If you’ve recently started working remotely due to the unfortunate spread of coronavirus (covid-19) and you’re not feeling much confident that you’re doing it right … or if you’re a manager or team lead, without much remote work experience, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Based on my own experience (started working remotely from home in 2012), the dozens of interviews I’ve done to remote work professionals sharing their journey and asking to Remoters and my own followers in Twitter, I’ve compiled this checklist with the most critical do’s and don’ts when you start working remotely from home.
The goal of this Work From Home checklist is to help you have a smooth transition and do it so in a way that is enjoyable and productive, hopefully one that you’ll enjoy so much, that you won’t want to go back to the office.
You can also check out and copy this checklist in Google Sheets to share it with your team.
When starting out…
1. Make sure to have a fast, reliable, secure internet connection
The most fundamental tool to be able to work remotely is to have access to a computer with a good, reliable internet connection, and although your home connection might have been good for random work related activities, like checking email from time to time, it might underperform if you need to do a video conference call, for example.
Working from home might become challenging if you rely on an unstable WiFi connection that doesn’t provide good coverage to all areas of your house or apartment.
Because of this it might be a good idea that you test your home internet connection speed, using tools like Speedtest and if you’re using WiFi, you work close to your WiFi hotspot or router, and if it’s not enough still, avoid using WiFi use an ethernet/cable connection. You might want to also consider upgrading your home connection plan for more bandwidth.
Also, if you share your internet connection with many more people, it might be also a good idea to ask your employer about setting a VPN service for security. In Remoters, we went through the most popular VPN plans here, that might be worthy to check out.
2. Set a specific, quiet home office space, with comfortable furniture to work from
Avoid working from the sofa or your bed, it will be more difficult to get stuff done and your back will kill you after a while! Remember that you’ll spend most of the day sitting -or standing- in this place where you should be productive and also, feel comfortable at.
Also, it’s important to set a specific place to work from, since might be the easiest way to follow a disciplined work schedule when you’re at home: when you sit or stand there, you’re working and when you leave that place, you’ve left work.
Because of this, it’s highly recommended to have “your own” work area at home, ideally a separate room, although I know it might be more challenging if you have limited space and/or a big family-. If you can’t have a specific room to work from though, just set a separate space in one of your living room for example, somewhere that is ideally quieter, with good light, that allows you to focus, where you can have a comfortable table and chair where you can work from.
If you’re working only with your laptop, consider buying a laptop stand, a separate keyword and mouse to make it easier, and if you have some extra budget, consider getting a lamp if the lightning is not as good, and an ergonomic chair. Check out this Remoters post where we cover the essential furniture and supplies to buy for a productive work from home office.
3. Invest in gadgets to help you focus and communicate with your team: sound isolating headphones with a quality mic and a camera
This might sound like a luxury but if you will be working from your living room, where other people will be passing by or also at, it might be fundamental to get some isolating headphones to be able to focus. If you were working in an open floor office before, is very likely you already had them because of the same reason.
Ideally your headphones should also have integrated microphones so you can easily connect and talk with your team or clients when doing conference calls. Here’s a post we did in Remoters with some of the best noise-cancelling headphones with microphones for you to check out.
4. Set clear communication protocols with your team for remote interaction
When is ok to send a group message to all of your team over slack? When should you do a video call instead of just a text over slack? When is asynchronous communication the best vs. real time one?
Especially if you’re a team leader, is critical to set clear communication protocols with your team so you have certain guidelines to follow when communicating remotely, ideally something everybody can feel comfortably with, to avoid “extrapolating” those bad communication habits you had in an in-person office to the virtual one: like interrupting others when working for non-critical questions that don’t require a real time response.
For this, it might be worthy to check out some well established distributed companies like Zapier, Trello, InVision, Buffer or HotJar “remote work playbooks and guidelines” that we compiled a while ago in Remoters here.
5. Establish boundaries when working from home with those living with you so they know you’re “out of reach” if you’re in your desk or with your headphones on
If you live with other people, let them know that although you might be “physically at home” you’re not mentally there, you’re working and not available to do chores at any time of the day or even, that you’re not up to have random conversations at any time, and that you will leave those for when you take breaks.
