Working from home for the first time? Use these tips to set yourself up for success (and maintain your sanity).

For many, working from home has always felt like a dream scenario. You get to sleep in, ditch the commute, wear your pajamas all day, and park yourself on the couch … right?

Well, not exactly. Now that many Americans are being forced to work remotely due to COVID-19, chances are this is a big, unexpected adjustment: How are you supposed to stay focused? Keep in touch with your team? Resist taking post-lunch naps? Not go totally stir-crazy?

If this is your first time working remotely, use these tips and strategies help you transition into this new work reality:

1. Set up a dedicated workspace and establish physical boundaries

A lot of the work-from-home advice out there will make it sound like you need a dedicated home office with an expansive desk and multiple computer monitors. Sure, that would be nice, but that's not a reality for many of us — especially if you're new to working remotely.

You simply need a dedicated space. This might be a small desk in the corner of your living room, counter space at your kitchen island, or even your couch, although the couch might not be the best long-term plan for your posture. And, hey, you might move around throughout the day. That's OK, as long as you have your home base.

It's also important to establish some physical boundaries. If you're working from home with kids, your partner, or a roommate, make your needs known. Don't be afraid to let them know you're camping out in the kitchen or if you need silence during a conference call. Of course, make sure someone's keeping an eye on any little ones.

Another key tip: Set up your work-from-home space to be comfortable and free of distractions. Plenty of natural light will help, too.

2. Get dressed

Because you're working from home and don't have a commute to jolt you awake, you'll need to help your body and mindset shift from sleep mode into work mode. One way to do this is to get dressed.

No, you don't have to dress up like you're going into the office (unless you want). You simply need to change out of your pajamas. Of course, if you're hopping on a video call with a manager or co-workers, you'll want to look presentable. 

But otherwise dress how you'd like. There's nothing wrong with wearing yoga pants or gym shorts all day, as long as you're comfortable and can stay focused. After all, one of the big perks of working from home is being comfortable, so take advantage of it.

3. Determine the best morning routine for you

Working from home is a lot like going into work in that we all have different morning routine preferences. Some people like to wake up at least three hours before work so they can go to the gym, read the news, and cook an extravagant breakfast. Others like to sleep as late as possible and spend a limited amount of time getting ready for their day.

Because working from home is new to you, give yourself a few days to establish your routine. Are you most productive when you wake up early and workout? Or are you good with sleeping in and waking up just in time to get dressed, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and sign on to your computer? There's no single right way to do this; it's just what works best for you and your mindset.

4. Stay connected

When working remotely, it's super important to keep in touch with your manager and your co-workers. If your team already uses virtual communication tools — Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. — make sure you feel comfortable using these. If your team doesn't use telecommuting tools already, suggest setting some of these channels to help everyone stay connected.

You might also suggest holding daily or weekly morning video huddles; since you're not physically sitting with your teammates, it's important to still get face-to-face time. A morning or weekly video check-in will help ensure everyone's on the same page and staying productive.

Also, remember that working from home can quickly become isolating. If you're missing human interaction, ask a co-worker if they want to have a virtual lunch meeting. You can eat lunch together and catch up through video chat. If you're needing some fresh air, you could also suggest a virtual walk-and-talk. You'll be able to get some fresh air and also catch up on work through the phone.

Simply make yourself available to your team and stay connected, especially if this is new to you and your team. 

5. Schedule breaks throughout the day

You might be surprised to find how quickly the day flies by when you're working from home. Sure, some hours will crawl, but other times you'll find yourself wondering how you missed lunch. That's why it's important to schedule breaks throughout the day.

These can be quick, hourly five-minute breaks to stretch or throw in a load of laundry, or you might want to take a 30-minute walk during lunch. Staying active and moving your body is essential when it comes to keeping your energy up while working from home.

If you're struggling to remember to take breaks, set a timer or alarm on your phone. You can also block off some time on your calendar to grab lunch or take a walk to let your co-workers know you're unavailable. Taking these breaks will help you stay focused, be productive, and not feel so stir-crazy when the end of the day rolls around.

6. Use new strategies to hold yourself accountable

If you have trouble staying focused while you work from home, you're not alone. Your home has a ton of distractions, and if you're not careful, they can quickly ruin your productivity. That's why you'll need to find some new ways to hold yourself accountable while you work from home.

For instance, you can start each morning with a checklist. Write out attainable goals you hope to accomplish that day. You can also suggest your teammates do morning check-ins through a virtual chat. These check-ins can include a little update on your day, as well as anything you hope to accomplish that day.

7. Have reliable technology — and a back-up plan

When you're working from home, it's more important than ever to make sure you have a reliable internet connection and computer. Unfortunately, your company's IT team probably won't make a house call.

If for some reason your Wi-Fi isn't reliable, you can always connect directly to your modem with an Ethernet cable. You'll also want to have a back-up plan in place, in case you can't connect to your home's internet. If you have unlimited cell phone data, you can simply link up to your phone's hotspot. Alternatively, you can head to a local coffee shop and take advantage of their Wi-Fi — once social distancing is no longer needed.

8. Set work-life boundaries 

When you're working from home, it's easy for your work to melt into your home life. This makes it difficult to disconnect at the end of the day, but unwinding after work is just as important when you're remote. Otherwise, you risk burning out — and that's why you need to set some boundaries.

Having a dedicated physical workspace at home will definitely help, but you can also take steps to establish a virtual boundary. For example, if your team uses Slack, take advantage of its “Do Not Disturb” setting. You can automatically disable notifications during specific times, so if you work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., mute your notifications from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day.

You might also want to adjust push notifications on your phone so you're not bombarded with emails and calendar notifications 24/7. This will ensure you have plenty of time to step away from your computer and collect yourself.

9. Cut yourself some slack the first few days

Above all, remember that working from home is a huge lifestyle adjustment. It might not be as easy as you thought. That's why it's important to cut yourself some slack at first. Give yourself time to establish a new routine and figure out what works best for you. Continue to tweak your habits and adjust your schedule until you find the right balance.

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