photo by Sales Navigator on Unsplash

There’s a fine line between being a successful remote employee and one who misses the mark. If you have struggled WFH because of the pandemic, remember 2020 was a normal reaction to an abnormal year, says former U.S. diplomat and resilience expert, Beth Payne, who knows something about success and resilience. (Find out why the State Department awarded her for heroism here). “We’re all human beings with our vulnerabilities,” Payne said. “Being successful or resilient when hit with challenges isn’t about brute force or grit. It’s about adaptability and being able to bend, flow and sway when challenges come our way.” Payne shared the story of the huge oak tree and the small reed. The oak tree mocked the reed and bragged about how much stronger it was. When a hurricane came through, the oak tree split in half, but the reed bent and swayed because it had stamina that allowed it to make it through.

Although you don’t have to be Superman or Superwoman to be a successful remote worker, “sucking it up” isn’t the best way to achieve success either. But there are certain work habits that make you more successful, according to a new study. “Last year, many businesses quickly adapted to a full-time or hybrid remote workforce,” said Stephen Mohan, Executive Vice President, business solutions division for Office Depot. “Due to this shift and the desire to maximize productivity while working from anywhere, we wanted to further understand how remote workers defined ‘success,’ their daily habits, top equipment used and how preferences varied by generation and industry.”

Office Depot surveyed 995 remote workers to ascertain what is needed to be successful in a remote environment. To achieve “success” as a remote worker, the most important habit to develop of those surveyed was instilling the necessary work-life balance. Over half of respondents also believed taking short breaks was crucial to incorporate into their daily schedules, and just under half felt strongly about being a team player and making sure to start work at the same time each day.

When analyzing by generation, achieving a work-life balance was the top habit for successful millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. To live in an environment most conducive for a productive workday, employees should apply some key strategies to make this happen. The first step is to define your home office—how to make this space feel lively and comfortable. The next is to set boundaries by setting your office hours and sticking to them. Other tips include trying your hand at meditation, staying connected with friends and family and reminding yourself that the pandemic won’t last forever. The top reported habits of successful remote workers were:

  • Achieving work/life balance (56%)
  • Taking short breaks (53%)
  • Making themselves accessible to their team (49%)
  • Successful remote workers spend an average of 28 minutes during working hours streaming music, 27 minutes watching television and 25 minutes browsing social media on their phone.
  • The most critical equipment needed for successful remote workers is a second monitor, headphones and a mouse. 
  • The top software used by successful remote workers is Zoom (58%), Microsoft Teams (47%) and Dropbox (46%).

The findings show that in order to become a successful remote worker, it’s useful to have daily habits that can help establish a schedule with scheduled work breaks included. And though respondents said achieving a level of work-life balance was a crucial component for success, having the right tools, software and equipment to create ease and touch points of communication throughout the day were also cited as being critical for day-to-day performance. Now that many are still working remotely, many online applications are being used to perform day-to-day work functions. Among the ones used on a daily basis by successful remote workers, videoconferencing, team chat and cloud storage platforms were the most essential. Collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were another key contributor to success. Remote workers also valued having a dual monitor setup to improve productivity and facilitate multitasking.

“One of the biggest takeaways,” said Mohan, “ is that successful employees across educational services, financial activities, IT and professional and business services reported similar products—including a second monitor, headphones and a mouse—as common equipment that is critical for day-to-day work. However, each product varied slightly in order of importance, reinforcing a core list of business essentials that help remote employees accomplish more throughout their day.”

Whether employees plan on remaining remote or going back to their workplace, it’s clear that business products geared towards increasing productivity and communication will remain important to a successful experience now that the world has adapted to a new and different standard of working due to Covid-19.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: