How to work from home – yes, even you

Robin Steudel – March 16, 2020

Do you work from home? With the COVID-19 pandemic, students and workers in various sectors are being sent to work from home – a big challenge for a lot of people.

When people learn that I work remotely, one of the most common responses is “Oh I could never do that.” People who are otherwise brilliant powerhouses tell me that they could never accomplish work without the structure and pressure an office provides.

I know this feeling.  “Never, never, never,” I would tell people. I even began to wonder if anyone at all could be productive working from home or if it was just a myth. That is until I decided that it’s what I wanted.

After my last job in a hectic, high stakes environment I took 6 months off to travel, camp, hike and pursue photography. I began to take on small contracts to pay bills, and worked from amazing places, like ferries and small-town libraries. It was awesome.

I decided that’s what I wanted – so, when starting Metric with my business partner Michael, I set about learning how to make it work. Here are my best hacks and favourite tools.

4 Tips

1. Set artificial deadlines

If you’re like me, you often start a project with the best of intentions and then you find timelines creeping slowly forward. Some people can set a deadline for themselves and stick to it – and good for them. For everyone else: schedule regular, multiple phone check-ins with your client/teammate/boss where you’ll update them on your progress. Book these as often as you need to stay on track.

2. Wake up and look good

Most of us look at our phones before we even get out of bed. When you work from home (especially if you don’t have kids), it can happen pretty quickly that you transition from this straight into your workday, and before you know it, it’s noon and you haven’t showered. Work hard to maintain a routine, and try to front-load your day to force you to get up. Consider starting your day with a video conference or keeping your laptop and phone in another room so you have to get up and get ready.

3. Care about your space

Don’t set up your laptop on the kitchen table and move it whenever someone needs the space. Try to set up a clean corner that’s yours and make it a place you want to be. Add a plant. Access to natural light will give you a daily rhythm to follow and make you a happier person. Find music that helps you focus: I like to go to YouTube and type “music that is good for studying” and pick a new one each day.

4. Schedule an end to your day – even if you’re not done all your work

One of the traps they don’t tell you about when you work from home is that it’s really easy to push tasks off to the end of the day, and then before you know it, you’re finishing everything at 9 or 10 pm. Instead of working a productive 6-8 hours, you’ll be half-assing a 12-14 hour workday. This isn’t sustainable and will make you feel terrible. Set work hours for yourself, and book activities (even if it’s just a catch-up call with a friend or a TV show) so you stop working at night.

4 Tools

There are tools that can make the transition easier – including for teams. If your workplace is looking for advice on how to reduce travel or accommodate remote work, give us a call. We’d love to do an assessment or training.

1. Video conferencing

While phone calls are great, video meetings are critical to maintaining strong relationships with your teammates and coworkers. While not a 100% replacement for an in-person meeting, video conferencing forces participants to be more “in-the-moment” and participate, rather than having the conference call playing in the background.

We love Zoom because it’s SO easy. Sharing screens, booking meetings between multiple people, and you can easily invite people from outside your organization to join your meeting with a minimally invasive and easy installation. Bonus: Zoom is free for meetings up to 40 minutes.

2. Slack

Slack is quickly becoming a standard office tool. If you’ve never used it, Slack is an instant messaging platform that works really well for remote workers. Try setting up channels for each project you’re working on to stay organized – that way, you can check in on progress on specific projects when you’re ready to review them instead of searching back through endless messages.

Don’t forget about the #random channel for some virtual water-cooler time. I like to send gifs. We use the free version of the Giphy plugin, so to send a gif type “/giphy” and then a search term. It will let you choose from various animated gifs.

3. Google Keep

My personal favourite tool. I love to take notes, and I love how clean and easy Google Keep is. I can open and edit notes on my laptop by expanding the Keep button in Gmail (on the right side) and it’s the only note app I use on my phone. (I have an android, but it works on apple too). It updates seamlessly between multiple devices and you can still have access to your notes and make changes while you’re offline (like on an airplane).

4. Hardware

There are endless options for things you can buy to create a portable workspace. I’m really interested in something that won’t kill my back. After some amount of trial and error, here’s what I like:

  • A Laptop Stand. I like this one because it folds up small and is height adjustable
  • Keyboard. I use Apple’s Magic Keyboard
  • Mouse. I use Apple’s Magic Mouse
  • External Monitor. I’m using a very basic monitor that was on sale for under $100 a few years ago. It was whatever was on sale a few years ago. I’ve even travelled with it to election campaigns by padding it carefully between my clothes in a large suitcase. So far, so good!