Working from home has long been the dream of many office employees. There's a certain freedom that comes with having a commute that can be measured in steps and not miles, and in the ability to work in comfortable clothing from your own home.
However, when office workers around the world were asked to work from home to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19, being productive from the house can, at times, be challenging.
Firstly, not all of us have the technological infrastructure to do our jobs while working from home. In most cases, this just means that your internet isn't fast enough. However, there are other obstacles to being our most productive selves while at home – many of the comforts we enjoy from this arrangement can quickly become distractions.
Working from home is very rewarding when you've got the right setup that allows you to be at your productive best. Read the guide below to find out how you can improve and streamline your home office setup.
Speed Up Your Internet
To be as productive as possible when working from home, you need to ensure you have the best possible internet connection. Typically, if your internet is not performing up to standard, you will be able to tell quite easily. Signs your internet is not up to the task include:
- Slow load times for media-rich sites
- Poor video streaming
- Dropped or poor-quality video and/or audio calls
- Prolonged downloads
If you're experiencing this, then your internet needs to be improved. We can only imagine the frustration you must be experiencing while trying to do your job.
However, even if you're not experiencing this, your internet might still not be performing up to its capabilities. We suggest you run some internet speed tests, such as this one from Ookla, and compare the results to what your internet service provider says you should be getting.
If actual internet speeds are way below those advertised, you may want to switch providers or change your service plan so that you're not paying for something you're not getting.
But before you do this, we suggest you take the following measures first, as they might be able to improve internet performance without you having to deal with ISP customer service, which we all know can be frustrating at times.
Here are some of the things you can do to make sure your internet is running at full throttle:
Move Closer to Your Connection
The first potential fix is a straightforward one, but it can have a tremendous impact, especially if you've currently set up your workspace on the other side of the house from your router.
If this is the case, the first thing you'll want to do is simply move closer to the router and check to see if the connection speeds up. If it does – verified either by running speed tests or just observing how things go while performing certain tasks – then you've found your problem. The solution to this is either to move your office closer to the router or move the router closer to your workspace.
One issue might be the materials that separate you from your router. Walls that contain metal beams, for example, are going to cut off WiFi signals and reduce overall range.
For those living in large homes, moving both yourself and the router might be impractical. You'll want to get a WiFi extender in these instances, which will pick up the signal from your router and boost it to other parts of the home.
Upgrade Your Equipment
If this doesn't impact your internet speed, the next thing you might want to try is upgrading your equipment.
Start by checking your router and modem. Look up their specifications by doing a Google search of their serial or model numbers. This will tell you the maximum connection speeds that they can handle. It's quite likely that older devices will not be able to handle your current connection capacity (which you can check by looking at your service plan).
Before you go out and buy a new router or modem, check with your service provider. In most cases, we rent one or both of these devices. In these situations, ISPs will often replace your outdated equipment for free; having better equipment on their network improves overall performance, giving them an incentive to keep you up-to-date.
Another thing to look at is the devices you're using to access the internet. Older computers and phones simply won't be equipped to handle the amount of data that can move across newer, faster networks.
To test this, find someone with a more recent device and then run a speed test on their device. Compare the results with those on your device, and if the difference is significant, it might be time to invest in something newer.
Change Your Connection Type
One way to upgrade your internet speed is to change the type of internet you use. For those who don't know the main connections, in order from slowest to fastest, are:
If you're using a DSL or satellite connection and are unhappy with your service, you may want to consider switching to a cable or, if possible, fiber optic connection. If you already have cable or fiber optic internet but find it unsatisfactory, it might be time to upgrade your service.
Upgrade Your Internet Connection
If you've tried these tactics out already and still aren't happy with your internet, it might be time to improve your service.
But before you call up your ISP or a competitor, spend some time looking at bandwidth. How many people are usually using the internet at any given time? And when they are online, what are they doing?
It's possible your internet is actually up to the task but is being slowed down because most of the activity it has to deal with comes at one time. If this is the case, a solution would be to work things out so that not everyone in the home is online at the same time. This isn't always practical, and so it might be that you need to upgrade your connection to something that is better able to handle the load that you and the others in your home put on it.
Set Up Your Office
With your internet connection sorted, you are now well on your way to being a work-from-home productivity guru. However, just having good internet does not automatically get you motivated to work. Instead, you need to combine this technological capacity with a good home office design, as well as a sound approach to work. Do this, and you will surprise yourself with just how much you're able to get done working from home.
Make a Separate Space
If you're new to working from home – or can remember back to when you first started – you've probably noticed how hard it is to get used to the feeling that your work and living spaces are the same. It's usually a good idea to try and minimize this as much as possible by creating a separate, dedicated workspace.
