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California State University, Long BeachCalifornia State University, Long Beach

Working Remotely Tips and Tools

Virtual work during the COVID-19 pandemic brings new challenges. Balancing remote working, family obligations and a preoccupation with the crisis, means even more flexibility, adaptability, and intention on staying focused. We are all in this together, and we will get through it. However, the distractions of home, along with the isolation that often comes with remote working, can cause you to lose focus and to damage your productivity. This page has 10 useful tips and other resources for effectively working remotely.

  1. Create a Workspace That Works

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    • Creating an effective workspace is essential if you want to stay on track and get things done.
    • Your workspace needs to be comfortable, with a suitable desk and chair, well-lit and with space for your equipment.
    • A dedicated home office or workspace helps separate your work from home life. This makes it easier to shut out the everyday distractions of home life, and to cut off from work at the end of each day.
    • We strongly encourage staff to set up their work station in a place where they can shut the door (if possible), put on some headphones, and have a dedicated space to concentrate.
    • It's definitely more difficult to work as effectively at home if there are other people nearby. Try to have a place to go where you can shut the door on potential distractions.
  2. Minimize Noise and Interruptions

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    • Set ground rules with any friends or family you live with.
    • Ask them not to disturb you at your desk.
    • Let them know when you have calls or virtual meetings coming up.
    • Tell friends or family who phone you that you’re at work and suggest a time that you will call them back.
    • Some people like to work with their favorite music playing.  If you prefer ambient sounds while you work, check out an app such as brain.fm.
  3. Minimize Other Distractions 

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    • Keep other distractions out of sight (laundry, dirty dishes, food).
    • Declutter your workspace. If you’re looking at something else in your periphery you’re not focused on your task. Get rid of visual reminders that you have other things to do.
  4. Stay Focused 

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    • Know your goals. Along with short-term, task-related goals, make sure that you're also clear about the purpose you're striving to achieve. Keeping these in mind will motivate you to do your best work, whatever your location. 
    • Manage Your Time
      • Effective time management is essential if you want to continue hitting your deadlines when you're working from home.   
      • Determine when you're at your most productive, so that you can carry out complex tasks or projects during those parts of the day.
      • Organize and prioritize key tasks with a To-Do List. This will help you to avoid procrastinating, or losing focus by "switch-tasking," and add an extra layer of structure to your day. 
      • Have a list of "in between" tasks. These are relatively minor jobs that should take 10 minutes or less to complete, and which you can fit into your day when a gap opens up. 
      • Multitasking is the mother of all distractions. Your attention is pulled from task to task, and both tasks can suffer.  The following tips may help you stay focused on one thing at a time:
        • Set a timer. Don’t stop working on a task until the time is up.
        • Commit to completing one task before switching to another. 
        • Reward yourself. Find ways to make each task more enjoyable and rewarding in itself, as well as giving yourself "treats" when they're done. For example, allow yourself your favorite specialty coffee for completing a task successfully. 
    • Set break reminders. Regular short breaks can help to keep you energized and focused.
      • It’s tough to sit most of the day. Commuting at least forces you to walk — to your office building on campus or to and from your car.  As a remote worker without a commute, it’s important to stand and move around.
      • Try setting a countdown timer while you do an hour of work. When the alarm goes off, reward yourself with a break – to make a coffee, or get some fresh air. This also helps you to get out of your chair during the day. 
      • Take a walk on your break!  You may not be able to walk the campus at CSULB, but try walking in your neighborhood.
      • Control your social media. Think carefully about which notifications to keep on, and which to mute until later. 
      • Allocate time slots for checking your phone. 
  5. Get dressed (no, really!) 

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    • It may be tempting to wear old, baggy, comfortable clothes while working from home.  However, getting dressed properly at the start of the day helps move you from ‘home-’ to ‘work-mode’. If you’ve got important online meetings, it can help you look the part. 
    • Dressing for work can also set the right mental tone for the day (and avoid any awkwardness if you dialed in to a Zoom or Microsoft Teams meeting while you're still in your pajamas!). 
  6. “Commute” to and from your home office!  

