Over the past few years, the world has seen an unprecedented rise in employees working from home (WFH). While many people already know how to work from home, new remote workers continue to join the global workforce every day. And we’ve got you covered!
We’ve been a distributed team since day one, and many of our team members worked remotely for years before joining Polly. We crowdsourced learnings from their experiences and added tips from other friends across the globe to bring you the most useful, comprehensive WFH guide we could.
This guide may serve as a starting point if you are new to remote work or as a refresher for those of you looking to improve your work at home lifestyle. Let’s jump into our how to work from home guide.
We’ll cover key topics, including:
- Establishing a comfortable, constructive WFH environment
- Staying productive no matter where you are
- WFH productivity tools and strategies
- Collaboration and team productivity tips
- Culture and camaraderie
About our how to work from home guide
It’s important to start by stressing that what works for some people may not work for others. Some people like utter silence, while others thrive in a buzzing atmosphere.
It’s also worth noting that it can take some time to fall into a groove with working from home. If it feels unnatural or awkward at first, don’t be surprised — this is the stage where many prematurely decide working from home isn’t for them.
Small changes can make a significant difference in the quality of your experience, though, and any effort you put toward improving that experience is well spent.
A special note to employers:
It's important for employers to grant employees who are new to having a remote job a little extra slack as they learn the ropes. As you embark together on this WFH journey, please remember to show some extra patience for technical difficulties, family members in the background, and a little general disarray at first.
It will get better.
Section 1: Establishing a comfortable, constructive WFH environment
At first glance, it may seem as though the design and outfitting of your dedicated workspace is more about creature comfort, but your work environment does affect both the quality and quantity of your work.
So what does it take to put together a WFH habitat conducive to success?
Tools of the trade
Any tasks you’d traditionally do in the context of “work” should be possible to do conveniently from your home office.
That means your office or hardware setup at home should be similar (ideally, equal) to the sort of setup you’d have in any other dedicated office setting. That might mean external monitors, a headset, a standing desk, a prized fidget spinner, or anything else you’d normally expect to have at your desk.
Creating a home office that reflects a dedicated office helps to keep your brain in work mode when in that area. You have the same screen, same keyboard, same mouse pad, same notebook — all the things that make getting your work done easier and more pleasant.
Wi-Fi and internet connection
Internet connection speed and reliability are crucial to a good work from home experience. WFH means you’ll likely be spending a good amount of time using SaaS tools and attending conference calls — both of which require a good amount of internet bandwidth.
It doesn’t matter what tools you choose — Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, FaceTime, etc. — there are few things more frustrating than audio cutting out sporadically and having to repeat yourself again and again. Or, even worse, video conferencing calls dropping entirely.
Getting your Wi-Fi nicely dialed in and performing at its best can be a bit of a journey, but it’s worth the effort to have a stable, reliable internet connection.
Comfort and ergonomics
A good number of first-time or short-term WFHers will put up with a less than ideal setup, thinking that they can “tough it out” until they’re back in the office or until they have a larger budget for their WFH space.
That’s a mistake.
It doesn’t matter if you work from home full-time or part-time; if your setting is physically uncomfortable, it’s going to be difficult to get any work done, let alone your best work. That’s when frustration sets in, and you decide working from home doesn’t work for you. Even worse, “toughing it out” with poor ergonomics can lead to a host of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs).
Instead, invest in making your space healthy, inviting, and comfortable.
Make sure you have a suitable desk and, if you plan to sit for extended periods, a quality chair that won’t leave your body strained after an hour.
The more comfortable you are in your WFH habitat, the easier it will be to focus on the work at hand.
While we’re on the topic of comfort, it’s important to look after your aesthetic comfort as well; otherwise, you’ll feel more trapped than inspired by your WFH office.
Make sure you’re not sitting in a sparse, white-walled room unless that’s really what you like. The key here is to ride the fine line between visual interest and distraction. Get some textured surfaces going and a pop or two of your favorite color. Make decisions based on what inspires you.
Unless you thrive in chaos (some of us do), make sure your WFH environment is clean and neat before you start your workday. It’s easy to see something from your home life out of place, like a dusty floor or last night’s teacup, and convince yourself that fixing it is important enough to drag you away from your work.
Pets and plants
Multiple studies have shown the benefits of pets in the workplace. Pets have an uncanny ability to know when you need a little break.
A five-minute laser dot scramble with your cat or a 15-minute dog walk can be an exceptional tool for smashing through a nasty creative block — much better than turning to social media or taking a third or fourth trip to the kitchen for a snack.
🌿 Plants are another thing to consider adding to your environment, not just because they look nice, but because they’ve been proven to enhance productivity and job satisfaction. Plants add a splash of color while also providing clean, fresh air.
Section 2: Staying productive no matter where you are
Learning how to work from home takes time, which means it can take a while to truly adapt to a WFH environment. Remember, this is your home — the same place you binge Netflix and clip your toenails.
To the extent that it’s possible, make sure you’re establishing separation between “work” and “home.” It’s easy to develop a pretty strong case of cabin fever if you spend all day working from home.
If possible, try to do your work in a different place than where you spend your leisure time. For example, trying to be productive in your bedroom can make it difficult to associate that place wholly with sleep or work.
It’s already quite easy to get caught up thinking about (or doing) work during off hours, and that’s particularly true for those of us with work from home jobs.
Rituals can make it easier to establish a healthy separation between work and home, even if those two things coexist in the same physical space.
For example: Taking a shower and dressing as though you’re going to work in public every morning can have a measurable impact on your mood and even your output. It’s a cue for your brain that says, “It’s not leisure time anymore; it’s time to make things happen!”
