How to stay productive working from home

While working from home (or WFH) has been normal for millions of full-time remote workers, it’s still a somewhat new concept to many office-based employees. In fact, as of 2019, 44% of all companies measured didn’t allow working from home at all. While it may seem normal for Silicon Valley poster children to offer a flexible work policy, and innovative companies like Buffer building a sustainable business with 100% of their staff being remote, what does reality look like for the rest of us? 

For some industries, remote work may sound a difficult if not impossible proposal. Using drones and robots will help, but any business either building, handling or delivering physical products relies on hand-on staff for at least part of their operation. But even those kinds of companies were forced to take a long hard look at their staff requirements on-site in wake of the Coronavirus and the following recommendation to work from home unless absolutely required on-site put out by many governments around the world. 

At Switch Telecom, a large part of our daily work can be done from anywhere, which is why we had a practise work-from-home day before it became officially recommended to go remote. But prepared or not, how do you deal with the challenges that arise from working from home?

Here are some tips and hacks that have helped our team to stay as productive as possible. 

1) Establish a routine

When working in an office, the routine is somewhat more obvious. Working from home opens a Pandora’s Box of distractions and interruptions, with little external stimulus to introduce order. 

Source: Medium.

Establishing a routine has helped many of our staff to keep up productivity. 

  • Start work at the same time every day, so you don’t fall into the trap of endlessly extending your morning ritual. 
  • Dress as you would in the office – don’t be the girl or guy who stays in PJs all day. 
  • Have a lunch break away from your desk. 
  • Set aside time for focus-intense tasks and block them in your calendar. 

Doing those and other things will not only tell your brain you’re working, but also remind other people around you (kids, anyone?) that you might be home but not available for them at the moment. 

2) Stay connected – but limit notifications

Technology is a major driver in making this current transition possible. Without Slack, we’d be mute. We all use our office phones and numbers from home (shameless plug: We can help you set that up for you business, too…). Shares of Zoom have soared 145% in the last weeks, and Cisco Webex has reported 5.5 billion (!) meeting minutes in the first 11 days of March 2020 alone. 

Never a dull moment at Switch team meetings. 

Technology clearly facilitates remote work – but it also turns out to be our main distractor. With the option of walking over to someone’s desk gone for the moment, we’ve noticed a huge spike in Slack messages, forcing us to be more strict about how we communicate. 

  • Less is more: Leave or mute channels/rooms/conversations you don’t need to be a part of
  • Set priority rules: For me, that’s e-mail as low priority, instant message as medium priority, and if urgent I expect you to call me.
  • Value your attention: Mute notifications of all tools and apps that are not required to catch your immediate attention.
  • Don’t be social: Refrain from using Social Media unless you have to. Somehow Facebook, Instagram and even LinkedIn have a much stronger draw at home, it seems. 

Remember – attention has long become our new currency. Treat yours accordingly! 

3) Be smart about your work space

Richard Branson is known to never have had an office. Now, considering his home, that may seem like an obvious choice. But even those among us who don’t own a private island can do our bit to make our work space as conducive to productive work as possible. 

Not super sexy, but surprisingly productive. 

Most of us are limited on space at home. Many of us don’t even have a separate room we can turn into an office. However, there are some things anyone can do to maximise an optimal work environment. 

  • Good location: I killed our guest room and turned it into an office, which makes sense given that we’re not allowed to have guests. If you don’t have a separate room, find a corner that’s as isolated as possible and feels comfortable to spend a lot of time in. 
  • Get away from social spaces: Don’t work in your kitchen or on the couch unless you absolutely have to. Your body and mind are used to snacking and chilling in those places, and it’ll be hard to reprogram them on the fly. 
  • Get a good desk/chair: You’re spending many hours every day there, so make it as comfortable and healthy as possible. For me, that was getting a standing desk from IKEA off a local second-hand marketplace, but your requirements may differ. 
  • Get gear: Get your technology setup so you can work as productively as possible. Bring home your second (and third) screen, your phone (need help?) and your keyboard/mouse. One-time install, ongoing benefit. 

While it most likely won’t be possible to replicate your work environment 1:1, do as much as you can. The result will easily pay for the initial work put into the setup. 

4) Get some noise-cancelling headphones

When I first put on my Bose QC35, I was blown away. I had known of the concept, but never actually used active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones myself. 

By now, I cannot imagine working without them. Or flying, for that matter. 

I love those things. Especially in combination with

They’re exceptionally good at drowning out surrounding noise, especially constant background sounds. When I bought mine, models were far and few in between, but at the time of writing this, there are dozens of models available, for any budget. I personally quite like the traditional on-ears (the large ones which cover your entire ears), but lately in-ear ANC headphones have made a strong push for mainstream adoption. 

As a welcome side effect, I use my as a do-not-disturb signal as well: When you see me wearing these, don’t disturb me unless it’s urgent. Works like a charm. 

So – that’s it. Do this and you shall thrive. Or at least get a lot closer to doing so. And who knows – maybe one upside of this forced situation is that we actually do discover the ideal combination of in-office and remote work? 


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