Remote work seems like the ultimate job perk—you get to log in anywhere, bring your office with you on your travels, and make your schedule suit your needs, instead of the other way around. Sounds pretty good, right? While it definitely comes with serious pros, there are some downsides, especially if you have mental health issues, are an extrovert, or just struggle to put boundaries between your personal and work life. (Just because you can work anywhere, anytime, doesn’t mean that you should.)
We all need a little support making the in-office to remote-office transition a smooth and healthy one. So we’re going to do just that. With the help of some experts and those of us with experience in the remote space, we’re digging into the best tips for working remotely under any set of circumstances.
If this isn’t relevant to you now, it probably will be in the future. A growing number of us are working remotely, according to a 2017 Gallup survey summarized in New York Times. Almost a third of Americans work remotely four to five days a week, and that number is expected to grow. In other words, we can all benefit from making this work situation work best.
The Best Tips for Working Remotely
We thought it best to approach the topic from a few different angles. Firstly, we talked to some mental health experts to get their best work-from-home advice for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. And many of us will at some point—an estimated 20 percent of Americans will experience some kind of mental health issue in the next year. While that presents certain challenges to remote work, it doesn’t make it impossible. It just requires you to make some intentional tweaks to your schedule to prioritize your health.
Secondly, we got some tips for working remotely from the people who do it. They shared how they stay connected and content in a workspace that sometimes doubles as your kitchen table. And this is no small feat, especially for the extroverts among us.
The result is a compilation of expert-backed and experience-rooted tips that can make working remotely something to celebrate, no matter your circumstance.
Both experts and remote workers agreed on this one—the more connected you can be, the better. And science backs them up. Social connection is one of the biggest contributors to happiness, according to almost 80 years of research from Harvard.
Here’s the best advice from experts and experienced remote employees for prioritizing real face-time—and why it matters.
1. Get involved in the community
“Get out into the community at least once a week to network with others and make friends. Relationships and socializing decrease depression and improve mental health,” says Kimberly Duff, licensed professional counselor and certified rehabilitation counselor in Marietta, Georgia.
2. Join groups or clubs that meet after-work during the week
“Working remotely may require going out of your way to schedule consistent social outings. We often don’t have to try as hard to socialize when we work in a regular brick and mortar organization, because we usually interact with other people throughout the workday. It can help to have a standing weekly coffee date with a friend or have a club or class that you regularly attend,” says Alissa Schneider, a licensed mental health counselor in Jacksonville, Florida.
This helps in two ways: 1. It gives you a specific stop time for work and 2. It gets you connecting with other people in the real world.
Need ideas? Consider community sports teams, such as kickball, volleyball, or soccer. Join a book, running, or cooking club. The most important part here is that you’re regularly interacting with others after working hours. And that it’s a weekly commitment.
3. Make your online meetings interactive
Aside from getting out there on your off-hours, there are some ways to make your work a bit more social. First off, switch from Slack chat or phone call to video call. Why? It gives you the chance to see your colleague’s faces, read their nonverbal cues, and connect with them on a more personal basis. And sometimes, it’s just plain faster to make decisions.
Try to make at least one of your weekly meetings a video meeting and go up from there. While you might initially groan over needing to look presentable (guilty), you’ll benefit from putting names to faces. Promise.
Get out of the house
Aside from connecting with people as much as possible during and after your working hours, another way to stay healthy and feel human as a remote worker involves getting out of your house. Remote workers point to the necessity of getting into the world, and experts emphasize the mental health benefits of being in nature. Here are some of their tips for venturing out every day.
1. Take breaks outside
Lucas Saiter, a mental health counselor in New York, New York, says his clients who work from home struggle the most with taking space from work. Because your office and your home are now intimately connected, it can be difficult to put work down and do something else. But, as a body of research shows, taking breaks is wildly important for productivity, focus, creativity, and mood. What makes it even better? Taking those breaks into nature.
