In 2019, when asked about working from home, 83% of Owl Labs’ survey participants said that they’d be happier if they got an opportunity to work remotely. Well, thanks to COVID-19, most of the United States should be happier.
But are they?
Before the pandemic, my goal was to work from home, and, as a result of the pandemic, I got exactly what I wanted. The idea of working from home can be exciting, but the reality of it can be stressful. Trust me, once you get comfortable with the work-from-home setting, and create your own set of systems, chances are you will love it, too.
If your employer has asked that you work from home and you are adapting to this change, this guide is for you. I have narrowed down my top 17 practical tips to help you adjust to the new normal. I have tried and tested them all, and they are an integral part of how I operate and structure my days. Some you might already implement, and others might be new. But, regardless, I wanted to share what works for me with you. I hope that you can maintain your productivity while also remaining calm during these tough times.
1. Establish a workspace.
Creating a home workspace that resembles the office workspace is the first thing that you should do when embracing remote work. A fully-equipped workspace maximizes focus, keeps you productive, and pulls you out of your comfort zone.
Designate a separate room as your working station. If there is no room, create a physical divide to form an enclosure.
For my setup, I purchased a music stand to put my laptop on. This allows for great flexibility and allows me to quickly raise my laptop for my digital keynotes and presentations.
Here is my setup for sitting. Notice the music stand allows me to have the correct screen and camera height for when I am sitting, with my wireless keyboard and mouse on my desk.
Then when I have a presentation, I just raise the music stand, and put a box under both my wireless keyboard and mouse, so I can stand and use my tools with ease.
Find or purchase a nice office chair, so that you can get comfortable. And make sure you stock up on your favorite supplies and necessary gadgets to create a fully integrated workspace. If at all possible, ensure there is sufficient light (whether natural or artificial) and minimum disturbance.
Besides having a physical workspace at home, you’ll need to feel comfortable there, too. On YouTube, I share three practical tips to make your home office feel like home by getting your slipper game on, getting organized, and personalizing your office.
2. Develop a work schedule.
Having a defined work schedule ensures completion of designated work before the deadline arrives. Moreover, it lets you devote your time to other obligations, such as your family and physical health.
Replicating your office hours during the work-from-home scenario is one of the most practical solutions. This way, you’ll follow the same office routine, communicate with your colleagues in real-time, and complete tasks well before the day is over.
Since you don’t have to commute, you’ll also have extra time on your hands for breaks throughout your day. This gives you the opportunity to go for a walk, do a quick home workout, or read a book. Taking breaks to go for a walk is something that I make sure to schedule in. Make sure you schedule breaks, as well as lunch, and actually step away from your computer to take them!
3. Get ready for the day (at least from the waist up.)
My mom always told me to dress how I want to feel. When it comes to working from home, I want to be both professional and comfortable. This is why I dress in my professional attire from the waist up. Looking professional helps me feel professional, and a collared shirt helps me feel a bit more empowered and equipped to take the challenges of the day head-on.
But working from home, I want to be relaxed and comfy, so I am famous for wearing sweatpants, sweat shorts, or board shorts.
All of my Zoom meetings are from the waist up, so I guess my attire is like a modern-day mullet: business on top, and relaxed on the bottom. Do what works best for you, but realize that perception is reality, and if your co-workers see you in a hoodie or pajamas, they might think you are being lazy. So fool them with a nice shirt on top, and whatever you want down below!
I will say that when I give professional digital presentations like a keynote or corporate workshop, I do suit up, and leave my bathing suit in the drawer. For me, when I am giving a speech, I want to feel my best. And when I am suited and booted, I feel stage-ready!
While it may sound absurd, adorning a professional dress (even just the top) renders a psychological impact on the wearer and sets the tone for the day. Furthermore, if you’re to participate in a meeting, it’ll look more professional to wear a tailored shirt or blouse rather than a crew neck t-shirt. For some ideas on how to create casual chic looks for work, check out this article by Kay Hunter, a strategic image consultant.
