The Ultimate Work From Home Guide – ErgoTune

28 Dec 2020

The Ultimate Work From Home Guide

Ever since COVID-19 turned the world on its head, working from home was transformed from an esoteric concept into a must-have programme for businesses. Employees in nations large and small alike retreated from the office to their homes at the speed of light. They had to adapt just as quickly to working in an environment that was completely new to them, yet entirely familiar altogether.

Like you, we’re dedicated desk divers and we’ve experienced telecommuting for close to a year now. We understand that the benefits from working at home are naturally accompanied by numerous issues.

That’s why we’ve created the ultimate guide to working from home for you, packed with tips & tricks to help you adapt quickly to remote work. Read through this guide from start to finish or navigate directly to the section that you require the most advice from.

Table of Content

1. The benefits of working from home

- Working from home VS working at the office
- Will working from home be the norm post-COVID-19?

2. What you need to watch out for

- How do you maintain and boost productivity?
- Productivity killers and how to deal with them
- Productivity apps and tools

3. How to set up your home workstation

- What equipment do you need in your workstation?
- Working from home VS working at the office
- Will working from home be the norm post-COVID-19?

4. How to stay physically and mentally healthy

- How do you prevent telecommuting burnout?
- How do you work from home with others around?
- How do you stay in shape while working from home?

1. The benefits of working from home

As mentioned earlier, working from home comes with a host of benefits. Obviously, you have more time on your hands since you have eliminated the daily commute from your work routine. Instead of spending those hours on the road or on the subway packed like sardines, you’re free to use that time any which way you desire.

However, don’t spend all that time sleeping in or staying up binge-watching movie after movie. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t sleep in at all or head to bed a little later than usual, but these extra hours are highly beneficial for other reasons too: 

1. You get to spend more time with your family

For the more mature folks out there, your children and spouse might be telecommuting during this crisis alongside you. Have a proper dinner together after work and catch up with each other. For young parents, get up to speed with your children and check in with mom & dad. They appreciate it more than you think, and they are probably feeling the ill-effects from the lack of social interaction too.

2. You get more time to complete household chores

This isn’t the most exciting benefit to come out of working from home but it’s crucial for large households or individuals with a demanding job. A laundry basket that’s never empty and a kitchen sink constantly filled with bowls & plates are not pretty sights to look at from dawn to dusk. Tear yourself away from your computer and complete these chores while taking a short break from work. You’ll thank yourself at the end of the day.

3. You get more time with your friends

Pre-COVID-19, you might have had trouble keeping in touch with your pals due to work and familial demands. With the rapid advancement and adoption of video-conferencing tools like Zoom, you can easily set up a virtual happy hour or game night with your buddies within minutes. And as nations carefully reopen social spaces, you can organise that long-awaited offline gathering at the same time. 

Working from home vs Working at the office 

Extra time aside, the past 6 months have shown just how important telecommuting is for employees and companies moving forward.

For organisations: A large amount of money is saved via the reduction of office space. As a result, rent and other miscellaneous expenses are reduced. Being able to cut costs is important as businesses look to drive revenue in their currently limited capacity. Case in point: IBM was saving around US$100 million (S$136 million) annually before it rescinded its remote work policy.

For employees: Working from home lets them reduce their expenditure too. Remember, there’s no longer the need to commute when you work from home. Not only does this save time, a considerable amount of money is saved as well. And there’s always the benefit of avoiding office politics and unnecessary meetings when everyone is working from home.

COVID-19 has also shown how easy it is for employees to remain as productive as they were in the office. The deluge of cloud-based applications and tools that businesses have been using as they digitised through the past decade can now be easily accessed on employees’ personal devices. You no longer need your work laptop to access your company’s project management software or instant messaging applications. 

Will working from home be the name post-COVID-19?

Once nations fully reopen and when the global economy is no longer hampered, working at the office will be the norm again instead of working from home. However, this doesn’t mean that companies will completely abandon their telecommuting programmes. They still need to conserve cash flow as they make up for lost revenue in 2020. Disposing the tools and innovations conceived during the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t make good business sense either.

