Since 2014, I've worked from home at some capacity. At my last two jobs, I started out as in-office but after a year became full-time remote. I had very positive experiences working from home so I joined my current company as full-time remote employee and have been enjoying it for 2.5 years now.
When many people became remote all of a sudden, I saw many struggle to feel productive and with feeling very overwhelmed by the experience. It's totally understandable especially considering the circumstances. The pandemic has definitely made it a stressful situation.
I thought I'd write up some tips for those that may still be working remotely and not really feeling as effective. Or maybe you're being given the option to continue to work remotely and you just need a better system to feel more productive.
1. Create your schedule/boundaries
You can use your calendar on your computer or a daily planner like me but really the point here is to manage your time. It's easier to accomplish things when you see what you have for that day and can break up your time with goals in mind.
I find it better to keep some things off of a screen so a daily planner that allows you to also track goals works great for me. I write in my scheduled meetings and know that my empty slots are time I'll spend working. If I want to also block out time to make sure I step away from my computer for lunch, I can do that too. My planner lets me set daily habits I want to get done that week and also write down daily goals.
Only work during the hours you have planned out to work - once you step away from your desk/workspace, leave the work there too. Don't add your work email/chat to your personal device.
If you have home chores to do, do them before or after your work time OR during your lunch time if you have to. Just try not to let it interrupt whatever flow you may be in with your work.
2. Have a morning routine on work days
Brush your teeth. Shower. Put on clean clothes. Meditate. Take a 10 minute walk. Take your dog out. Anything. Do something in the morning that makes you feel fresh for the day. If you have a standup meeting first thing in the morning like me, set your camera to be on by default (scary, I know!) - that way you have some motivation to at least put on a clean shirt and wash your face. You might choose to turn if off before joining the meeting but you should really try to convince yourself to leave it on most days.
3. Communication is everything
If you're going to step away for more than 30 minutes - let your team know, sure.
One of the most important skills you can develop while working remotely is being able to communicate effectively. Find out who to reach out to for any dependencies or questions you may have while working on a task. Reach out when you need to. Be aware of and use any resources you may need to accomplish the work - company wiki pages, a manager, another team, documentation.
Don't just wait for answers - write a concise email/message to get exactly the information you need.
Take notes and ask clarifying questions in meetings. Try to only have your meeting window opened during a meeting and focus on what's being discussed rather than trying to work during it.
4. Setup your workspace
Pens. Sticky notes. A notebook. A daily planner. A small whiteboard... or a slightly big one. A comfortable chair (I recommend the Ergo 2). Make your workspace feel like a workspace. Always have something nearby to write with and write on because there's a decent chance you'll eventually need it. Yeah, you can use your computer to take notes but sometimes that may be distracting (especially if someone is sharing their screen and you want to be able to see everything clearly).
The more you can make it feel like a workspace, the better you'll get at only associating it with work so that you're not sitting there during the evening or weekend. Disconnect from it as much as you can during the evenings/weekends/holidays.
5. Making time for moving
During your lunch time, go on a 10-20 minute walk or get some dumbbells to feel a bit more energetic for the rest of the day. Without your normal office job where you may be prompted to walk more, you could find yourself taking less steps than usual. The goal is to not only step away from your desk but finding something to find you moving a little more helps reenergize you and lets you clear your mind a little.
I like to listen to a podcast and take a 20-30 minute walk. I live in Texas so a walk in the middle of a summer day isn't ideal - those walks will get pushed to the very beginning of the day or evening. So instead, I like to grab some dumbbells or the kettlebell and do a small routine. Anything is better than nothing, after all.
If you have a Fitbit, you can set an hourly reminder to take 250 steps each hour which is also quite helpful to get you moving and away from your desk. I am sure other wearable tech has a similar feature.
6. Have fun
Definitely feel free to have casual conversations with your team members/coworkers. You would do it if you were in person so don't be afraid to get to know them online too! Send GIFs, share pictures of your dog, etc. :)