Remote Work 101

Cody McLain


The benefit of being in an office is that you are protected from our own worse instincts. When we work by ourselves we have to become our own manager and that can be a challenge.

Remote work used to be the dream for many people around the world, yet it comes with its own unique set of challenges. Between screaming kids and pets that want your lap, finding undistracted time can be a bit more challenging.

Luckily there are a handful of simple techniques you can implement today that will improve your productivity over the long-haul.

1. Create a dedicated space in your environment to work from home. 

Our brains are great at associating people, objects, and our environment with various activities. This means we can be subtly cued to perform certain behaviors over others based on these factors. For example, if you use the same computer you work on to also play games, you have then formed an association with that particular part of the room, the desk, computer and so forth with playing games. Thus when you are stressed by say a work project, your brain will remind you that you can avoid all those negative feelings by opening up that game and flooding your brain with free dopamine vs. a healthier alternative like taking a walk.

Maybe you're lucky enough to have a room you can dedicate solely as an office space, then great! Make sure you limit the use of that room or area to work-related activities only. Furthermore, make sure you take time at the end of each day to clean up and prepare for the next day as a messy work area can create mental clutter too.

If a dedicated space is out of the question,  use a physical object in your environment to remind yourself and others that you are in work mode. It can be as simple as adding a "Do not Disturb" sign to your door, putting on headphones, or in my case, using a SmartThings button to change an LED strip around my office door to Red.

If you don't have a dedicated work-space, or even a dedicated work-only computer, then you should at least create a different user account on your computer or have a separate user account in your browser (See how to do that with Chrome or Firefox). The idea here is to change the visual cues such as your browser theme, wallpaper, bookmarks, and more, which serve as visual cues to put you in the right state of mind for your work.

2. Dress as if you're going to work.

I was once on a Zoom video call where everybody was wearing formal attire. One guy had his mom mistakenly open the door behind him, and then he panicked, hitting the desk, which caused his laptop to hit the floor, but not before revealing he only buttoned the top 3 buttons of his dress shirt. This hilarious moment could have been prevented if he followed the previous point and spent an extra 30 seconds to fully button his dress shirt.

Hopefully, you haven't been Zoombombed or found yourself in an embarrassing situation. A fundamental way to avoid these mistakes is to not skimp on your attire.

Just like the visual cues in our environment, the clothes we wear often affect our emotional state. If you ever wore your pajamas for the entire day, you might have noticed it was easier to procrastinate and Binge-watch a Netflix series. Putting on "outside" clothes was a vital part of the morning routine to the office, so by keeping it, you're helping your brain transition to your previous, office-going self.

3. Avoid Overwhelm with Daily Intentions

When you're working in any online software, whether that be a project management system like Basecamp or Asana, or you're working in a CRM or Helpdesk, you've likely logged in and felt overwhelmed by everything you had to do.

To avoid this procrastination-invoking anxiety, you should train yourself to focus on just a few main tasks each day, then work on those items first. Doing so allows you to have a guilt-free play after work and avoid burnout by maintaining healthy stress levels.

One of the best ways to avoid this overwhelm is to create Intentions. In one study, students who created implementation Intentions had a 40% higher attendance rate and a 7.73 greater chance of getting to appointments on time.

The easiest way of creating intentions is to write them down on post-it notes and then cross off each item as it gets done. There is a wide range of variations of this like the JOT Method or the Intentional Todo-list, but at the end of the day, it's effectively a daily list of items you're committing to getting done Come Rain or Come Shine.

If you need a little help, there are great structured planners like the Evo notebook or even some great Mac apps like Serene or Slash.

4. Plan your Day with Pro-Time

Researchers from the Harvard Business School performed a study on 46 employees of a company. They found those who actively scheduled time in their calendar to work on specific projects were 14% more efficient with their time, 9% less overwhelmed by the workload, and 12% more likely to accomplish the critical tasks by the deadlines.

Most people tend to prioritize urgent tasks over the important ones, which is no wonder due to the increasing number of interruptions from calls, email, or Slack messages. This can lead to what's known as "time poverty, " which happens when we don't have enough time to complete all the tasks on our plate. 

All you need to do is add events to your calendar to work on a specific task or project during that time. This will help balance out what has also been referred to as the Maker vs Manager and allow you to live a more balanced life.

5. Minimize Computer Distractions

Trying to work at home can still be a challenge even if you've created the right environment because you have less social accountability than you were probably familiar with at the office. There are a handful of tools that can help minimize distractions and keep you on task.

One of those tools is Focusmate, which provides you with a virtual buddy that you work with for a 50-minute session. It can be a little daunting at first, but for those who need a little social accountability it can work miracles to reduce procrastination.

Another common type of tool are those that will block or limit your access to distracting websites or apps. A tool I like is, which can even work on phones and tablets, allows me to create scheduled time where I can block distracting websites during work hours. Some other fantastic tools include RescueTime, which tracks your productivity week-to-week or this chrome Extension called Intentions that asks you to commit an allotted time you're allowing yourself to spend on the distracting website.

Additional Resources

Lastly, if these tips aren't enough for you, check out some additional resources below that can help you improve the productivity of your remote team.