How to work from home like a pro

Transitioning to a home office isn't always easy, but a few simple steps can help you become a pro remote worker.
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Across the globe, businesses are transitioning to remote work. While remote work or "working from home" has been an overall growing trend, the recent push to transition has been driven by the COVID-19 response; organizations are asking staff to work from home to help limit the spread of the Coronavirus.

If you are like many of your peers, you may quite suddenly find yourself working from home. How can you remain productive at home when you're used to going into an office?

A year ago, I launched my own business as a consultant. When I'm not working with a client, I'm working from my home, and during that time, I've learned a thing or two about how to be most effective. I'd like to share a few of those tips here.

Find an appropriate workspace

If you typically work at an office building, you probably do so from a cubicle or room with a door. This provides a professional work environment and demarcation of your workspace. At home, you'll need a professional workspace too.

If you are fortunate to have a spare bedroom in your house or apartment, you can easily convert that into a home office. Move a desk or table into this room, and set it up with your computer or laptop.

If you don't have a spare room, dedicate part of one room to become your new home office. I recommend finding a space that doesn't get too much traffic during the day. Maybe that's the dining room, a breakfast nook, or a corner of the living room.

It's important to try to dedicate the space to work and avoid the temptation to squeeze your workspace into your home space, or vice versa. When I set up my home office in a spare bedroom, I first had to remove some storage boxes and piles of old books. Now my home office is solely for work: I have a small bookshelf to one side with books and other references I often use, I repurposed a small entertainment stand as a credenza, where I put the printer and office supplies, and I eventually replaced the guest twin bed with a fold-out sofa.

Consider your background

Working remotely often means you'll be connecting to colleagues over video chat. When you set up your new home office, consider the space behind you. This will be visible to anyone you connect with via video. Make sure your background is as clean and professional as possible.

Take a moment to evaluate your background. If you are working from a dedicated space like a spare bedroom, what is on the walls behind you? Use this opportunity to subtract any elements that clutter the home office area. Consider removing excess photos or artwork from the wall behind you, or at least out of your webcam's field of view. Do you need clients or colleagues to see photos from your last family vacation?

If your home office is in the corner of another part of the house, your background could be the dining room or kitchen. If possible, break up this view with a bookshelf or houseplant.

Dress the part

When working from home, it can be tempting to slip on a comfy pair of sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt, especially if your work doesn't require meeting with others over video. But I find that if I dress the part, my attitude follows.

You don't have to go all out and put on a suit and tie, or dress and heels. But I do recommend adopting "business casual" attire. In my case, that's a golf shirt paired with jeans or slacks.

Don't ignore your home life

When I first started working from a home office, I tried to maintain strict office hours. Between 8:30am and 4:30pm, I was "at the office." I usually kept my office door closed to shut out any distractions.

But you are working from home, and you shouldn't completely ignore home life. For example, your cat or dog will probably be excited to see you at home. Just as you adjust to working from home, your pets also need to adapt to your new "work from home" mode. And that's okay.

We have three cats at home. You might think cats are solitary, preferring to maintain a comfortable distance. But at least in our house, that's not the case at all. As I tried to focus on work, my orange cat would often traipse across my keyboard or sit in front of my screen. Removing him proved futile. If I moved him off the desk, he would jump up again. This was my cat's not-too-subtle request for attention.

So if your pet comes to visit you while you're "at work," take a break and play. Maybe that's your excuse for some "outside" time, or just playing with the laser pointer. And compared to office work, is that really so different from chatting with office friends?

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photo of Jim Hall
Jim Hall is an open source software advocate and developer, best known for usability testing in GNOME and as the founder + project coordinator of FreeDOS.


These are really great tips! Many people are not mindful of their background during video calls at home. It can have a big effect on how professional a person looks. Thank you for sharing!

Hey Jim,

Here is what I would add to your already great points. If you use a messaging tool like Slack and don't want to be disturbed, set a status of in a meeting or Do Not Disturb. Often times, teams pinging for information can distract you from your task at hand.

good post

Thanks for the tips!
I was wondering if you had any recommendations for apps that can help me out with my schedules or can make remote work easier?
So far, I've been using Quire ( ) and apple reminders to set up different schedules. Quire is for collaborating on projects with my coworkers and assign different tasks to individuals. I also use it for my daily schedule too. Reminders is for reminding myself to take breaks during tasks.
Do you have any particular software that you use?

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