Another important aspect of dressing to impress is knowing what colors complement your skin tone and, yes, you will actually look more rested, youthful and attractive. Kay and I met at an entrepreneurial speed pitching event I was hosting. As one of the judges, Kay’s job was to give comments on what each entrepreneur was wearing, and whether their dress was communicating the brand they were representing. After the event, I approached Kay and asked, “What do you think about the way that I’m dressed?” She looked me up and down for what seemed like forever, before saying, “I would love to coach you on how to present your intended personal brand image that matches your goals/work.”
Excited about what I was going to learn, I hired her, and after a closet audit, I realized that only one of the shirts I owned would have the right colors for my skin. I was in shock, and through a unique exercise, Kay helped me discover what my colors are. Now I only wear clothing that complements my skin tone, hair, and eye color; and when people compliment my look, I attribute it to the colors I wear. If you want to learn more about how colors can impact your visual presence, check out Kay’s articles on styling tips for looking younger and experimenting with new colors in your wardrobe. If you do end up working with her, tell her I said “Ahoy!”
4. Get your technology in order (and forgive your slip-ups.)
Remote work is a myth without gadgets and technology. Right from your smartphone, to your iPad, to the project management app to the old school corkboard, everything should be in place to enable a seamless work-from-home setting.
One of my gadgets that I always keep close is my water bottle. I have found that when I have it near me, I actually drink the water. I suggest that you have a water bottle (or glass of water) on your desk so that you remain hydrated throughout the day. Similarly, everything that facilitates better productivity and your personal upkeep should be on the desk.
5. Ensure seamless internet connectivity.
All your gadgets, apps, and tools are useless if there is no secure, high-speed internet connection. Subscribe to a reliable internet service that provides excellent connectivity at all times. Ensure the support system of the internet provider is available 24/7, or at least during work hours.
During work hours, connect your gadgets and equipment that are necessary to facilitate the job. You should also come up with a backup plan to access the Internet if there is a power outage. If your business is based on good internet, you might consider getting a hot spot on your mobile phone or downloading a WiFi hotspot app as an emergency backup!
6. Manage expectations.
You’re likely to be multitasking when you are working from home. In this case, you have to prioritize what’s important and what’s not. You must learn to say no to people, including your manager, colleague, spouse or significant other.
You may not be able to accomplish certain tasks in a remote environment. In such a situation, you must communicate with your team members and search for an alternative. Similarly, if somebody is ill at home, you must plan to ensure that their workload gets done.
When prioritizing seems difficult, try out an early morning routine. If you can rise early and complete some of the office chores, you’ll have a couple more hours in your daytime. When it comes to organization for me, it’s all about prioritizing priorities. I take a piece of paper and write down a list of things that are work-oriented and personal. I find satisfaction in scratching off my to-dos, but I challenge you to think about your list as to-dos, in a slightly different way. My friend Sue Izzo reminds me to call my “to-dos” as “get to-dos.” Combine these two strategies and you’ll find that your days are more organized and that you’ll get more things done. But remember: it is impossible to get all things done in one day, so give yourself some grace especially in these crazy times!
7. Set up communication channels.
Communication certainly takes a hit when you are working from home. However, you can set up specific communication channels for a seamless flow of information. Besides phone calls, you can communicate over video calls, instant messaging apps (such as Slack), office group channels, emails, and more.
Ensure everything is in place. Video conferencing, for example, is a crucial requirement for working from home. You should ensure that your computer and smartphone have a configured video conferencing app that allows you to communicate at all times. And make sure that you have good audio. I would also encourage you to get a webcam that is at least 1080p, so that your image on video calls is clean and crisp. I personally use the Logitech C920 HD Webcam Pro.
I also have a multi-camera set up for my professional presentations, but you don’t have to get as fancy as that. Start small, make sure that you build a setup that works, and then you can explore getting a more advanced setup.