“If you notice yourself feeling sluggish at particular moments, use those moments to take a break. That’s your body’s way of telling you it’s time to recharge,” says Saiter.
He suggests things like taking a walk or merely sitting at a park to renew your energy.
Other ideas from remote workers:
- Take your dog for a walk outside every morning or afternoon.
- Don’t keep a coffeemaker in the house. Shocking, we know, but every time you want a cup of coffee, you have to go out and get one. Bonus points for walking.
- Set a goal to get outside at least once a day, no matter the weather. Invest in good weatherproof gear to make this more enjoyable.
- If you’re extroverted, turn your breaks into something social. Have a walk-and-talk with a friend who lives nearby or pop over to someone else’s office to drag them out for a few minutes.
There really are no downsides to getting moving, but this might be even more important for the remote crowd, especially if you’re dealing with mental health issues. Our experts all emphasized the importance of exercise for easing symptoms of depression and anxiety and for overall health regardless of your situation. “Research shows that regular exercise benefits mental and physical health,” says Duff.
There are countless ways to get going during the day, but one of the best tips we’ve run into so far: Don’t leave it to chance. Schedule it. Whether that’s morning fitness classes a few times a week or a mid-day run to stretch your legs, put it on your calendar. Extroverts especially will benefit from adding a social component like being a regular at a yoga studio or joining a sports league.
Intimidated by the need for intensity? Don’t be. “I always recommend my patients get regular exercise—not necessarily even wildly intense exercise. I recommend going for a walk daily, trying to get at least 3,500 steps a day, which is easy to monitor via most cell phones,” says Dr. Tracy Latz, integrative psychiatrist and author in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Invest in a piece of home exercise equipment, like a treadmill or a bike. Take short 10–15-minute exercise breaks on it during the workday. They add up.
- Take a mid-day exercise break and tell your colleagues about it. Built-in accountability + leading by example = win for everyone.
- Take the long way to your local coffee shop or intentionally choose a café that’s farther from your house. You get more steps and more nature during your “commute.”
Optimize your workspace
Your home is now your office, and your office is now your home. That’s the definition of blurred lines. Many people who live with mental health issues, and most of us in general honestly, struggle with setting boundaries. That’s where optimizing your workspace really comes in handy. Here are some ways to make your home office a healthier place to live and work.
1. Create a designated work area
“Work in an office or separate area that is only used for work purposes. The brain and unconscious mind learn to recognize what areas are for play or relaxation, and what areas of the home are for working,” says Schneider. “Creating a separate work area is essential for individuals who are working from home because your body will not truly learn to relax if you are working in your living space. This helps to create emotional boundaries, which keeps our work and personal lives separate,” she adds.
Even if you live in a studio apartment, you can carve out a corner to dedicate as your work area. Choose a nook in your bedroom or living room and consider ways to delineate that space from your living space. One creative way to make the most of your space? Use a closet.
2. Make that space inviting
“Create an office environment that makes you feel good about going to work,” says Duff. “Use bright colors and display photos that promote a sense of peace and relaxation.”
“Things such as decor and wall color can have a big impact on our energy levels and level of focus during our working hours,” adds Schneider. Adding photos of loved ones might also help keep loneliness at bay.
Another idea? Get good speakers. If you’re into music or making a lot of video calls, speakers can make all the difference in the quality of sound.
3. Consider a standing work station
If you have space, a standing work station or at least one that can convert to standing can be a good way to break up the monotony of sitting all day. We’re not recommending that you stand all day, but it’s nice to have the option.
You don’t have to buy an expensive contraption to make this work either. Stack a few books or boxes on a table and put your laptop on it. Try to keep your monitor at eye level, and you’re good to go.
4. Get natural light
Our experts all mentioned the importance of natural light when setting up your office space. Research suggests that access to natural light can improve productivity.
“We need natural lighting and sunshine, so if you have an area in your home that receives natural light, it may be beneficial to spend your working hours there. You may want to be near a window where you can see your neighbors, or where you can people-watch, which can help combat feelings of being alone,” suggests Schneider.
