5 Productivity Hacks for Remote IT Workers

Spurred by the current global health crisis, companies are radically adjusting their policies and attitudes toward remote work. Major tech employers like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are making workers stay home in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and protect employee health.

Remote IT workers can be more productive and engaged than their office-bound peers, and they may even make more money, according to some surveys.

But stay-at-home work isn’t for everyone. One large-scale study of remote workers found many ultimately retreated back to an office because they missed the day-to-day peer interactions and managerial feedback available in a regular workplace.

If you’re excited about the prospect of working from home, but struggle with isolation and motivation, don’t fret. We’ve collected some expert productivity tips to keep you engaged and on top of your game—even when you’re on your couch in footie pajamas snuggled up with a cat.

  • Actually, you should lose the pajamas. Instead, it’s best to wake up and act like you are going into an office, says columnist Kelsey Libert. “Make some coffee or tea, take a shower, and get dressed in clothes that could at least pass as work-casual,” writes Libert. “Kick start your body into thinking it's work time, not sleep time.”
  • Create a professional work environment. That means investing in the right connectivity tools, like a high-quality headset and stable, high-speed internet access. Developer Ryan Wilcox says your home workspace should also have a door—and you should pull it shut when needed.  “As developers, we need a quiet space to think,” says Wilcox, “and as remote workers, we need a quiet place to host conference calls, meetings, pair programming sessions, etc., uninterrupted.”
  • Communicate proactively. Out of sight, out of mind can be detrimental when your boss and peers don’t know what you’re doing. “To combat this, proactively let people know where projects stand and what your priorities are for the week,” writes Alison Green in U.S. News. Speak up in teleconferences and be responsive to voicemails and emails as additional ways to demonstrate engagement in the day-to-day activities of the office.
  • Set limits for family members and friends. Friends and family may think that if you're working from home, you're not "really working." So be clear with them that you shouldn't be interrupted at home, says Green. You may find it useful to set formal "office hours" to delineate for others when you are working and when you are not.
  • Give yourself a break. Developers, in particular, can get lost in code for hours on end, but remember to back away from the screen every so often. Author Dan Schawbel recommends taking a 10-minute break for every hour of work. By doing this, you are mimicking the natural pace of office life. And don’t feel guilty about stepping away from work during the workday. Research shows that work breaks help you think more clearly and boost productivity.

Note: Originally published Oct 2015; this blog was updated Mar 2020.