It might be worthy to also set specific rules, like: If you’re wearing your headphones -or sitting in your desk-, it means that you’re not available to speak or answer any question, unless is an emergency (the same type of emergency for which they would call for when you’re at the office).
On an on-going basis…
1. Don’t stay in your PJs all day! Shower and dress comfortably
Although it might be too appealing to try to stay in your PJs all day long for maximum comfort, it’s advisable to shower and then dress comfortably, otherwise it might be more difficult to switch your mind to “work mode” and then of course, you want to feel fresh and look good when having video calls with your team and/or clients.
2. Follow a work schedule, and routine, with specific working hours to avoid overworking
Respect your work hours by following a schedule, sticking to the one you used to have and felt comfortably with when working at the office might be the best idea at least to start with something you already know well. What you should avoid at all cost is end up overworking because you’re doing it so from home and might be more difficult to disconnect at the end of the day.
This is why is critical to establish a routine, establishing certain times to take breaks (more about this in a point to follow) as well as to have lunch and then, also: setting specific times to *stop* working and leaving your home office.
This is why is useful to have a specific area to work from home, since it will be easier to “switch off” when you leave that place, avoiding to taking work with you all the time when you’re at home.
3. Establish a clear set of prioritized list of activities to accomplish every day by using a task or project management system
Although you might have already use a task or project management system to coordinate the tasks with your team members and managers, it might be worthy to set a “personal” prioritized list of activities to tackle every day by creating a to-do list using a task or project management system, to keep a closer look at your productivity -at least at the start- as you won’t have the “physical” reminder of your manager presence anymore.
Take a look at simple tasks managers tools like todoist or trello, which are easy to use and will allow you to track your important tasks. Besides using these tools, consider following also a tasks prioritization framework, like the Eisenhower matrix, that will allow you to classify and prioritize tasks based on their level of importance and urgency.
4. Keep a clear and frequent text and video communication and coordination going with your team & clients
Ideally you should have a clear communication protocol (see point 4. of the “when starting out” section) that will guide to have a clear, on-going but also, a non-intrusive fluid communication with your team and clients, but even if you don’t, here are some simple principles to follow and personalize based on your own particular work characteristics and context:
- Asynchronous on-going messaging for simple matters: Keep connected and available via a text messaging system like Slack that will serve to quickly coordinate simple activities and clarify doubts in an asynchronous way, answering when you have the chance and based on how critical the requests are.
- Video conference calls sharing screen instead of in-person meetings: Do video calls by using tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts to replace your previous in-person meetings, in which you can also share your screen to show the relevant work.
- Video group conference calls for area coordination: Set group video calls to align major activities with your area team members, at least a couple of times per week, that will also give opportunity to clarify doubts about the existing communication protocols.
- Documenting non-trivial decisions in project management system: If you’re taking non-trivial decisions that more team members should be aware of, it’s important to make sure that everybody is aware of it, and leave the information documented and notify about it by using an online based project management system that is accessible to all team members, like Basecamp or Asana.
Having a natural, remote communication might seem to be challenging at the start, but can greatly identify already existing communication and coordination challenges you used to have within your organization and compensated by the “in-person” setting you had, and now with a remote one, you’ll be able to finally solve.
Check out more remote communication tools we’ve compiled in Remoters.
5. Take and share screenshots or screencasts when explaining complex topics
If you have a hard time explaining a non-trivial concept, it’s always easier “to show” what you mean or want, and since when you’re not remote you cannot bring your team mate to take a look at your screen, you can replace this by taking a screenshot -if an image is enough-, or recording a screencast if you need to explain further, that you can share via your used messaging system in an asynchronous way without having to set a video call in case you don’t have availability.
Check out Screencast-O-Matic or Snagit, which are screen capture and recording tools, as well as TechSmith Video Reviews. It’s important to note that a few days ago, TechSmith -the makers of Snagit and Video Reviews- has announced that is offering free access and expanded usage of tools until June 2020 to help enable business and educational continuity to any organization that needs it.
6. Keep a high productivity by avoiding procrastination and distractions
On one hand is not easy to keep focus for longer periods of times and on the other, when you’re at home you might be also more susceptible to more distractions, such as trying to do home chromes or watching a series *while* working (too tempting!).