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    • Consider taking a short walk before starting your working day. 
    • A quick 10-minute stroll could energize you, and help to create a break between home tasks and work tasks.  
    • Similarly, a quick stroll at the end of the day helps you to get back into the right mindset for being at home.
  7. Connect with Colleagues 

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    • Some remote workers suffer from loneliness. Stay in touch with your colleagues to build and maintain relationships, feel involved and get the support you need. 
    • This can be done with email, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and regular phone calls.
    • Start your online chats with some socializing or organize a virtual coffee break or virtual lunch with colleagues. 
  8. Learn and Grow 

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    • Focus on being a lifelong learner and talk with your manager about e-learning. 
    • Choose courses on CSU Training or LinkedIn Learning to learn or refine a “power skill” (like empathy, resilience, listening, or emotional intelligence) or become more efficient in a technical skills tool (such as Outlook or Excel).  See additional ideas of courses below.
    • After completing the e-learning, document what you have learned, how you plan to apply it, and share best practices with others.  
    • Demonstrate something you’ve learned on your next video team meeting.
    • Some courses on CSU Training have conveniently been placed into Training Bundles.  Check these out, or search for other topics of interest to you:
    • CSU Training Bundles:
  9. Foster Your Well-being

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    • The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has many resources for well-being during the coronavirus pandemic.
    • The center also regularly publishes a monthly guide to well-being. Check out and download the Greater Good May 2020 Calendar.
  10. Practice Mindfulness 

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    • The aim of mindfulness is to help you to become more aware of your thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment, and to apply this mindset to your everyday life.
    • The advantages of using mindfulness include:
      • Better Focus
        • Mindfulness helps to keep you present "in the moment," so that you can devote your full attention to what you are doing right now, and minimize the impact of distractions. But it's not a quick fix – you'll get into a state of "flow" more easily and quickly if you use mindfulness regularly.
      • Improved Mental and Physical Health
        • Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness can change the structure of our brains so that we respond to stress in a healthier way and retain information for longer. It lowers our production of the "stress hormone" cortisol (which can have damaging effects on our hearts), and helps us to regulate our emotions. When we're not busy worrying about the past or future, we can approach day-to-day challenges more calmly. 
        • Researchers have also discovered that people who practice mindfulness meditation for eight weeks can experience physical health benefits, too, such as an increase in the antibodies associated with immune function.
      • Quick Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
        • To practice mindfulness meditation you first need to find somewhere comfortable. 
        • Sit in an upright but relaxed position, and focus on your breathing. 
        • Pay attention to how it feels, listen to the sound of your breath, and feel your chest expand and contract. 
        • Don't get frustrated with yourself if distracting thoughts arise. 
        • Instead, just be aware that you are getting distracted and gently bring your attention back to your breathing. 
        • Aim to do this for at least one minute.
      • If you want some more tips on how to practice mindfulness meditation, there are plenty of courses and resources available on CSU Training
      • Mindfulness apps, such as Headspace, Buddhify and Calm also provide guided meditation.
      • Bert Rivera, from the Career Development Center, is leading mindful breathing Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 12:15 – 12:30 pm throughout the entire time we are working remotely. Conf. Call: (515) 604-9099, Access Code: 622-593-567#
        • The following information is from Bert:
          “There is currently a lot of worry, anxiety, and uncertainty around the current pandemic that’s affecting our daily lives. There have been numerous studies that demonstrate these emotions cause a weakening of our immune system and its response to diseases.  
          To that end, I’m planning to host regular mindful breathing sessions on the phone throughout this situation. Mindful breathing has been demonstrated to decrease worry, anxiety, stress and fear, promoting a sense of balance, peace, and wellbeing.
          If you interested, you’re more than welcome to participate to strengthen your nervous system, reduce anxiety, and generate wellbeing in these unusual times.”  
        • Bert has also provided the following articles/resources on immunity, negative emotions, and mindfulness:

At the end of the day, we are all human, and have different ways of managing, communicating, learning, and coping with being in a different work environment. There’s no one-size-fits-all advice that anyone can dispense. We can all share our successes and trials, though, and learn from each other’s experiences. We encourage employees to share their own best practices with their coworkers, to spread the word about what works when working remotely.