Working from home is the new normal for millions of people. In fact, many are never returning to the office. Some companies are letting employees work remotely indefinitely, finding that productivity doesn’t suffer and people enjoy the flexibility. Thanks to technology, working from home can practically replicate office collaboration.
But it’s not all sleeping in and lounging on the couch. It’s easy to feel isolated and distracted, and work can start to infringe on your personal life. The work-from-home fatigue is real.
Take care of yourself and stay focused with the following work from home tips. Here’s your ultimate guide to 21 work from home best practices that will help you do your best work, even if it’s from your kitchen table.
1. Choose a work area
If you work everywhere, you can’t relax anywhere. Create vital separation between work and play by choosing an office space in your home, even if it’s a corner of your kitchen or a converted closet. (Closet offices have gotten so popular that there’s a new term for them: cloffice.) The physical distinction between where you work and relax will help you shift into professional mode during business hours and focus on family and friends later.
2. Stick to a schedule
Decide on your home “office hours” so you don’t end up working all night. Your schedule doesn’t have to be 9 AM to 5 PM—just pick regular hours and stick to them. Creating this routine, much like creating a home office area, will cue your brain that it’s time to work or relax. It also helps family know when they can expect you to be available.
3. Get the tools you need
If you’re wondering how to work from home successfully, the right supplies make all the difference. Here’s what you need:
- A computer, keyboard, mouse, and extra monitor (optional, but helpful).
- Video conferencing and group chat software.
- Online cloud storage to access files remotely.
- Earbuds, noise-cancelling headphones, or a headset with a microphone.
- A comfortable, supportive desk chair.
- Good lighting, both for your sake and for anyone on a video call with you.
- Other office supplies like a water bottle, coffee mug, tissues, scissors, packing tape, pen and paper, and personal mementoes.
4. Shower and get dressed
“Why get dressed if I never see anyone?” It’s tempting to let hygiene and grooming slip while working remotely, but it affects how you feel, not just how you look. A morning shower can help you feel more refreshed than just waking up and opening your laptop. Taking care of your appearance sends the message that you value yourself and deserve care. Even if no one sees you, you’ll feel confident—and be ready for any surprise video calls.
5. Stock your kitchen
Remember the office kitchen, with free snacks and a fancy espresso maker? Time to invest in your own. Get a good electric kettle or coffeemaker, and stock up on your favorite beverages. Teach yourself to make your perfect drink, and stock your pantry with snacks and treats. That way, you’ll have everything you need to start your day off right.
6. Set the right noise level
One benefit of working from home is no coworkers talking loudly on the phone. Decide whether you enjoy the silence or need some white noise or background music to help you focus. If noisy kids and pets are at home, get a white noise machine or consider investing in some sound-proofing materials.
7. Set guidelines for family
For kids, seeing you work from home means you can play with them anytime…right? Set expectations by telling family your work hours and break times. Decide on a system for ensuring they’re quiet during important meetings, whether it’s reminding them a few minutes before or putting a sign on your office door. If young kids are home, coordinate with your partner to avoid scheduling meetings for the same time, so one person can keep an eye on them.
8. Limit distractions during work
It’s easy to start browsing the internet during work and lose track of time. Help yourself stay focused by setting a timer—for example, 15 minutes to read the news. Use software or browser extensions that block social media sites during work hours. Plan errands for lunchtime or after work to limit interruptions.
9. Plan breaks
No one can focus all day, every day. One of the keys of how to make working from home better is planning time to disconnect occasionally. Put breaks on your calendar so you can clear your head and have something to look forward to, like:
- A walk around the block.
- Lunch with your family.
- A trip to your favorite coffee shop.
- 10 minutes watching cute animal videos.
- An afternoon snack.
10. Stretch and move around
Working from home means that you don’t have to walk to a meeting room, printer, or coworker’s office, so there are fewer reasons to get up and stretch. Prevent sore muscles and fatigue by walking around at home, going outside to check the mail, and stretching throughout the day. Your body will thank you.