8. Don’t skip the small talk.
Being separated from your co-workers and only seeing and interacting with them online, can take a hit to your interpersonal communication. There is something about face-to-face interactions that helps keep us connected with others. I have found a way to keep those connections virtually through small talk, and you can, too. For informal chats with your colleagues, you can set up personal chat groups and participate in casual “water cooler” conversations. In the communication channel that works best for your team, don’t spare the small talk!
Oftentimes, I try to get out of town when possible, and, for me, that means jumping on my sailboat and heading to Catalina Island. Not only does it provide a great escape from the realities of work, but it helps me connect with my colleagues when the next week starts. If someone asks, “How was your weekend?” or “How are you?” and you give a canned answer like “I’m OK,” or “I’m good,” you lose the opportunity to share something of value with people.
Try getting real and sharing what happened over your weekend—it could be good, bad, or miserable! But the point is that small talk can create more connection through digital channels (or even on the phone).
9. Participate actively in meetings. (Engagement drives engagement!)
Being an active participant in meetings keeps you on your toes. It also lets your colleagues know that, even though you’re working from home, your productivity isn’t affected. Furthermore, it keeps you in the loop as you are aware of all the latest updates.
Active participation allows you to stay in touch with your colleagues, share your viewpoints, and share feedback or any information that you might deem useful for the project. Attending meetings every now and then helps you maintain some social interaction and can help you avoid loneliness.
Many times I’m the one who’s presenting on a Zoom, but I do spend a lot of time as a participant in other meetings, webinars and events that I feel are high-value for learning. I make sure to keep myself engaged during the conversation so that I get the most out of it. It can be very tempting to pull up an email or check your Twitter while pretending to pay attention to the presenter, but I recommend giving your full attention to the meeting. One way to lessen your distractions is to keep the Zoom app full screen, that way you won’t be tempted to check your email during a meeting.
Another trick is using the Zoom reactions of the ???? or the ???? that you can find in your Zoom toolbar, to show real-time engagement. It gives you a chance to show others that you are paying attention, and it works great when the meetings have a lot of people attending. I would also suggest placing your cell phone, tablets and other devices out of sight to minimize distraction. Not only will you be more present on the call or presentation, but you’ll be able to respect the other participants.
10. Take breaks to revitalize.
Working continuously for hours can deprive you of good health and productivity, whether you work from an office or from home. You need breaks to regain your energy levels so that you don’t feel drained and lethargic at the end of the day.
I have been using the Pomodoro technique more and more, and I like it. The technique allows you to work in short sprints of 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, you take a short break of five minutes. After four Pomodoros (sprints and breaks,) take an extended break of about 20-30 minutes. Shout out to my friend Sue Izzo, for teaching me this move! We were on a call and she explained how it worked; then we set the timer and took our breaks accordingly.
At home, it’s easy to get distracted. But the Pomodoro technique will help you keep distractions at bay. Schedule your work as per the Pomodoro technique to finish your work on time. This technique will help you in being efficient, active, and healthy.
11. Stay physically active.
According to an Airtasker survey, remote workers spend an average of 25 extra minutes exercising than their office counterparts. It’s tempting to get in a few extra hours of snooze when working from home; however, being physically active will help you stay in shape and improve your productivity.
You can’t go to the gym unless you have a home gym, but you can perform bodyweight exercises, practice yoga, breathing exercises, stretching, dancing, and more. The idea is to stay fit as a fiddle. I have been working out at home ever since the lockdown started, and I am feeling great. Once you schedule in your workouts, and create habits to include exercise, it becomes routine. One added bonus of working out while you’re working from home is that your immune system may be better equipped to ward off the Coronavirus.
12. Invest in your growth.
Working from home gives you a little extra time to contemplate and think about your life. Use this opportunity to pursue something that you’ve always wanted to do. Prepare a blueprint for the future. Enroll in online training courses to improve your marketability or build on a hobby. As a professional speaker, I’m always interested in perfecting my craft. And that means taking classes and investing in courses from other speakers whom I respect. One speaker I admire and have shared the stage with, in Texas, is Vinh Gaing. I really like his showmanship, and when I found out that he was offering a digital public speaking course, I decided to take it. I’m glad that I invested in his course, as it helped me refresh some core basics of public speaking, adding to my speaking toolkit. Whatever your profession is, realize that the more you learn the more you earn.
