The idea of working from home isn’t new. Many military spouses consider working remotely to help them balance raising a family, supporting their spouse’s service, and continuing their own career growth when it’s time to move again.
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the world to a remote-first approach to work, making a home office more of a requirement than option for many. For those not used to working from home, navigating the distractions of a blended home-work life can be exhausting.
Even the most disciplined workers may find themselves inserted into a shifting puzzle of caring for younger children, virtual school days, multiple adults working from home, and simultaneous video calls. Remote work can also feel isolating, especially for military spouses who are home alone during the day, stationed far away from extended family, or going through a spouse’s deployment.
There are many ways to succeed at remote work. Whether you are making the best of your current temporary situation, or wanting to make remote work more permanent, knowing what helps you perform your best everyday will help you stay calm and productive.
Military spouse and author Laura Briggs has worked remotely for eight years. Laura offers four tips to make working remotely work for you: manage your time, create boundaries, overcommunicate, and practice self care.
Manage Your Time
When Laura first began her remote work journey, one of her biggest challenges was learning how to manage her schedule so she could be productive.
“You need to be intentional with your time working from home,” Laura says. “Part of it is knowing what you can reasonably accomplish in a day’s amount of work. For example, I have meetings all day Tuesdays, so I’ll never assign myself a task on Tuesdays.”
Keep track of which hours are your best thinking hours. If you’re a morning person, tackle more complex projects early in the day and save routine tasks for the afternoon.
Keep your work area organized so you can easily locate and avoid misplacing work papers. Although your coworkers may not be able to see your clutter-free workspace, your time will be more focused and efficient.
A dedicated home office space is imperative for remote work. If you are interviewing for positions, potential employers want to ensure candidates have a professional setting with good lighting and reliable internet. If you are transitioning your role from in-office to remote, you want to ensure the separation of work and home life can remain intact.
Ideally, you want to work in a room away from the dishes, laundry, or TV. If space constraints put your home office in your family room or at your kitchen table, create a separation of work-home through your actions.
“It personally helps me to get dressed every single day before work,” Laura says. “My coworkers … know I will always show up to the video call with hair and makeup done and an official outfit.”
While working in sweats may be just fine for your productivity, there are other ways to get your remote workday off to a good start. Daily coffee or tea, a morning stretch or mediation session, or listening to a podcast that you would’ve listened to on your drive into the office are a few ways you can put your mindset into work mode.
It’s also important to develop ground rules to avoid work disruptions. For example, a closed door could be a signal to your spouse or children that you are busy and shouldn’t be disturbed unless there is an emergency (give them examples of what you consider an emergency). A door cracked open could mean they can knock to see if it’s okay to come in.
Consistent, clear communication is important at work and home.
Talk with your colleagues about your weekly goals, and check in with each other to offer support throughout the week. When your plate is full, tell your supervisor, team, and other departments you can’t take on more work.
Let coworkers know how and when is best to communicate with you. Be aware of your tone and how what you say may be interpreted, especially in an email.
Talk with your family about your work responsibilities. Get everyone on board with your goals and schedule. This will help reinforce boundaries (like when they are allowed to interrupt your work day) and help them understand why this job is important to you.
Practice Self Care
Working remotely, while more flexible, requires a similar self-care routine as commuting to a job outside the home. It may be even more important if you work from home alone.
Take breaks in between project tasks or virtual meetings. Set an alarm to remind you to get up from your computer and drink a glass of water. Schedule time for a walk outside.
Pay attention to ergonomics. A sore neck, tired eyes, tight shoulder, or stiff hips are signs you may need to adjust your seat, keyboard, or monitor. Move and stretch often.
Keep work hours to the amount of time you’ve agreed to with your supervisor. If you own your own business, set guidelines for yourself (and any employees) that will clearly signal when it’s time to turn your attention to personal items.
It’s easy to let work stress slip into the rest of your family life, especially when your commute home from the office means turning a doorknob. An end-of-day ritual that creates separation physically and mentally can help you manage stress and effectively transition from work mindset to being fully present for your family or your own personal time.
At the end of the day, “I turn my computer off. I close the lid. I shut the door to the home office,” says Laura.
Laura Briggs is writing a book about remote work for military spouses, to be published in 2022 by Elva Resa Publishing.