11. Pay attention to your posture
“Tech neck” is the slumped posture and strain you can get from hunching in front of a screen all day. If you’ve noticed your posture slipping while working from home, here are a few ideas:
- Avoid working in bed or on the couch.
- Adjust your seat and monitors so your arms and legs are at 90-degree angles, monitors are at eye level, your back is straight, and your feet are flat on the floor.
- Do some simple exercises like tilting your head from side to side, rolling your shoulders back and forth, and stretching.
- Visit a chiropractor or massage therapist if you can.
- Get an ergonomic keyboard or padded wrist rest for your keyboard and mouse.
12. Check your video
Look your best for video calls by making sure there’s nothing distracting in your background. You don’t have to have a perfectly curated bookshelf, though—some video conferencing apps blur your background. Turn on your camera before meetings to make sure you’re well-lit, and adjust as necessary. If you do end up working in loungewear, keep a spare shirt nearby for last-minute video meetings.
13. Plan lunch in advance
Make the most of your lunchbreak by preparing beforehand. The night before, make enough extra dinner so you can eat the leftovers for lunch, or pack yourself a lunch just as if you were going to an office. Or schedule your takeout or delivery order in advance. That way, you won’t waste precious lunchtime minutes staring indecisively into the fridge.
14. Save noisy chores for after work
“Sorry everyone, that’s not a spaceship taking off, it’s just my washing machine.” If you’re working in close quarters, prevent meeting embarrassment by waiting to start the dishwasher or laundry until the end of the day. Even if you’re on mute during meetings, the extra noise can be distracting while you’re trying to pay attention. (If you have thick walls or soundproofing, this won’t be an issue.)
15. Communicate with neighbors
If you have neighbors nearby, politely alert them that you’re working from home for the time being, and ask if they could give you advance notice before any major construction or remodeling. If they’re blasting music, politely ask them to save it for the evening or weekend. It doesn’t mean that they will, but at least you tried.
16. Get cleaning supplies
One thing nobody tells you about how to work from home effectively and efficiently is that your desk will get dusty. Keep a microfiber cloth or rag on hand to clean monitors. Set a reminder at least monthly to move everything off of your desk, dust or wipe it down, and put things back. If you want to get fancy, you can even buy compressed air for getting crumbs and dust out of your keyboard.
17. Be proactive about connecting
It’s normal to get lonely and feel disconnected while working from home. Don’t wait for others to reach out—schedule regular check-ins with your manager and team. Ask for what you need and let people know if you’re struggling so they can help. If you miss someone, put 15 minutes on their calendar to catch up. If you’re tired of video calls, call someone on the phone while you go for a walk.
18. Help protect sensitive information
Working from home can feel casual, since you don’t need a company badge to get in, but confidential work info still needs to stay that way. Don’t let family members use your work computer, and follow best practices like changing passwords regularly and taking sensitive calls out of earshot. Don’t leave your work devices unattended, whether they’re at home or in public. Install software updates as soon as they’re available so your devices aren’t vulnerable to hackers.
19. Use away messages
With email, chat, and video, it’s easy to expect instant replies from coworkers, but sometimes you have to step away for an appointment. Update your status on your group chat app before you leave your desk for more than a few minutes, ideally with the time you’ll get back and your time zone (“back by 2:30 PM Pacific” is better than “back in an hour”). Include your phone number in your away message so coworkers can reach you if it’s urgent.
20. Check in with yourself
After a month or two, ask yourself, “Is this working?” What do you love and hate about your work-from-home setup? Try moving your office to a different room, moving closer to a window, adding a cushion to your chair, or rearranging your desk. If you’ve been working remotely full time and miss the office, consider going in one or two days a week, if possible.
21. Be kind to yourself
Give yourself some grace. You can’t be highly productive all day, every day—we’re humans, not robots. Working from home is an adjustment, and we’re all getting used to it together. Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re struggling to focus or function at your full productivity. Even with these work from home best practices, everyone has off days. Just do your best, with compassion for yourself and your team.