Published Together: 7 Tiny Tips That Can Make a Big Difference for Remote Workers

When I first left my corporate job and started my home office in 1999, I didn’t empty my office trash for weeks. Every time I looked at the rapidly-filling receptacle, I’d have a flash of annoyance. 

“Why hasn’t someone emptied the trash can?” I’d think.
 
It didn’t dawn on me until the trash almost overflowed. No one was going to empty that can but me. 

A few months later, I ran out of paper clips. I felt another surge of vexation. Why didn't I restock them? I shook my head.

“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered. “Am I mentally slipping?”

As it turns out, my mental slips were a classic transitional problem. When I jumped from working in a corporate office environment into remote work, I immediately tackled the big issues — client relationships and deliverables. But I didn’t stop to think through a lot of tiny details that make a big difference. 

And this was 1999, long before a pandemic thrust office workers worldwide into the same situation. After 20 years of working from home, I feel compassion for those who are new to remote work. 

It's not easy.

I’d been through the same transition, but under less dire circumstances. Still, I made a lot of tiny tactical and mental errors in my first year or so. They quickly added up. 

If you’ve made similar little mistakes, don’t feel dumb. Be gentle with yourself. Those aggravating little mental errors are normal. They're part of your learning process as you transition to working remotely. 

Now that I’ve been working out of the home for 20+ years, I love remote work. I’ve discovered joy in my cozy and colorful home studio.

But it did take me a few years to find my groove. And frankly, it’s the little things that make working from home a creative, flexible and productive experience. Here are seven tiny tips that can make the remote work experience more enjoyable.

1. Make comfort and beauty a priority. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your office — make it your happy place. Don’t skimp on aesthetics and ergonomics. For me, it means a desk that faces a window with a beautiful view. It also means an ergonomic chair and mouse. I like toys, clutter and color; while others prefer a more serene environment. Take some time to figure out what feels good for you. When you feel great, you tend to do great work.

2. Design your space with Zoom in mind. In 2014, I started calling my home office my “home studio.” I invested in a decent video camera, mic and lighting. I also painted the walls a color that would contrast well with my skin. For clients who want me to present on a green screen background, I toss a green sheet over a cherry blossom room divider. Do what you can to make Zoom a pleasant visual and auditory experience for your online guests.

3. Measure and mark your space. Every year, the IRS lets me deduct "business use of home." I provide my accountant with the entire square footage of my house, as well as the small portion I use as my home studio. If you think a tiny amount of space doesn’t add up — think again. It’s a boring legal requirement, but it can pay big in tax savings. Ask your accountant for details. 

4. Carve out your work territory. I let others in my home know that when I’m in the studio, I’m working. I use a “Red, Yellow, Green” system to manage interruptions. When my door sign is red, it means “Do Not Disturb — Be Quiet!” Yellow? You can bug me if you have to. And green means “Please disturb me. I’m not in the middle of anything urgent and could use a distraction.”

5. Rethink old shopping habits. A quick Google search tells me when stores are less busy than usual. Why grocery shop on weekends, when lines are long and traffic is a nightmare? By running errands when it's not busy, you can shave hours off your week. Try online shopping and at-home delivery. Or schedule recurring deliveries for oft-used office items. You may find hours per week...along with auto-restocked office supplies.

6. Set your times and terms of business. For me, business hours are 9 to 5. I only respond to messages during that time. I've turned off all alerts on my phone and computer. I don't answer the phone and let clients know I respond to voicemails once a day. My anti-distraction system may not work for you, but at least give yourself a system with a firm stop time. If you don’t, you may never stop working. Develop a system that lets you focus on work, as well as time to unplug and enjoy your personal life.

7. Take time to learn new approaches. Never stop learning. Take the time to develop new skills. Your library card is a portal to a wealth of online learning resources. The Kent District Library offers online business and tech skills training through Lynda.com. You can also learn languages through Mango and Rosetta Stone. Or, go old-school and download the latest digital books and audio books, right from your home or home office. 

Whether you like it or not, you may be working out of your home for the foreseeable future. Think about how you can remake it enjoyable, creative, productive and uniquely your own. 


Laura Bergells is a writer, on-camera trainer, and public speaking coach from Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can take her online classes at LinkedIn Learning  or book a Zoom one-on-one consultation.
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