Avoid these challenges and get stuff done in a reasonable and mentally healthy way by also taking breaks:
- Disable social media distractions and notifications from your computer and mobile, while tracking the time you spend in every site with tools like RescueTime or freedom.
- Establish boundaries when working from home with those living with you so they know you’re “out of reach” and won’t answer if you’re in your desk or with your headphones on. This was further explained in point 5. in the previous “When starting out” section.
- Follow a time-management method, such as the pomodoro technique, setting a reasonable time (a “pomodoro” of 25 minutes by default) to achieve a task, followed by a 5 minutes break, then taking longer breaks (of 15-20 minutes) after 4 “pomodoros”. This will allow you to get stuff done, while also allowing you to take healthy breaks to disconnect from work from time to time, that you can use to speak with someone at home, interact via social media, or get up from your desk to exercise a bit too in the longer ones.
7. Avoid isolation from your team by having “social breaks” and setting “virtual working environment”
Set daily group social breaks to have video chats with your teammates at least once per day, during one of your daily breaks, by using tools like Sneek.io or PukkaTeam, to share your remote work experience and discuss any non-specifically-work related topic.
These tools also allow you to recreate the office atmosphere with a “virtual working environment”, so you can keep seeing your team members by taking photos at a regular interval -that you can set-, as well as to have one-click 1:1 or group video chats with them to discuss any topics or also sharing your screen. These tools allow you to establish availability setting and integrate with Slack too.
In a normal situation in this point I would also recommend to go out during certain times or some days per week to work from coffee shops, or a coworking space a few days per week in case you need to socialize, however, this is not recommended during the coronavirus crisis, when it’s better to stay at home, not only to avoid getting but also spreading the virus to others.
8. Have water and healthy snacks in your desk to keep refreshed and energized
This might seem trivial but having water and *healthy* snacks (avoid sugar ones) or fruit with you in your work from home desk will allow you to keep refreshed, energized and avoid unnecessary distractions by having to walk to the fridge all the time, where you might also have more and “not-so-healthy-to-eat-all-the time” food.
9. Don’t forget to have lunch and take the usual time to do it
It’s not uncommon to see people who forget about having lunch or eating completely during the whole day when working at the office and this might be even worse when working from home, as you don’t have the “nudge” of others leaving the office to do it so.
Make sure to leave a full hour for lunch to eat properly and if there’a bit of time left you can use it to do urgent non-work related matters that should be avoidable to do during work hours.
10. Keep a clean desk and home workspace
Last but not least, although at the office you might have had a cleaning service every day that used to clean your desk, take out the garbage, etc. this is something that you’ll need to do at home, so make sure to leave a bit of time at the end or start of each day to do it so.
Remember also that your computer keyboard, mouse and mobile phone tend to harbor bacteria and is also important to clean them often with disinfectant products.
With this checklist you’re now (a bit more) ready to work from home!
I hope that with this checklist and resources you can start working from home far more easily and even if you’re starting in a less than ideal scenario, -due to the Coronavirus crisis-, you can do it so in an effective way that also allows you to start benefiting from many of the well known remote work advantages.
At the very least, it should become more obvious that a high number of those critical in-person 1 hour meetings for which you had to sometimes even travel far away to have, can easily become online based video conference calls, hangouts or even in some cases, emails, making the most of everybody’s time.
Also, if you’re in twitter share your work from home setting with the hashtag #wfhshot and we’ll retweet it from the @remoters account -that you should start following too in you want to keep updated about remote work resources and jobs-.
If you want to check out more remote work resources, take a look at:
- A compilation of remote work tools: From productivity to project management, communication or security.
- A compilation of interviews of remote based professionals: Learn from the journey of dozens of professionals and remote based organizations.
- Remote Work Trends for 2020: The Present & Future of Remote Work.
- Free remote job board with new jobs published every day.
Do you have any questions or doubts? Send me a tweet! I’ll be happy to help 🙂
This article was written by Aleyda Solis, a remote based SEO consultant, speaker and author, founder of Orainti and co-founder of remoters.net, who started working remotely still as an employee back in 2012. Besides her own site and remoters.net, you can find her in Twitter and LinkedIn.