Live in a basement apartment or a set-back space? Try a sun lamp that mimics natural light. Dr. Latz recommends a product like Verilux HappyLight, which she’s seen work in her patients with seasonal anxiety and depression.
Get ready for the day
Another theme that emerged was the importance of getting ready for the day each morning. This can be as simple as getting dressed—or at least putting on different comfortable clothes than the ones you slept in.
Get ready for work the same way you would as if you were going to the office. It helps with setting boundaries between your personal and work life and also ensures that you’re prepared to leave the house for your breaks. Win-win.
Create a schedule—and stick to it
Ah yes, back to boundaries. One of the hardest parts of working from home is keeping the separation between hours off and on the clock. This can be even harder if you struggle with anxiety or depression. But it’s so important. Here are a few ways to keep work at work, even if it’s still in your house.
1. Work with your own body
“Find a routine that allows you to work at the times in the day you have the most energy,” suggests Saiter. If you’re a morning person, set up meetings earlier in the day and let your colleagues know you’re on and offline earlier. Not into mornings? Shift your day a bit later. Either way, keeping your scheduled hours consistent and public can help set boundaries that work for you and your body clock.
2. Set a strict cut-off time
“Some people who work remotely never really ‘turn off’ and stop working, so really they act as if they are ‘on call’ all the time. If you are checking your emails at the dinner table or answering calls when you are walking your dog, you are still working. Your mind and body need the chance to relax, and constantly being on call often leads to burn out, restlessness, stress, and anxiety,” says Schneider.
Her advice? Set a time that you shut down every night. And hold yourself to it. She even recommends shutting your wifi off for a few hours after work to get off of your screens and into the world. If you don’t want to go that far, you can also silence notifications after certain hours and stop answering emails.
Set goals—and celebrate when you achieve them
If you happen to be the kind of person who will keep working forever, this is the tip for you. Set a maximum and a minimum number of tasks you need to get done in order to have a good day. You hit the minimum number but can’t push out anymore? You don’t need to—you’re all set. You hit the maximum but risk working until 2 a.m.? You’ve just run into your own personal boundary.
Take this up a notch by adding a reward every time you check off a task, suggests Duff. “Create a list of daily goals that you will work to accomplish, and reward yourself with a cup of tea, a small gift, or a piece of candy. Positive reinforcement helps people feel good about their progress and increases productivity, which will decrease hopelessness and discouragement.” Another idea for those rewards? Take a break, get some exercise, go outside, and connect with others.
Navigating the world of remote work can be a lot, so if your mood starts slipping or you’re just not feeling right, reach out to the professionals for support.
“Learn to recognize when you are in a bad place mentally and take concrete steps to change your thoughts, attitude, and feelings,” suggests Duff. Those steps might include connecting with a therapist or counselor in your area. If you’re concerned about taking too much time off the job, you can set up online appointments with professionals who can best help you move forward.
Another thing to keep in mind? Lean on your support system. “Remind yourself of those who bring positivity into your life and give them a call when possible,” suggests Saiter.
Remember: Your mental health is your top priority, so make sure you make daily decisions in your work life to support it.
To sum it all up…
Our best tips for working remotely are all about keeping the balance between your work and personal life while taking advantage of the flexibility that remote work provides. While it can be a challenge for those of us who live with mental health issues or just really enjoy people, it can also be a helpful tool for living your most meaningful, healthy life. You just have to be intentional about your approach—and have a little fun along the way.
Your turn: What are your best tips for working remotely? Add to our list in the comments.
Facing challenges in your personal life? Here’s some expert advice on staying productive during tough times.
Author: Chelsey Taylor
Chelsey likes words, especially adjectives, and has been perfecting her perfectionism since infancy. She’s an endorphin-gatherer, top-knot connoisseur, and content manager at Panda Planner.