One of our employees has a ritual of closing his computer and tidying up his desk — a visual and tactile signal that he’s signed off for the day.
WFH: Away from home
In some cases, WFH can simply mean you’re not working from your dedicated office. Your alternate workplace could be a cafe, a coffee shop, a park — anywhere you feel productive. Many people benefit from a mixed mode of working, as it provides some separation and a little relief from cabin fever.
Some of us don’t feel comfortable without a physical separation between work and our personal life, and that’s ok.
Section 3: WFH productivity tools and strategies
Without anyone to hold you accountable in a physical workspace, it’s up to you to embrace accountability and build productive habits.
When building positive productivity habits, there are a few things you can do. James Clear has an excellent and in-depth section on this topic in his book “Atomic Habits”.
Reinforce helpful actions by making them easier to do
Examples of this could be things like laying tomorrow’s outfit out the night before so that you don’t have to stare bleary-eyed at your wardrobe while you’re half asleep in the morning.
Make unhelpful actions inconvenient to perform
An example of this might be leaving your phone in a different room from your office (if you struggle with screen time distractions).
Make helpful actions rewarding
An example of this might be giving some of the time you’ve saved through productivity back to yourself as free time.
Do Not Disturb (DND) mode
Notifications, by design, are difficult to ignore. It costs willpower to ignore them — and wouldn’t you rather save that precious resource for things you care more about? Luckily, most operating systems, and even communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, have a DND feature. This can help you avoid answering notifications without spending your willpower.
Pomodoro units can be a great tool for productivity. In essence, it’s nearly impossible to stay hyper-focused for several hours at a time. Instead, break your productive time into either one-hour or half-hour increments, followed by breaks that last one fifth the amount of focus time.
50 minutes of focus, 10 minutes of break
30 minutes of focus, 5 minutes of break.
There are apps dedicated to timing these productivity blocks for you, or you can use a mechanical timer — the key is actually taking that break when the timer goes off. You might be surprised how much more focus you gain by knowing the time to focus is limited.
This may sound trivially simple, but having stated goals for each day can make a meaningful impact on what you get done. Whether you write them on paper or use an app to track them, stating those primary, secondary, and tertiary goals for the day helps cement their importance and relative priority in your mind.
Schedule work hours
Some (but definitely not all) folks prefer to ride the waves of their productivity and put in focused work at odd hours. Changing up your work schedule is definitely what you might call an “advanced move” in the world of WFH because it can make collaboration more complicated, but it can and does work well for the right person and situation.
Section 4: Collaboration and team productivity tips
Working from home isn’t all about yourself. There’s still plenty of collaboration to be had but it just happens in a different format.
Sharing your status
Whether you use Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, or something else to communicate, sharing your status becomes even more important when you’re working from home. This communicates context to your colleagues as to what you’re up to, and in some cases, why you haven’t responded yet.
Collaborating across time zones
Adding multiple time zones does complicate collaboration, but with some planning and a few key tools, you can keep a solid pace of productivity.
Planning asynchronous standups and check-ins
There are a number of great tools available to help distributed teams stay connected. From Github to Creative Cloud to Trello to Asana to Jira, each has its own benefits and uses, and that’s just to name a few.
Standups and check-ins can be completed asynchronously, though it’s still valuable to have everyone together occasionally for some high-fidelity communication, whether that’s in person or on video. This could result in some members of the team having to call in early or late in their day, so it’s a good idea to occasionally rotate which time zone the standup is held in.
In addition to that exercise, Polly has tools to make running asynchronous standups in Slack and Microsoft Teams simple, with a running record of who did what and when, who’s blocked, and how. Feel free to give it a try with your team!
Section 5: Culture and camaraderie
Taking time to reinforce organizational culture and the bonds of camaraderie you share with your team is always important — but in the context of working from home, that effort is especially crucial.
It’s easy for remote employees to feel left out of the group. Aristotle said, “Distance does not break a friendship but impedes its exercise.”
Working from home means accepting a bit more cultural and interpersonal overhead to compensate for the lack of daily interaction that happens as a result of sharing a physical space with others.
We have an advantage with modern communication tools that people in Aristotle’s time didn’t. Try to fit in a few lines of chat with each of your closest colleagues daily. It doesn’t have to be related to any project you’re working on together. Even taking a moment to say hello or share an interesting article or tidbit can bridge the gap of physical distance and help strengthen the camaraderie you’ve built with members of your team.
We have a suite of games and experiences to bring your team together.
Recognize great work
Make sure to regularly call out and celebrate your team’s contribution. Doing this builds camaraderie, helps everyone understand the value in their work, and reinforces organizational values.
Take work from home to the next level
Working from home is sometimes a necessity and sometimes a choice, but with the right set up, tools, and mindset, it can work for you. Take care to establish a constructive WFH environment, separate your work and home life, use productivity tools, and prioritize culture and camaraderie no matter where you’re working from.
If you find you're struggling with how to work from home or how to lead your newly remote team through this journey, we have a comprehensive remote team leadership guide to help you navigate this unprecedented challenge.
Need a guide for both working and leading from home? We've got you covered there, too. Check out our latest eBook, A Practical Guide to Working and Leading from Home.
Even if you’re not required to WFH right now, it’s certainly not a bad idea to practice in case you need to in the future. We hope this guide and our other resources will not only make that easy for you, but enjoyable too.
Get actionable advice from remote team leaders on building the best WFH experience possible for your team. Our team is passionate about working from home ourselves and helping other small businesses, startups, and larger organizations work better from a home office.