Furthermore, there are companies who have instituted telecommuting schemes long before COVID-19 existed. It was simply a matter of scaling this up for the entire organisation for the pandemic. Post-COVID-19, all they need to do is to adapt these programmes for employees to enjoy a balance between working at home and at the office.

However, working from home permanently has its disadvantages. These include productivity dips and technical issues that are harder to solve. Your company’s tech team can only do so much when every employee has a different internet service provider and set of equipment. Don’t expect telecommuting to vanish, but don’t bet on throwing out your office attire either. 

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2. What you need to watch out for

Unfortunately, temporary remote work has its drawbacks too. The most pressing issue for companies and employees would be productivity due to the plethora of distractions. Not to mention the risk of a daily Netflix binge since there’s no way for your boss to monitor you. 

How do you maintain and boost productivity?

To maintain the level of productivity that you had in the office, eliminating these distractions is paramount. One effective method you can use happens to be incredibly counterintuitive: Giving yourself a break. You would have taken the occasional break in the office too, be it to visit the bathroom or to grab a snack. You should be doing the same while telecommuting.

Also, remember to take your regular lunch break. You should not rush back to your computer the moment you’re done or eat while replying emails. Take that extra time to collect your thoughts, discover a new lunch spot in your neighbourhood, or catch an episode of your favourite drama serial. 

Productivity killers and how to avoid them

When working from home, you face the risk of decreased productivity. You’re only human after all and working isn’t exactly the most exciting activity out there, even if you have the world’s best job. Although distractions have a large part to play in negatively impacting productivity, there are other factors involved. These include:

1. Being unable to adjust to working from home
Telecommuting takes some getting used to because our offices are designed and built specifically for work. On the other hand, our homes are excellent for resting but terrible for work. One way to combat this would be to simulate your regular work schedule.

Although you might be waking up and sleeping later, take your morning shower and get dressed (a t-shirt & shorts at least). This gives you a much-needed semblance of normality and signals when your workday starts and ends.

2. People…or a lack thereof
Telecommuting removes the need for lengthy meetings and awkward small talk. However, being alone for months on end makes for a lonely working experience. You might even lose motivation due to this increased isolation. In that case, find solace in your colleagues!

They are most likely wondering how you’re coping during this uncertain period of time. Spend a few minutes after a video conference catching up with them and for those who you are closer to, send a text message every now and then to check in.

3. A disorganised schedule
Working from home doesn’t mean that you log on and off at your designated work hours, with no organisation in between. A disorganised schedule negatively impacts your productivity as you aren’t aware of specific deadlines.

Creating a to-do list lets you stay on top of things at work and remain productive. Communicate frequently with your teammates and boss to update them on your progress and should there be any changes, you’re notified immediately as well. 

Productivity apps and tools 

Fortunately, the abrupt shift to telecommuting has forced every employee to become digitally adept. Can you think of a colleague who doesn’t have a personal digital device? Exactly. These are a few apps and tools that will help you work much more efficiently:  

1. LastPass

With work comes a smorgasbord of apps and manually logging in to each one every morning wastes time. LastPass is a password manager that stores all your login details securely. You only need to remember the master password for your LastPass account to gain access to everything else.

LastPass doesn’t just store your login details for services, you can launch them right away on the platform. This saves you the trouble of copying and pasting your username and password multiple times over. Paid plans are also available should your family or business require additional security. 

2. Forest (iOS/Android)

Distractions have a huge part to play in negatively impacting your productivity. Now that you have unlimited access to your smartphone at home, this rings especially true. Replying to messages from your colleagues or answering calls can easily turn into hours on Facebook.

Forest combats this by gamifying concentration. Fire it up when you want to focus on a task at hand. Estimate how long you’ll need to complete it and set the timer. A virtual tree will grow as you remain in the app while the timer counts down. However, it will ‘die’ if you exit the app. You receive ‘coins’ for each successful planting session to unlock new tree designs. 