Ideally, this will be a room that serves no other purpose than as your office, and that also has a door that can be closed. However, we recognize this isn't always possible, so the next best thing is to have a section of a room as your designated workspace.
The reason this is so important is that it helps our brains delineate between work and play time. After some time working from home, the office space we've established becomes associated with productivity, and so when we sit down in it, it's easier to get into work mode. If we use spaces that are also used for leisure and relaxation, then it's much tougher to get into that mode as our brains aren't quite sure what our intentions are when we enter a specific space in our home.
Creating this distinction requires you to physically separate space and have some discipline to make sure that you're not mixing uses and making it more difficult for your brain to know when it's time to work.
Invest In Good Equipment
If you're going to go to the effort to fix up your internet and set up a dedicated workspace, you should also invest in the right office equipment.
This refers to your technology – computers, phones, speakers, headphones, etc. – and also your furniture. A suitable desk that gives you ample workspace, a bright lamp, a comfortable chair, an ergonomic keyboard, a larger monitor, etc., can all go a long way towards making your home office more comfortable.
Of course, doing this will require you to spend some money. If you're working for a company or some other organization, speak to someone in your human resources department as there may be a budget for helping employees – especially those who don't typically work from home but have been forced to – set up their office environments.
Decorate Your Office
Another thing you can do that can have a surprising impact on your home-office productivity is to decorate it so that it's more conducive to work. This might include painting the walls to make the room brighter or hanging things up on the walls that create the mood you consider ideal for working.
Light is something fundamental when setting up a home office. Natural light is more likely to motivate you and put you in a positive mood, so where possible, choose spaces that get good exposure to the sun.
When this isn't possible, think about which types of lights you would like in the room. White light is good for productivity but can feel a bit stale to some people. The alternative is yellow light, but you can also invest in smart lights that will allow you to adjust the color based on the environment at the time.
No matter how you do it, taking the time to add personal touches and improve your home office/workspace's atmosphere can go a long way toward making you more productive.
Tips to Help You Streamline Productivity
By now, if you've followed all of these steps, then you should have a lighting-quick internet connection and a home office setup that have you fully prepared to be at your productive best. Yet, these tactics alone will not make you productive. You still need to develop the right habits to ensure that you are getting the most out of your time.
Here are four tips we think make productivity while working from home much easier:
While one of the main benefits of working from home is keeping your own hours, if you don't have some discipline when it comes to working hours, two things can happen:
1. You lose consistency and waste a lot of time.
2. You don't ever switch off, and it soon feels like you're working all the time.
It's hard to know which is worse. Falling behind on your work can have consequences for your job, but feeling like you're always working can destroy your work-life balance and make it rather difficult to enjoy working from home.
A straightforward solution is to try and keep consistent office hours. We're not talking about a schedule that's set in stone but rather a routine that makes it easier for you to know when it's time to get to work and when it's time to disconnect and relax.
Exactly how you do this will depend on your job and specific arrangement, but the faster you come up with a schedule, the more quickly you'll be able to start enjoying the many benefits of working from home.
Dress for Success
For those looking on from the sidelines, one of the biggest perks of working from home is the ability to do your job in your pajamas. While many home office workers do have this freedom and act on it, we find that it's not always the best way to be as productive as possible.
It comes back to how the brain perceives what's going on. If we're in pajamas and usually only wear this when relaxing, it might be difficult to switch into productive mode.
Of course, this doesn't mean you need to put on full office attire, but changing into something a bit more professional while still comfortable can have a massive impact on your psyche and your ability to get to work even while at home.
This is one that is undoubtedly easier said than done, but when you're working from home, you need to put in extra effort to keep distractions out. For many, the big challenge is learning to look away from the phone, and we've often found the best solution to this is to either turn it off or put it somewhere out of sight. There will be plenty of time after you've finished what you're working on to respond to messages or do whatever else your phone is calling for you to do.
Going further, we recommend keeping TVs out of whatever space you're using for work. It's also important you communicate to the other people living in your house that you're not to be disturbed while working in your office/workspace. This is particularly important if you have children in the home, but even adults sometimes need boundaries clearly defined.
Enjoy Your Streamlined Setup and Get Things Done
The tips and tricks we've laid out here will help you establish a more productive workspace. A faster internet connection will allow you to do more while reducing waiting time and frustration; a well-designed office will remove all the barriers to your productivity, and good habits will let you take full advantage of all you've done to streamline your process.
Of course, this is not an automatic thing, and what works for you will depend on your situation, habits, and preferences. However, if you implement what we've discussed here, you can pretty much say goodbye to frustrating wasted days at home and start getting things done no matter where you work.