Working Remotely: Being Productive While Working From Home
At this point, it’s been well over a year since the pandemic hit, which led to office closures and social restrictions. It has led to a reassessment of the future of work, and the future of office space.
According to statistics, 20 percent of employed Americans occasionally worked from home before the pandemic. That number rose to 71 percent towards the end of 2020, with 54 percent of people expressing a desire for permanent remote work.
Remote jobs have always existed of course, but this trend towards working from home has been in the making for years; the pandemic simply accelerated the trend. Workers have realized they can be more productive from home – or a coffee shop – while achieving a better work-life balance.
There’s no doubt the shortcomings of the traditional 9-5 office set-up have been exposed. In fact, studies have shown that in a typical eight-hour day, workers around the world, from the financial services sector to the legal industry and beyond, are only productive for less than three hours in a typical office environment.
Working from home is far from a utopia, though, and it isn’t for everyone. If you’re at a crossroads in deciding whether to make a permanent plunge into remote work or some form of hybrid model – or you’d like to learn productivity hacks to make better use of your time – this guide is for you.
We’ll begin by exploring the pros and cons of remote work, before moving on to eight tips for productive remote working.
Remote workers, and the cons of working from home
I’m a bad-news-first kinda guy, so let’s start with the cons of remote working.
Anyone who has experienced Zoom fatigue, or an inability to switch off and compartmentalise the workday with relaxation time, will know there are drawbacks. Research into remote work has found a number of common challenges that have come to light since the pandemic.
According to Twingate, 45 percent of workers end up attending more meetings than when working in an office, with 40 percent reporting mental exhaustion. The context of the pandemic and the added stress could be a contributing factor.
Zoom fatigue alone is a real issue that has been amplified by the increase of working from home. Research by Stanford University has found four key reasons why:
Excessive close-up eye contact is intense
In-person meetings allow the focus and attention to follow whoevers speaking. However, with platforms like Zoom, people are always “looked-at” even when not speaking, and the enhanced eye contact can be draining.
Seeing yourself is tiring
It’s unnatural to constantly see a reflection of yourself in real-time. “In the real world, if somebody was following you around with a mirror constantly – so that while you were talking to people, making decisions, giving feedback, getting feedback – you were seeing yourself in a mirror, that would just be crazy,” Professor Jeremy Bailenson explained.
Studies have found that when seeing a reflection of themselves, whether as a remote worker on a screen or in real life, people tend to become more critical.
Movement is limited
Video calls require people to stay in the same place for a long period of time, limiting mobility in an unnatural way.
Cognitive load is much higher
Detecting nonverbal cues is natural in person, but over video, we have to work harder to decipher body language and other subtle forms of communication.
Other difficulties for remote employees
Aside from the different dynamics with virtual meetings, there are other cons to remote working, the most common being:
We’re social animals, and mixing with other people in the “tribe” is important for a number of reasons. Working away from an office can create a feeling of isolation for many people.
As well as feeling isolated, it can be harder to feel connected to the rest of the team when communication is mostly through Gmail, Slack, or Zoom.
Without clear designated boundaries that an office provides, there’s a risk of overworking. That can be fuelled by the desire to make sure you’re not seen as slacking, too, of falling into the trap of always being accessible, or “just checking one more email.”
Pros of working from home
Regardless of the setbacks, many people are looking to extend their time working from home following the pandemic. That’s because remote work comes with many benefits, which often outweigh the cons listed above.
The standout pros of working from home are:
In 2019, the average one-way commute time for American workers was just under 30 minutes. That’s an hour per day, five per week, and 20 hours each month of sitting in traffic or twiddling thumbs on public transport.
The time saved in the commute can be used for a longer morning routine, extra sleep, finishing the day early, or making more time for hobbies.
Focused work time
Without being chained to a desk, there’s an opportunity for more flexibility in your schedule. Considering the study from above, it makes more sense to fit in four or five hours of quality work in a day, while making most of your breaks, rather than sit in an office and be productive for less time.
Many remote work opportunities allow for flexibility. If you have errands you need to run in the day, you can work around them, or even switch a day-off in the week for working one day over the weekend.