13. Take time out for your personal life.
Working from home may seem like making a compromise with your personal life. Or, it’s possible that personal life distracts you from being professional at home. However, you must strike a balance so that you can devote equal time to both.
Consider it as if you are following the usual routine. You can work as per your office hours and ask your children to study, do assignments, or spend time on recreational activities while you work. Then, when work is over, put the computer to sleep, and step away from your desk! I know it is not easy to do, but it is necessary for your long-term sanity and health.
One trick that ensures that I am taking care of myself is using project management software to track and organize my personal life. Traditionally, I’m a Post-it Note kind of guy, and I love writing things down that I have to and want to do. But I found my workspace started to run out of room for my Post-it Notes. I have recently been using a project management software called Trello that seems to function like digital Post-it Notes. I can make lists of personal projects, chores, and activities that I want to get done each week, and I can track them just like work projects. I find that having a virtual corkboard for my personal projects helps me make them a priority (and I never run out of room!) If learning a new software seems like too much work, then try using your calendar to book time for your personal projects, exercise and chores. Find a system that works best for you—just make sure to incorporate your “get to do” list for your personal and professional life.
14. Invest in your personal brand by staking your claim on a unique domain name.
While working from home, you will notice that you have fewer face-to-face interactions with others. The reality of the new world we live in is that digital is the new normal. Gone are the days of networking events with people you have never met before. And your stack of business cards might be getting a little dusty. But don’t fret, see this as an opportunity to get working on your personal brand. Why? So that you can create a digital footprint that you are proud of. So that people can easily find you when they search your name online.
The process can be overwhelming. Believe me, I know. But the trick to getting started is to start!
One of the first things I tell people to do when starting to build their brand, is to grab a domain with their name!
The reality is that the only thing you own online is your own website, and I believe that we should all have personal websites! The problem you might find is that the “yourname.com” is taken. Don’t worry, as there are other options than a traditional “.com.” I recently got a new domain that I love. It is “ryan.online.” Yes, it’s super simple and easy to remember. See if your name is available, or get creative in coming up with a dot online domain that can be your home base on the Internet.
The good news for you is that I work with the company that owns the dot online (and other extensions) registry! Try a simple search here, and if you find a domain that you like, you can use the coupon code GINGER to get a discount!
15. Reflect on your day, and always learn.
Having a busy day at work along with personal commitments can take a toll on you, especially with the added stress of the pandemic. However, it’s crucial to spend time contemplating and reflecting on your day – how it was, how you could make it better, what goals did you achieve, etc. Remember to be grateful for the wonderful life you lead!
When I make my list I make sure that there is not only a worklist, but also a personal list as you’ve learned from some of my tips above. It’s OK to default to just pen and paper for this exercise.
I also believe that every day I can learn something is a good day. And in this pandemic, I have had my fair share of bad days. But when I look back and think about what I have learned, I see the bad things as good opportunities to grow. When it comes to learning, I have a simple formula:
- Try it!
- Forgive your slip ups.
- To get better at ________, do _______ more.
Remember that successful people are not doing what everyone else cannot do. Successful people are doing what anyone can do, but not everyone does. So, find the balance in your work and personal life, keep healthy habits, keep trying, keep learning, and keep failing your way to success.
16. Learn new things (through your ears.)
Zoom fatigue is a real thing. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had filled with back-to-back Zoom meetings of one type or another. Even when I give keynotes and multi-day workshops, it’s all through Zoom. The last thing I want to do after a day of Zooming is stare at my laptop screen for more work. That’s why I truly believe in the power of learning new things through your ears.
Yes, your ears.