3. Grammarly

Whether you’re a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist or photographer who prefers communicating visually, there’s no way to avoid writing at work. This problem is exacerbated since everyone is communicating mainly via instant messaging or email now.

Grammarly is like autocorrect on steroids, providing comprehensive writing suggestions for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The best part? This writing assistant is free and downloadable across multiple platforms (Windows, MacOS, Android, etc). Should you require additional assistance, there are paid plans available for personal and enterprise use. 

3. How to set up your home workstation 

Not everyone is a tech geek and for the ones who are, they might not have a PC at home that’s appropriate for their job either. PC aside, not all homes have been configured for effective telecommuting or even feature enough space to do so. This section will help you set up the perfect home office, so you can stop working on your couch or worse, in bed. 

What equipment do you need in your workstation?

1. A good chair
If you had a rickety office chair at work, don’t subject yourself to the same torture at home. Purchasing an ergonomic office chair might punch a sizeable hole in your wallet, but it will finally rid you of those irritating aches and pains. Look for a chair that has lumbar support, a durable build, and multiple points of adjustment. These features ensure that the chair conforms to your body as much as possible, letting you sit comfortably from the moment you clock in.

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2. A large desk

Or one that is large enough at least. An amply sized desk lets you accommodate your laptop, smartphone, and other accessories that you need. A cramped desk will make anyone feel uneasy, especially when you’re working in the comfort of your own home. If you are a workaholic or require a lot of equipment – multiple monitors for example – ensure that your desk can hold a large amount of weight. Solid wood tables are a good start.

3. A proper monitor
If you’re a graphic designer or editor, you’d know why a proper desktop monitor is essential to getting your job done and done well. Even if your job is heavy on administrative duties, squinting at your laptop’s screen for hours isn’t exactly comfortable. For the best viewing experience, purchase a monitor that your work computer’s graphics card can support. To be safe, this usually ranges between 23 and 27 inches.

4. A stable internet connection
Granted, this is a service rather than a tool. However, it is essential that you have an internet connection that is comparable to your office’s, if not better. When you can upload & download files quicker and access websites more efficiently, your tasks will be completed faster. You can reap the benefits of a good internet connection after work as well, whether to stream your favourite movies or for online games.

5. Earphones/Headphones
Your earphones/headphones were godsends during pre-COVID-19 commutes. Expect them to serve you equally well when you telecommute, considering the number of virtual meetings you’ll attend and higher noise levels you’ll face. You might want to invest in a pair that features noise cancellation if you don’t currently own one. These drown out ambient noise, letting you relegate the din from hot-headed neighbours and loud leaf blowers to the past. 

What does the ideal home office look like?

The ideal home office varies because everyone has a different job and a unique working style. But there are some must-haves in your home office, no matter your occupation. These will help you to work more efficiently and in greater comfort.

Your home office’s lighting should feature a good amount of natural light and artificial light. However, there should not be too much light due to the glare that results from it. Install curtains or blinds for the window at your workspace to tailor the amount of light streaming in during the day. For your light bulbs, you might want to use adjustable LEDs to fine-tune the level of light as you approach the end of the day.

Your workspace at home should be organised. Even if you work with a lot of tools or documents, you should be able to find everything that you need quickly and easily. Desk drawers, organisers, and cupboards will ensure that you aren’t scrambling for that one document that needs to be scanned immediately. Having a set of office supplies that you’d always use at your pre-COVID-19 workplace will also ensure that the rest of your home is organised and not ransacked daily.

Lastly, your home workstation should be in a separate area of your home, if possible. You should not be working at the dining table, on the couch, or in bed. Having a separate home workstation lets you know clearly when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to get busy. This gives you the opportunity to remove as many distractions as possible and concurrently lets your family know when you are working. 

But does a home office have to be expensive?

Setting up the ideal home workstation might require a lot of organisation due to how sudden the transition to remote work was, but it does not need to be expensive. After all, this is a space that’s dedicated to work and one that you’ll only use occasionally as companies start returning to the office. The equipment and supplies you purchase do not need to be top of the line unless your occupation requires it. 

