Working from home is becoming a trend worldwide due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. Some people have done it for a long time, but others are brand new to the concept. I’ve worked for employers that encouraged employees to work from home to maintain a work-life balance. I’ve also worked for employers who didn’t know what “work from home” meant. I wouldn’t call myself an expert at working from home, but I’m definitely well-practiced in the artform and manage to keep home separate from the work. With that said, I have pulled together a list of apps, products, and tips that can be helpful as you navigate the work-from-home landscape.
Top Five: Tips
- Get dressed. It can be really easy to get dressed from the waist up since video conferences don’t show the entire scene, but I advise anyone working from home to get ready for work as if you were going to an office. Getting dressed can make you hold yourself up straighter and can really improve your mood for being productive. I have attempted to work while in pajamas. All I really want to do when I do that is go back to bed. I don’t recommend it for long-term work-at-home success.
- Keep a schedule. If you are new to working at home, I recommend getting up at the same time during your work week and keeping the same type of schedule you would keep in an office setting. For example, my usual schedule in my office setting is 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. So, that is the same schedule I intend to keep at home. Working at home does lend itself to having more flexibility, but I’ve found that I’m much more productive if I at least keep the same working schedule day-to-day. It’s also easier for you to define your workday to family members that might also be at home.
- Take breaks. Make sure to take regular breaks during the day. I’ve found that sometimes I fall into a bubble where I’m trying to make sure I don’t stray away from the working time too much so I don’t take any time away from work during the day. This doesn’t really lend itself to a productive or happy person. I would make sure to schedule a lunchtime even if it isn’t the same time every day. Make sure to take a look at your schedule for the day and block out some time for a lunch break. I would also recommend getting up and walking away from your computer screen once an hour. Use the Apple Watch Stand Ring and reminders to help with this.
- Create a to-do list for the day. When your day begins, take 20-30 minutes to map out your day. This will help you to stay on task. There are lots of distractions when you work from home (the dog needing to go out, someone putting dishes away in the background, etc.) so when you get distracted and aren’t sure what to do next, you can refer back to your to-do list. There are apps that can help with this (some are listed below), but I actually usually revert to pen and paper so that I have the satisfying motion of marking tasks of that list with a different color ink or highlighter.
- Set up a workstation. This is another activity that can help loved ones who share your home know when you are on work time. If you are in that workspace, you are working. Period. If you don’t have a full office space to call your own, then trying to claim a space like the dining room to use. I don’t recommend grabbing your laptop and plopping down on the sofa. For one thing, the living room sofa has too many distractions built into it with its comfy pillows and close proximity to the television and for another thing, you can’t really leave your space set up easily. Find a space where you can be set up, be private, and be comfortable.
Top Five: Apps
- Slack is a proprietary instant messaging system. The app is designed for teams and it’s a single place for messaging, tools, and file sharing. It’s a very easy to use collaboration tool. It’s free to use for small teams and premium pricing is available for larger ones. Slack gives you the option to create ‘channels’ for projects, topics, or groups. For the free version, you get 10,000 searchable messages, up to 10 apps, 1:1 voice & video calls, file sharing, and personalized notifications. If you are just starting out and want to connect with team members, this is a great option because it’s so easy to pick-up.
- Zoom is a video conferencing and digital meeting system. At its basic level, it provides a free option for teams to hold conference calls (video/voice). The free level is restricted as far as features go and calls are limited to 40 minutes each. For $15 per month, you unlock a lot more features though. Zoom is really easy to use and you don’t have to be a registered user to take part in a conference call. You also have the option to screen share if you need to show what you’re working on.
- Trello is a collaborative list-making app. It’s organized by boards, lists, and cards that help you organize and prioritize projects. You have the option to use this individually or as a part of a team. Trello works with other apps, as well, through power-ups.
- Taskade is a unified workspace app. You have the option to chat, write, and share projects. The free version of this system is actually very feature-rich and smaller teams could easily get by with using it without needing to pay for the premium version ($7/month). One of the features I like most about this system is that it combines several different aspects of working with teams from home rather than needing separate apps for chatting, video conference, and sharing to-do lists.
- Google Drive provides a space to not only store documents and files ‘in the cloud,’ but it is also a place to collaborate (when you use Google Docs, Sheets, and other Google products).
Top Five: Products
While there are a lot of products out there designed to help you be productive, there are five types of products that I recommend for any work-from-home workspace.
- A good keyboard. While most companies will provide its workers with the proper equipment, there may be times you want to supplement your workspace. I have a company-provided laptop, but I prefer to use an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor along with it. In my experience, the wrong keyboard becomes uncomfortable to work with and therefore, it makes you less productive. I have two favorites: Steelseries APEX M800 Mechanical Keyboard and the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Mechanical Keyboard.
- Wireless Headphones with microphone. This is actually a crucial piece to the work-from-home workspace. Even if you have a private space set up away from the hub-bub of the household, you will inevitably still need to isolate yourself and make sure that people on your conference call can hear you. I recommend finding a good pair of comfortable headphones you can use. Again, I have two favorites in this category: Plantronics Voyager Focus US Bluetooth Headset and the Apple AirPods.
- Chair. I feel like this goes without saying, but when you transition to working from home, you will quickly notice that your $50 office chair or hard wooden kitchen table chair just doesn’t get the job done. I actually recommend finding a good gaming chair. These are built for long-term use and usually have more features than standard office chairs (like lumbar support or the ability to lay back). My personal favorite is the Rapid-X Ferrino XL Gaming Chair. In terms of gaming chairs, it’s affordable ($209 at the time of publishing this article) and it’s really easy to put together. I’ve been using this particular chair for two and a half years now and it’s still my favorite.
- Smart Desk. There are a few different types of ‘smart’ desks out there, but I personally like the ones that are standing desk with motors. Autonomous makes great modular smart desks. You have the option of selecting each part of the desk to truly make it your own creation. I also really like the Seville Classics AIRLIFT Electric Standing Desk.
- Monitor. As is the case with the keyboard, I think a good monitor is also essential for a work-at-home workspace. Again, it’s possible your place of employment might provide this for you, but if not, I can recommend the HP 24f LED FreeSync Monitor. It’s large enough to provide a good digital workspace, but still small enough to work with most workspaces — even compact ones.
When you transition to working from home instead of going into a physical office building, your view of the world shifts a bit. You learn to become more mobile and start finding ways to commune with your co-workers that don’t rely on face-to-face conversations. Even though I’ve worked this way before, it’s still an adjustment for me to shift from leaving the house every day to simply walking into my dining room to start work.