The U.S. census lacks conclusive data on telecommuting, but research from Global Workplace Analytics suggests that about half of the workforce at least has the option to work from home on occasion, if not every day.
That means you’re likely going to need a home office -- and a good one, at that. When you’re doing more than just checking emails, your office has to become a refuge from distractions in the rest of your home. And that requires a supercharged setup to keep you focused you against whatever the rest of your household has going on.
Enhance Your Work Superpower Through Access to Natural Light
Windows score high on the list of coveted office features, and for good reason: natural light aids performance, improving focus and concentration. The pillar of all this seems to be sleep—in studies, workers who are exposed to daylight throughout the workday average about 46 minutes more sleep per night.
Day-lighting offices—even home offices—by placing desks close to windows helps to regulate circadian rhythms, the body’s “master clock.” That means you’re naturally alert when you should be, and sleepier when night falls. It’s a long route to take to improve productivity, but it works. Of course, temperature plays a part in the equation, too. Notably, researchers from Cornell found that workers make around 44 percent more mistakes when they’re in a colder room. So if the rooms in your home office are drafty or chilly, you might want to think about installing some replacement windows before you permanently move your desk under them.
Take Breaks Seriously with a Dedicated “Break Room”
One of the paradoxes about hard work is that it doesn’t always pay to work harder—at least not without some dedicated break time in between sprints. When a project is urgent or a deadline is imminent, it’s easy to keep going and going until you’re all but spent. Researchers have long noted the effect that time off has on worker’s performance, specifically their productivity. However, breaks taken throughout the day are similarly effective.
One method that demonstrates highly positive results is the Pomodoro technique. Here, you work for 25 minutes straight, then break for five. After four of these work/break intervals, you take a full break for 25 minutes.
This strategy works especially well for creatives or roles that require intense problem-solving, since it offers a way to disconnect from the task at hand, which is often when new ideas and solutions present themselves. In a home office, however, it’s easy to get sucked back into the fray, so if you have the space, it’s not a bad idea to set up a designated break area within the room or even in another part of your home. Include access to creatively fulfilling tasks, like relaxing music to listen to or a journal to write in.
Making Communication More Meaningful, Not Plentiful
How many times have you checked your email today? The answer is probably “too many.” When you first branch off into remote working, there’s a real fear that you’ll be isolated from the most important events in the office. That can make you hover obsessively over the refresh button—but all that checking saps your cognitive resources. Switching back and forth from email to various tasks overloads your memory, which means you have less mental bandwidth available when you do settle back into work.
Especially if you had to do some coaxing to sell your supervisors on the work-from-home thing, it may feel as though you need to make a strong showing by returning emails quickly. An article on Harvard Business Review suggests a winning formula: schedule bulk “email breaks” throughout the day to read, respond, and delete emails. Whether it’s three or four times a day, you’ll likely feel more focused without this constant interruption.
If your office uses Slack, Google Hangouts or any other chat program, though, you’ll have to do more than that. According to surveys by Gallup, the average worker gets interrupted every three minutes, while it can take up to 23 minutes to get back on track. Those are pretty staggering odds, but the good news with at-home offices is that you’ve just eliminated one source of interruptions: the office drop-by.
If you’re expected to be on chat 9 to 5, one of the best ways to make sure you don’t avoid focus-intensive work is by getting that work done early. If you can, try arriving to the office a few hours early or getting back online for a few hours in the evening—trust me, it feels a lot less oppressive when you can wear your pajamas.