. Just remember to shut all these windows and doors when you finally do leave the house!
Make it inviting
I know it’s just a workspace, but there’s no reason why it can’t be a nice place to spend time:
- Keep it tidy. And set it up in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing to you. Love having all your books around for inspiration? Do photos of family on the desk make it feel more homely? Prefer it white and minimalist? Your space, your choice. You just want it to put you in a good frame of mind to be in it all day.
- Add some greenery. Mother in Law’s Tongue is a badly-named but hardy plant that’s almost impossible to kill.
- Try some scents. Rosemary and peppermint essential oils in an oil burner makes for a wonderfully fragrant and uplifting work session. (Essential oils are said to have the potential to improve focus and concentration, but it’s near impossible to find reliable data on this. Who cares though? They smell great!)
- Leave every so often. As nice as the space you’ve created is, you’ll enjoy it more if you mix it up from time to time. Work from a coffee shop, museum, or park. You’re not shackled to your home office, so take advantage. You could even go on a little trip and work during the day so you don’t need to use up your holiday, and then you can explore your new surroundings in the evenings.
It’s easy to wake up tired, grab your laptop and start answering emails from your bed. Try not to do this—you quickly enter the world of the un-showered and people stop wanting to be your friend. Leaving the house first thing is a good approach, but for the days you don’t, here are some (extremely obvious) working from home tips:
- Wash your face (and the rest of your body if you feel like it). Just splash a bit of water on it to pep you up, and brush your teeth while you’re there.
- Drink some water. If you don’t fancy breakfast yet, just have a big old glass of water to kickstart everything. Full disclosure: I am the worst at remembering to do this. Proof that just because something’s obvious, doesn’t mean you do it.
- Get dressed. You feel more human; you’re prepared for any impromptu video calls (more on this later); and the person delivering your mail doesn’t get an eyeful.
- Do something non-work-related first thing (that isn’t on a screen). Again, I’m bad at this. I tend to absentmindedly check my phone, but if you can do something else first (ideas: reading, stretching, chatting to loved ones, meditating, working out, going for a walk), you’ll feel so much better for it.
- Take breaks during the day. I was lucky enough to receive an Apple Watch as a leaving present from my old job, and one of its most useful/annoying functions when I remember to wear it is to prompt me to stand up once an hour. It’s a good reminder to stretch my legs, look away from my screen, and relax my mind for a few moments so I can come back to my task refreshed.
Make calls easier
Communicating on Slack is all well and good, but sometimes you really just need to talk to someone. In my job, I’m on calls with customers all the time. Calls over the internet can be a pain. Here’s how to make them less painful:
- Get the fastest broadband you can afford, or consider talking to your employer about covering some or all of the cost—after all, it’s going to make you more effective at your job. If you don’t want to change providers, find a great deal online and threaten to leave yours unless they can match or beat the deal. There are always discounts to be had with internet service providers.
- Use reliable software to make the calls. You may need to try a few out. My current recommendation is UberConference, as the other person doesn’t need to install anything or have an account to be able to call you. You just send them a link, and you can do screen sharing, and record calls etc. But see what works for you.
- Get a headset which is comfortable, has decent sound, has a proper positionable mic (rather than one built into the cord) and ideally plugs into your headphone jack so you can leave your ports free for more important stuff. You’ll be able to hear better, and other people will be able to hear you better too.
- Learn how to troubleshoot. If you’re hearing loads of background noise, or yourself echoing whenever you speak, check if the other person is using their built-in mic rather than an external one. Or if they don’t have an external mic, see if they could maybe move to a quieter area as you’re having trouble hearing them. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
- Take the sting out of group chats. If possible, have everyone on the call use a separate machine with its own mic. It’s really hard to hear people when they’re all in one room and you’re the person dialing in on loudspeaker. If it’s appropriate, use video. You can read facial cues better and avoid most of the awkwardness of conference calls.
Maybe the nature of your job is that you never have to speak to anyone on the phone. If that’s the case, I’d actually find an excuse to do so occasionally—despite everything I just said about it being a pain.
Bill, one of our engineers, has been working remotely for so long that he barely remembers what it was like to work in an office. When I asked him about his working from home tips, he recommended to make sure you spend time with your colleagues talking about random stuff.
As he explains, online meetings can be pretty concise (if you’re doing them right) so getting together either physically or online to chat about non-work stuff is important, or you end up with a work-blinkered view of everyone. Making these connections helps with your mental health, and also smooths over times when work crises make your communication abrupt.
I really value the time I get to myself each day. However, that may be because I know my partner is coming home each evening. If you live alone and work from home, it’d be easy for loneliness to become a work hazard.
I’ve already touched on a few possible things to try, but here’s a recap and a few more working from home tips to help you:
- Get out of the house, preferably to do something social. You could join a pub quiz team, volunteer, take evening classes, go to a meetup, speak at a geek night, hike with a group, you get the idea.
- Team up with another remote worker and hang out while you work. It’ll need to be someone you’re fairly comfortable with as there’ll likely be periods of silence while you’re both concentrating on work, but just having someone else in the room can be a comfort.
- Call or Facetime with someone who makes you laugh. Social laughter releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone, and lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s science.
- Distract yourself. Sometimes loneliness is the result of feeling like you have nothing to do. So do something you enjoy and you may find you forget all about being lonely, even if you’re still on your own.*
- If it’s practical, consider getting a pet. Apparently, staring into a dog’s eyes can trigger a 300% rise in levels of oxytocin—the bonding hormone. Our engineer Murray can attest to this. Cuddles and playtime with his Cocker Spaniel, Duncan, are the highlight of his day!
* Often, feelings of loneliness are down to temporary boredom, but sometimes the feelings run deeper. There’s a lot of support out there — check out this list as a starting point.
Reap the benefits
There are definite perks to the freedom of remote working, so it’d be remiss not to use them. A few working from home tips to get the most out of that:
- Listen to your biorhythms. If remote working also means flexible working, then use the opportunity to play to your strengths. Find it hard to get up in the morning? Sleep in a bit and finish work a bit later when you have more energy.
- Move your body. For me, it’s usually a handstand against the wall in the middle of the afternoon to get a rush of blood to the head and an energy boost. You could do yoga, or star jumps, dance around, or just have a stretch.
- Eat on your schedule. There’s nothing to say you need to take one hour from 1-2pm each day. If you’re a grazer, feel free to split your lunch break across multiple shorter breaks.
- Prepare your own food. Ditch the sad, plastic-packaged meal deal and get into cooking. You could have a menu of speedy meals you make on rotation (pasta, salad, wraps, stir fry, soup etc.). Or you can make a larger portion of dinner and enjoy it hot or cold the next day without worrying about transporting it or stinking out the office.
- Sit outside. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or outside space, sit outside when it’s nice weather and soak up that sweet vitamin D. Don’t forget sunscreen.
- Listen to music, or don’t. It’s your space and you’re not distracting anyone else so play your ambient sounds/glam rock/podcasts and enjoy. For me, one of the perks of working from home is not being surrounded by noise, so I prefer silence. (Apart from when I have a singing break of course.)
An event for remote workers
If you’ve just stumbled across this post from a Google Search and aren’t familiar with Tito, we make event ticketing software. So naturally, we see a ton of interesting events pop up on our own platform. (We do regular round-ups — check them out here).
One to note is Remote Leadership Summit, a retreat-style conference for remote leaders, taking place in Croatia in September 2019. Topics include company culture, business development, team management, and networking as a remote professional. If you’re interested, you can grab tickets here.
I hope you’ve found the working from home tips and ideas in this post helpful. Do you work from home and have any tips for us? Let us know on Twitter.