4. How to stay physically and mentally healthy

Remote work was an excellent way for companies around the world to enforce social distancing and stave the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the daily schedules that we have adopted for months to years went into the bin.

Creating new habits and routines is a nerve-wracking affair, especially when your work and personal space are now one and the same. This section will help you and your family keep on top of things physically and mentally. 

How do you prevent telecommuting burnout?

Although businesses were initially worried about decreased productivity, there’s a bigger problem now: burnout. Our work-life balance is quite literally hanging in the balance as employees clock more hours to prove their worth and avoid getting axed.

One way to stop this would be to communicate. Specifically, over-communicate. Update your boss and teammates frequently regarding what you are working on and what you have completed. However, do not flood their inbox with messages and disrupt what they’re doing. Communicate more than you usually would but use your professional judgement to determine when to stop.

Another easy way to stop overworking would be to…just stop. Stop working overtime if you don’t need to. If you aren’t working on something that needs to be submitted ASAP, clock out like you would pre-COVID-19. There’s always an email to reply to and work to be done, so continue with a fresh body and mind the next morning. 

How do you work from home with others around?

COVID-19 has practically everyone spending more than their fair share of time at home. Despite students slowly returning to campus, extracurricular activities have been pared down. Senior citizens are also encouraged to spend more time at home because they face a great risk in developing severe illness if they are infected with the novel coronavirus. Ditto for adults of all ages, who are mostly telecommuting. How do you work from home effectively with so many people around in that case? 

1. Set rules
Just because everyone is at home without any supervision from their bosses doesn’t mean that it’s family fun time all the time. For your parents, spouse, and older children, understanding this should not be a problem. But younger children will have a harder time grasping the concept that you aren’t always available, even though you’re at home most of the time. Conversely, respect the rules that your family members have set too.

2. Work together
No, not literally. Have a discussion with your family regarding each other’s working or studying hours…for the ones who are old enough to speak anyway. Ensure that you don’t interrupt one another and find a common time for family meals and leisure activities. Being Zoom-bombed by your spouse the first time around is funny, but 6 months into telecommuting? Unprofessional.

3. Be flexible
Although there are fixed hours for work and for studying (mostly), younger children and older adults have needs that require a more dynamic response. Your toddlers might have an issue or act up unexpectedly or mom & dad might require your help with an urgent matter. Remember what we said about taking breaks just now? You can definitely spare a few minutes to help your family out. 

How do you stay in shape while working from home?

It’s hard to be active when you’re at home 24/7. Your couch, bed, TV, video games, and other creature comforts are all vying for your attention before and after work. As for the coup de grace? Your daily commute has been eliminated and you can get pretty much anything delivered now. But this massive reduction in movement won’t conserve your energy. In fact, it will leave you feeling a lot more sluggish and affect your health badly down the road.

Staying in shape while working from home isn’t difficult at all. Heck, you won’t even need a single dumbbell or any extensive preparation for the following exercises. But remember to stretch before and after exercising, especially if you have been stationary for hours:

1. Push-ups
The quintessential punishment for conscripts can either be a workout on its own or as part of a more holistic exercise regime. Not only does it strengthen your triceps, your core and pectoral muscles benefit from this single exercise too. If your workouts are becoming monotonous, mix it up with wide push-ups and narrow/diamond push-ups.

2. Squats
Although squats are easy to perform – you’re just mimicking the act of sitting on a chair after all - they are the perfect exercise no matter how old you are. Not only are you training your quadriceps and glutes, you’re increasing your core strength as you need to remain stable while you lower and raise yourself.

3. Burpees
This is a full-body exercise that boosts your cardiovascular health and strengthens your leg muscles. Although it might look difficult, all you’re doing is squatting into a plank position before tucking your knees in dynamically and standing up again. Add in a jump at the end and a push-up while you’re in the plank position for an added kick.  

In closing

Congratulations! You have reached the end of our ultimate guide to working from home. We hope that we have helped you and your family smoothly transition to remote working or made the telecommuting experience better for them. Please share this with your colleagues and friends who might find this useful. They might even have a few more tips for you.

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