Tips for Creating an Effective Remote Work Schedule

Whether you’re now working from home during this time period alongside your family members, or if you’ve got a furry friend by your side begging for your attention, working remotely can be a challenge. Stepping out of your daily routine at the office may be bringing added stressors to your work life as you try to effectively manage your workload from home while adjusting to new methods of collaboration with your coworkers. 

Figuring out what works best for you during this time is far from easy, but after already practicing working away from campus these past few months, many MSU employees have been able to find ways to bring structure and efficiency into their remote workdays. We asked employees to tell us what tips, tricks, or tools they’ve been using to help them effectively succeed at remote work, and here are some common themes we found.

  1. Utilizing flexible work hours where possible

Some employees have been able to coordinate a flexible work schedule with their supervisors that helps the employees as they work remotely.

“Since COVID-19 and working from home, I start my workday at 7:30 a.m. I also take a 30-minute lunch and these two easy changes allow me to finish my workday at 4:00 p.m… I feel very blessed to have some control over my workday schedule.” – Jackie Hohenstein

“A lesson from this remote work is, work does not necessarily have to be 8-5. Work needs to get done, but depending on your preferences and home situation, perhaps starting at 6 a.m. is better, or resuming at 8 p.m. As long as the work gets done, schedules can and should be flexible.” – Rick McNeil

“I learned in a training that working at your peak performance hours leads to better productivity. For example, if you’re a morning person, you work better and complete more during your peak times. I also found that stepping away from the computer for five or 10 minutes every two hours keeps your momentum going. Overall, I like the new things I have learned becoming a remote worker.” – Natasha Williams

  1. Build Breaks Into Your Schedule

As Natasha mentions above, taking breaks keeps the momentum going. Other employees agreed that building breaks into their schedule helps them work remote more successfully.

“Working from home means that when I’m working, that pretty much means I’m looking at a computer screen. In the office, meetings used to give my eyes a break but now most meetings are on Zoom or Teams so I’m looking at a screen even then. I try to give my eyes a break by getting up from my seat and away from the computer for at least a few minutes every hour or so…I make myself take a lunch break every day where I’m not looking at my computer or phone screen. I also still take notes and brainstorm in a notebook, so that also gives me a screen break.” – Courtney Chapin

  1. Continue Your Regular Morning Routine

“One thing I have done to combat “quarantine fog” is to try to stick to my normal work schedule while also integrating time to care for my child and animals every couple of hours. Sometimes this extends the workday, but I have found I am better able to focus on my work after I have taken the dogs outside and played with them for a little bit. In addition, my 10-year-old daughter and I have been using our time in quarantine to have some good quality ‘talks.’” – Mary Keyes

  1. Keep Track of Your Workload

“I keep a document that I plan my work for the coming week on Friday. During that workweek, I keep track of the things I accomplish and the new things that come up that need to be done. I leave future action items on the list. I find this to be more effective than a paper list.” – Renee Graff

  1. Limit Distractions in Your Workplace

“Set aside a work area and leave work in the work area.  Don’t invite it into other areas of your home life.” – Jayme Miller

After hearing from other MSU employees, it is clear there are many ways to navigate remote working schedules. However you go about working remotely, looking to other coworkers or your supervisor for guidance can be one of the most helpful ways to ensure future success for yourself and your team.

Managing Remotely: Leading the Way in the New Normal

This is a guest post by Jennie Yelvington, Program Manager, HR Organization and Professional Development

As many of us adjust to working remotely, the situation also requires a thoughtful, strategic approach from managers. Communication to and within a team is more critical than ever, especially since the landscape continues to change at a rapid pace. People may be feeling unsure, anxious about using new skills, and not quite up to speed as they juggle home and work responsibilities. This can also lead to team members being on edge with each other. It is critical that managers set a tone of clarity, compassion, patience, cooperation, and problem-solving (versus blame). 

VitalSmarts also recommends the following strategies to help managers keep things on track during this unprecedented time: 

  • Frequent and Consistent Check-ins. Check-in frequently and regularly with remote employees. The cadence of the check-ins can vary from daily to bi-weekly to weekly but should always be consistent and entail a standing meeting or scheduled one-on-one.  
  • Face-to-Face or Voice-to-Voice. Insist on some face time with remote employees. When in-person meetings are not possible, try video conferencing technology or pick up the phone to ensure colleagues occasionally see one another’s face or hear one another’s voice.  
  • Exemplify Solid Communication Skills. You cannot overemphasize the importance of general, stellar communication with remote teams. Be a great listener, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of over-communicating. At times it can be ok to have a conversation over the phone, and then email out the details to confirm people are on the same page with you. 
  • Explicit Expectations. When it comes to managing remote teams, be very clear about expectations. This is especially important now, because the “rules” of work have suddenly changed. Never leave people in the dark about projects, roles, deadlines, etc.  
  • Be Accessible. Be available quickly and throughout the day, letting people know when you will not be available. Go above and beyond to maintain an open-door policy for remote employees—keep your calendar up-to-date and use multiple means of technology (Microsoft Teams, email, phone, text, etc.). Remote employees should be able to count on you to respond quickly to pressing concerns.  
  • Mix Up the Tech. Try to use multiple means of communication to connect with your remote workers. Don’t just resort to phone or email but get familiar with video conferencing technologies and a variety of services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Get skilled at setting up and running meetings using these technologies, as if this was going to be your new reality moving forward.  
  • Prioritize Relationships. Team building and camaraderie are important for any team and remote teams are no exception. I challenge you to go out of your way to form personal bonds with your remote folks. Use check-in time to ask about their personal life, families, and hobbies. Allow team meeting time for “water cooler” conversation so the whole team can create personal connections and strengthen relationships. 

Encourage team members to help each other with technology and other challenges and be sure to recognize people for their effort. Additionally, remember that benefit-eligible MSU employees have access to elevateU, an online learning resources with courses, videos, books and more. There you will find ideas for group activities (look for the Team Talks link under MSU highlighted programs, then look at the Custom tab), learning related to a variety of content areas that could align with development plans, and thousands of books and videos to accelerate learning. Be sure to share with your team what you are learning as well. Learn more about elevateU for professional development while working remotely.