I’m someone who always found open-plan offices distracting, especially when I worked as a staff writer, and had to regularly access flow state. People walking by, having banter, making coffee, or asking questions, all add to distraction. For many, myself included, working from home enhances productivity.
Independence and freedom
Above all else, working remotely adds a sense of freedom that you don’t get when having to work from an office every day. In turn, there’s a stronger sense of trust that the work that has to be done will be done, rather than attempts to fill the day by looking busy.
Decide what’s best for you
Whether you’re one of the many job seekers trying to decide if remote work is for you, or if in-person work is more your style, the overall balance that applies to your circumstances will always be unique. All the productivity hacks in the world won’t be effective if your set-up is sub-par, or if you’re someone who craves the buzz and social aspect of working in an office.
Fortunately, many businesses are offering hybrid solutions to working from home, meaning there’s an opportunity to get the best of both worlds. Perhaps you’d prefer to be in the office for two or three days per week, to touch base with colleagues, have face-to-face time, or just to work from a space away from where you live.
8 tips for productivity when you work remotely
Whether you decide to work remotely full-time, a few days per week, or mixed with a few days at a coworking space if you’re a freelancer, the key to getting the most is productivity.
With more focus on the results of your labor, rather than hours on the clock, the more optimized your workflow is, the better. With that in mind, let’s look at what makes the foundation of productive work from home with these 8 tips:
1. Set clear boundaries between work-time and rest-time
One of the benefits listed above, independence and freedom, is one of the reasons many people turn to remote work. The harsh reality is that, without discipline or clear structure, remote work can feel less freeing than working in an office.
When working from home, it’s essential to create clear boundaries between when you’re working, and when you’re not, to avoid burnout or the inability to switch off. That begins by setting clear working hours — and sticking to them.
Do your best to finish when you say you’ll finish, and avoid the small behaviors that lead to a sense of always working, such as fitting in extra tasks outside those hours or checking emails late at night. This is much easier achieved if you have a space that is separate from where you live — the elusive home office.
With apartment prices off the scale, though, it’s not always likely. But whatever space you work in, find ways to separate the area. Even if all that involves is setting up a temporary laptop desk, or putting away your computer and work equipment at the end of the day.
2. Have a beginning and end-of-day routine/shutdown routine
On the topic of ending the day, to help create structure, make sure you bookend work with routines or rituals that allow you to compartmentalize. This is especially important if your workspace is near where you relax.
I personally break up the day into four segments:
- Morning routine: this is sacred time before I log onto my laptop and check emails or start work activity. I wake up, shower, meditate, drink coffee, and journal every day before I begin work. This ensures I start the day with the right tone and don’t instantly jump into work mode.
- Pre-work routine: this is essentially a way of focusing my mind on the day’s task. I’ll look at my calendar, note my to-do list, and get “in the zone.” Usually, I’ll make sure I go outside before beginning for some fresh air.
- Post work routine: I find this step the most important when I’m super busy. It’s a form of commitment to putting a full stop to the day, even when I know I could write a few more words, respond to a few more people. I’ll sum up the day, tie up loose ends, and quickly reflect on what’s to come tomorrow.
- Evening routine: this mirrors my morning routine, in a way. An hour or two before I’m in bed, I’ll switch off my phone and avoid a screen to slow down.
Rituals are symbolic and set the tone for either entering the frame of mind for work or winding down for the day. Play around with what works for you. The cleaner and clearer these transitions, the better.
3. Learn how to guard your time
Just as attention can spill over, causing you to overwork or fit in extra tasks, the opposite can be true. With a little leeway, suddenly you might be tempted to make a call, respond to a few WhatsApp messages, or find people reaching out to you during work hours in ways they wouldn’t if you were in an office.
Part of being productive when remote working is guarding your work time just as you would if you were in an office. No one would walk into your office and start asking questions, the same principle applies if working from home. Set aside time not to be disturbed, and don’t be afraid to set boundaries or communicate clearly that this is the case.