As someone who has two podcasts (The 3-1-3 Challenge and World of Speakers,) I understand the power of audio communications as a tool to teach and learn. And as such, I’m always feeding my ears with new ideas, information, and perspectives, through podcasts and audio books.
Audio, in any form (podcast, audio book, and music,) allows people to escape some of the mundane tasks in life and absorb knowledge while being active. It is not only the most widely used medium, but it has proven to be more effective than reading a book or watching a video.
But, have you ever listened to a business audio book, and been bored out of your mind with hearing the same person talk in that monotone voice? I sure have, and it makes the material very hard to digest.
What if there was a better way?
Well, there is. And I am stoked to be part of an exciting project that is changing the way we will consume audio content. It’s called Business Audio Theater (BAT.) Think of it as “cinema for your ears.”
BAT audio books are cinematic-style theatrical productions complete with a full cast of actors who voice characters, scenes with action, outcomes, and interviews. The stories are professionally performed, complemented by sound effects and an original musical score.
Want to know what a BAT audiobook sounds like? Check out The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, our flagship BAT example. It’s a project that I helped produce along with the founders of the world’s largest wine brand, Barefoot Wine! After connecting them with my college buddy Matt Weinglass who runs Sherwood Players, we developed and produced this new way to consume content through your ears. The Silicon Review covered the project and story of development if you want to learn more. I am really proud of this project, and we were a finalist for best audiobook of the year!
I’m always looking for good audio content suggestions, so feel free to tweet me your favorite podcast and/or favorite audiobook! I’ll be sure to add them to my “listening list!”
17. Challenge yourself with a #PandemicProject.
As you can see by the illustrations in this article or if you follow me on any of my social media platforms, you know that I draw stick figures. I’ve drawn stick figures for over five years as a daily exercise to create fun, insightful and inspiring social media content to share with the world. Over the years, many people have asked me if I sell stick figure products. I used to tell them that, no, I just draw and share them online.
However, this year is a special year for me, as I just turned 40. Yay! For a long time, I was planning on having a big bash of a birthday party to celebrate this milestone in my life. The pandemic decided for me that this was not something that could happen. Rather than get bummed out, I refocused my energies into what I’m calling a #PandemicProject.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: a project I’ve taken on during the pandemic.
Think of it like a passion project with an excuse to get it started.
My pandemic project was building and launching my Stick Figure Store!
I used my birthday as a target deadline goal, and started working on the idea a little bit each week. As the pandemic continued, so did the progress on this fun passion project. And my favorite part is that all net proceeds go to nonprofits supporting underserved entrepreneurs, the oceans, and mental health!
The process of learning how to build an e-commerce site, and launching my new store, had its range of emotions from fun to frustrating, but at the end of the day, I got it done! Honestly, I don’t think I would have ever taken on this project if it hadn’t been for this pandemic. I’m so happy now that it’s launched and now I’m starting to think of my next #PandemicProject.
Do you have a project that you’ve always wanted to take on, but never seemed to have time to start? There’s no better time than during a pandemic, to use your creative brain to find an inspiring passion project to add value to your life.
The trick is to not be afraid to try…
Understand that the current COVID-19 situation is changing the way that the world works. Many employers are seeing the benefits of their employees working from home forever, so you should be prepared for this new reality. Embrace it, be excited about it, go with the flow, and try to maximize your potential by adapting. Feel free to try my tips for working from home, and become a healthier and happier employee or a business owner.
When you’re working from home you will soon realize the importance of being found online and building a digital footprint that you are proud of.
As more and more people go remote, it will be even more important that you build a strong personal brand that matches your mission, vision, and values that come across as authentic. If you haven’t grabbed a copy of my book Ditch the Act, that’s a great place to start. If you need help building an intentional and authentic personal brand, I can guide you through that process. And if you are a company who wants corporate training to help your employees understand the importance of being human, especially when they’re working from home, I have various workshops and digital learning that you can utilize. Visit my website to learn more. Oh, and if you need a Motivational Mug™ or Mask, don’t forget to visit my StickFigure.Store.
‘Til next time, adios!