The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the possibilities of working from home. Although there have been digital nomads working remotely for years, traditional roles were shackled to the office.
However, with the lockdown conditions, many employers have had to make adjustments to allow their team members to work from home. According to a GetAbstract study, 43% of Americans would prefer to work remotely even once the current crisis has ended.
However, what we need to explore is, are we more productive from home?
The professional and mental differences between the home and office
We’ve all seen clips of Zoom meetings where team members are in their PJs, or kids are wandering around in the background. There is no denying that there is a massive difference between the home and the office. However, this is just a surface observation, and it is worth further investigation.
According to a Buffer survey, 99% of workers would prefer to work remotely at least some of the time, and 40% of remote workers believe the biggest benefit is the flexible schedule. However, there are some challenges: 22% of survey respondents found it difficult to obtain a healthy work-life balance, and 19% reported feeling lonely.
Switching off from work may also be a problem, as 43% of remote workers only took 10 to 15 days of vacation per year.
While you may find your team members gossiping around the water cooler in the office to be a distraction, there are likely to be far more distractions for your workers at home. Since your workers will not be leaving their workplace, and with the possibility of co-workers in different time zones, workers can end up working longer hours or frequent smaller shifts, which can increase stress levels.
Remote workers also enjoy flexible scheduling, which can reduce absenteeism and also save day-to-day costs. There is no need to take a day off here and a day off there to meet any personal obligations.
What does working from home mean for productivity?
Despite the potential problems caused by the professional and mental differences between the office and home, there are some productivity benefits of remote working. In an Airtasker survey, remote workers were found to be more productive. In addition to eliminating the daily commute, remote workers tended to lose less time during the typical working day.
Outside of the lunch break and standard breaks, office workers lost an average of 37 minutes, compared to 27 minutes lost by remote workers. Also, when mouse movement or screen time was tracked, the amount of time avoiding working was 39% for remote workers compared to 56% for office workers. So, although remote workers may have more distractions to deal with, they are more typically more productive once they get down to work.
In a Stanford study, remote workers were found to be 13% more productive compared to their office counterparts. Remote workers ranked their productivity higher in other studies. For example, in a Canada Life survey, remote workers ranked productivity at 7.7 out of 10, while office workers ranked their productivity at 6.5 out of 10.
Since remote workers don't have a loud environment and the distractions of unnecessary meetings, it is thought that this enhances productivity. Additionally, since the stress of commuting is eliminated, remote workers are able to focus on their tasks rather than needing to wind down from the stress of the morning rush hour.
The bottom line
The current climate is one of uncertainty. With areas around the world still in lockdown, the global economy on hold, and various restrictions around the country, many employers are still focused on limiting the possible disruption with remote working. While there are many pros and cons of remote working, it can offer some structure in this uncertain time.
Additionally, with the financial pressures caused by the pandemic, business owners may be able to cut their costs by moving some or all of their team to remote working. Although there are some costs involved in setting up teams to work from home, businesses can save money on property costs, cleaning services and even food.
In fact, in a recent Gartner survey, 3 out of 4 of the financial executives questioned would consider moving 5% or more of their onsite workers to permanent remote positions after the current crisis ends. It looks like working from home is here to stay.
7 tips to improve work productivity at home
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve you and your employees' productivity while ensuring a healthy work-life balance.
1. Create a schedule.
Working from home does provide flexibility, but too much flexibility can compromise your productivity. It is important to establish a schedule that you – and your employees – can work most days.
Each person will need to figure out the routine that works best for them. It is a good idea to focus on work time and separate this from one's relaxation time. Encourage your employees to adopt a morning routine, just like they would if they were going into the office. This will help prepare one's mindset of getting ready to work.
2. Set your priorities.
Because your workers no longer have a supervisor looking over their shoulders, they need to take responsibility for their workflow. Encourage them to prioritize tasks to ensure that everything gets done without dragging their workday into their after-hours relaxation time.
Many remote workers find a to-do list helpful or use an urgent, important, not urgent, unimportant chart. This helps individuals focus on those must-do tasks rather than procrastinating with easier, less-important things.
Whatever tool your employees use, they'll need to ensure that they work through their priorities during allotted work hours, so you don't have to push too hard and risk burning employees out.
3. Minimize distractions.
Optimizing productivity means getting the most out of one's working hours. So, it is crucial that employees minimize distractions. During your weekly check-ins, ask your employes to write down a list of their most intrusive tasks; talk about those tasks and distractions, and what might ameliorate those distractions. There are tools that can help one maintain their focus, such as white noise players, but you can both strategize about what works best for the employee.
4. Create a comfortable workspace.
No one can be productive when they feel uncomfortable and fidgety. It is important to create a comfortable workspace. Ideally, this would be in a quiet area of an individual's home, but even if they're working at their kitchen table, they need a comfortable place to sit. The computer screen needs to be set at eye level, and they should have adequate back support. Again, use your weekly check-in as an opportunity to ask about the employee's workspace and if there is anything you can do to make it more comfortable for them.
5. Define your boundaries.
When you telecommute, it can be easy to get lost in your work, putting you at risk of burnout. You need to define your boundaries to support a healthy and sustainable work-life balance.
In addition to creating a physical space, you need to allot your time. It is a good idea to create a clocking in, clocking out routine, so you, and everyone on your team, can take adequate breaks. Research has shown that breaks are an important aspect of productivity. Everyone on your team needs time to leave their work behind for a genuine break.
6. Get some exercise.
It is also important to plan some exercise into your day. You're no longer walking from the train station or car to your office or popping out at lunch for a walk to the local sandwich shop, but unless you want to turn into a couch potato, it is important to squeeze in some exercise. Whether this is some stretches during your break, getting on a stationary bike, or just heading out for a walk, exercise is crucial for your health and productivity. Encourage your employees to take break and to squeeze in some physical activity in those break times or before or after work.
7. Keep your commute.
Finally, if you and your team are new to remote working, consider keeping your commute. Although you don't need to spend time sitting in traffic, you can use this time in the day to take a little time for yourself. Some intentional activity, such as reading or light stretching can help you to mentally clock in and clock out.
As you can see, while working from home does present some challenges, it can help you and your workers to become more productive. Although you'll both need to think about the optimal work environment and how to handle tasks, once you get down to working, you should find that you get more done and have less stress with your new flexible schedule.