For some people, working from home is a dream come true but it’s a nightmare for others. Whether you like it or not, there are things you can do to stay productive while working from home. Today, we’ll talk about five ways to stay productive while working from home. But first, is working from home a good idea in terms of productivity?
Does working from home make people more productive?
Before answering this question, it’s important to realize how subjective it can be. What does it mean to be productive? Is it feeling productive? Is it the number of hours you spend on your office chair? Is it the number of hours you spend on your most important project each day? Unless you or your workplace has productivity metrics already in place, it may be difficult to measure productivity changes associated with working from home.
Let’s look at what the research says.
In 2020, Harvard Business Review replicated their small 2013 study of how knowledge workers spend their time. They wanted to see how COVID-19 lockdowns (that compelled many knowledge workers to work from home) affected productivity.
Short-term productivity benefits from working from home during the lockdowns included:
- Spending 12% less time in large meetings.
- Spending 9% more time with customers and partners.
- Seeing our tasks as more worthwhile than usual. Tasks viewed as tiresome went from 27% to 12%.
However, participants acknowledged downsides to working on remote teams. They provided feedback like, “We are slowly losing the social glue that holds us together,” and ““I used to throw people into new assignments, where they learned on the job, watching and learning from experienced colleagues. That’s almost impossible to do in a virtual setting.”
Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of Everest Group, believes COVID-19 work-from-home productivity is a mirage. In a Forbes article, he says, “This illusion is revealed once we consider that much of this productivity is not greater efficiency but, rather, more time on task. Working from home eliminates commute times and thus blurs the line between work and life. However, it seems likely that companies may lose some, if not all, of these gains over time as recreational activities open and employees learn to exercise more discipline on setting boundaries between work and home life.”
Inc.com tells a story of Stanford University’s two-year, work-from-home study of 500 employees at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. The participants were divided into two groups: one group worked from the office and one group worked from home. The work-from-home group had to volunteer for the assignment, have a private room for working at home, at least six months tenure at Ctrip and proper home internet.
The work-from-home study uncovered these results:
- People work a full shift at home more often than at work. There’s less arriving late and leaving early in the work-from-home crowd.
- People working at home find it easier to concentrate.
- Employee attrition decreased by 50% in the group of employees who worked from home.
- The work-from-home employees took shorter breaks and fewer sick days than their office-working counterparts.
It’s not all good news though. The work-from-home employees felt isolated and more than half of them changed their mind about working from home full-time.
What we take away from this is … working from home may lead to increased productivity but context and choice matters.
If you’re currently working at home—whether you love it or not—you can feel more productive by implementing a few good work habits. We’ve gathered five of them for you below.
Work from home productivity tip #1: Have a dedicated workspace
Having a dedicated workspace cues your brain into thinking about work. When you sit at your workspace, whether that’s a proper desk or a makeshift office you built in a spare closet, your environment supports your behaviour. Since your desired behaviour is getting in a good day of work, it’s important to figure out what you need to support that. Is it just a laptop? Do you need space for writing notes on paper? Can you quickly and easily reach the equipment you need?
Moving from the kitchen table to the couch to the bed isn’t conducive to productivity for most people. Without a dedicated workspace, you blur the lines between home and work, which makes it harder to move from work to leisure and family time.
Work from home productivity tip #2: Structure your day
Working from home isn’t a free-for-all just because you save an hour or two of commuting. Figure out what your day looks like first thing in the morning or, even better, the night before. You can do this with your week too. Stick to your daily and weekly structure and allow yourself the flexibility to deal with surprises.
We sometimes rebel against structure, but structure sets us free from incessant and exhausting decision making. If you know you do your marketing/bookkeeping/client follow-ups (etc.) on Fridays between 9 am and 11 am, you don’t have to spend time wondering about when you’ll do this. You can then apply this liberated brain power to your most important projects.
Work from home productivity tip #3: Single task (multitasking is a myth!)
Do one thing at a time, without distractions. When you’re finished, do the next thing. What are the three most important things you could do each day to move your most important projects forward? Focus on them, one at a time, and you’ll achieve more than if you’re constantly jumping from email to work to instant message to meetings all day.
What people think of multi-tasking is actually switch-tasking. You can’t read an email and pay attention in a meeting (though you can perhaps give this impression). Your brain can switch from one task to the other but it’s an expensive process. It can take up to 25 minutes to refocus on a task after switching from something else—imagine how switching tasks every 15 minutes affects your focus!
Work from home productivity tip #4: Take wise (and timed) breaks
We can’t go full throttle all day long, so breaks are essential. Some people like to work for 45 minutes before taking a break. Some longer. Others prefer the Pomodoro technique—focused work for 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break.
Use your breaks to get away from your desk. Go for a walk outside, make a cup of tea, clean the toilet (since you’re home), stretch or grab a wholesome snack.
Don’t go on social media for breaks because this doesn’t give you a break from your screen and a 10-minute break can inadvertently turn into 30 minutes. If your breaks are going long, use a timer to help you stay on track.
Work from home productivity tip #5: Close your day and stop working
This might seem like a silly question but how do you know when your workday is finished? When you work at an office, shop or any location that isn’t your home, walking out the door tells your brain that work is (or should be) finished. Working from home blurs this line so it’s helpful to make an end-of-day ritual.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, suggests that having a work shutdown ritual drastically reduces stress. His work shutdown ritual includes updating and reviewing his master task list, reviewing his calendar for the next two weeks, reviewing his weekly plan and verbally saying, “schedule shutdown, complete” to tell his brain that everything is covered and it’s now leisure time.
Going back to tip #2, this end-of-day ritual can include planning the next working day, which allows you to jump right into your most important task the next morning.
We hope these tips make your work-from-home experience more productive and enjoyable!
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