4. Have a remote work commute
One of the benefits of remote work is the reduced commute. But for many people, the lack of commute is a double-edged sword. Whilst the time is freed up, the commute does offer a clear transition between work-time and non-work-time.
A hack I find useful to combat this is to create your very own remote work commute. This can be something you do each day that mimics a commute and involves movement — go for a brief walk around the block or go shopping at the same time each morning, before arriving at your desk.
5. Have a work outfit
In psychology, there’s a phenomenon known as enclothed cognition. What you wear can have a direct impact on your mindset and performance. Applying this wisdom to remote work, it pays to have a work outfit. As tempting as it might be to stay in jogging bottoms or to work from bed, this helps foster the right mindset for productivity.
Having a work outfit means you still go through the same process of getting ready and motivated for the workday, even if you’re based at home. Plus, it means you’re ready for the day, whether making a trip to a local cafe or scheduling a last-minute Zoom call with a colleague.
6. Learn time management skills
This depends largely on your workflow. Many remote work opportunities are more flexible in the office, which means you’ll have to learn how to become your own boss in terms of scheduling your time. In-office work is fairly straightforward — show up when you’re due to start, leave at the end of the day. But remote working requires a more precise structure.
By far the most useful trick I’ve learned is time blocking. My Google Calendar looks like a game of Tetris — multiple colors all neatly fitting together. I’ve been working remotely for four years now, and I’ve noticed there’s a paradox at play: the more structure I have, the more freedom I have.
When I look at a blank calendar, my to-do list is overwhelming. But when I see how I’ll designate time to tasks throughout the week, it feels manageable.
Time blocking is the process of estimating how much time you need and creating that time in your calendar, and a crucial part of time management. Consider all the tasks you have, and group them together. If you’re a creative professional, you’ll want to box out at least two or three hours at a time to ensure you can enter flow.
Set specific times to read your email or work correspondence. If you have meetings, try to set them so they aren’t right in the middle of a productive spell.
7. Minimise distractions
You might not be disrupted by a colleague asking you for the wifi password or for a round of happy birthday for the third time in one day, but remote work has its own level of distraction. It’s vital your workspace is as clean and clear as it can be. Make sure the space is tidy, get rid of as much clutter as you can, and be aware of the “to-dos” that might be part of your environment, such as unwashed dishes or loads of washing.
Above all else, be conscious of how you use your phone. Being away from the office, it can be tempting to replace real-life connections with social media or responding to friends. After all, you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder! But the benefit of working from home is, if you enter a state of deep work, you’ll have more time for the things you enjoy.
8. Don’t forget to look after your mental health
Goalcast always has self-development in mind. The last point is an important one and often overlooked: your psychology plays a big part in how much you enjoy remote work. It also pays to explore your beliefs about remote work. You might feel you have to work extra hard to “prove” you’re pulling your weight if some colleagues are in the office. Or you might convince yourself you have to be available 24/7 to compensate for not being physically present.
Aside from understanding how beliefs can affect the quality of your work-life balance, maintaining mental health is important to overall functioning and productivity. There are unique challenges with remote work that can impact your overall mood and stress levels, so keep in mind these additional pointers:
- Take regular breaks: without the usual hustle and bustle of an office, it’s easy to fall into forgetting to take a break. Studies have found even “micro-breaks” of just 15 minutes can reduce stress and make work more enjoyable. Stand up and stretch every hour. And be conscious of your screen time.
- Get fresh air: without the usual commute, there’s a risk of cabin fever, especially if you wake, sleep, eat and work in the same four walls. Factor in time in nature; a walk in the local park, or even a stroll around the block, to have brief connections with nature.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up: being slightly disconnected from the office, it can be difficult to bring up challenging conversations. But it’s best to be clear and communicate if you’re struggling with your workload, or even need a little extra time to decompress.
Remote work brings with it its own challenges and rewards. It’s not necessarily for everyone, but for many, it’s a bridge to greater freedom and a rewarding sense of work-life balance.
With the above guidance, hopefully you’ll have clear idea of what will work best for you — and how to focus and how to make the most of your time.