One of the most common tropes about workplace development is that in order to be most productive, employees need the right or ideal setting, atmosphere, and maybe even attire.
But what happens when the ideal place and environment aren’t available? American workers are finding out as more and more employers have begun ordering team members to work remotely –from home– as the nation copes with the evolving and spreading Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Remote Work is the Future
Pre-COVID-19, roughly 29 percent of Americans worked remotely, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming weeks and could involve more than half of the American workforce by summer.
The transition from being surrounded by co-workers to communicating only by phone or computer in isolation in one’s living room, basement or spare bedroom can be jarring, what with the temptations of streaming TV shows, cute pets who demand walks or playtime, or even the sights and sounds outside the nearest window. But distractions don’t have to win out.
You’ll find that you are more productive working from home, provided you can block out distractions and learn to focus. Know when to use the right tool for the job. This applies in the physical workplace, too, but it pays to get smarter about knowing when it’s most effective to use email, chat, collaboration spaces, video conferencing or a phone call.
Use the Right Digital Tools
Email is great for short updates or getting an opinion but it’s terrible for group collaboration or emotionally charged issues. It’s not great for rediscovering information later, especially if one or more of the participants have left the organization.
Chat services like Google Hangouts or Slack are great for group check-ins, rapport building and brainstorming but are awful for sharing extensive updates or rediscovering knowledge
Collaboration spaces like social intranets (Igloo, LumApps, Tribes, Basecamp) are great for organizing conversations by project and rediscovering information but less good for impromptu or fast turnaround conversations.
Video conferences and phone calls are great at dealing with complex interpersonal issues, creating consensus, collaborating on solutions and brainstorming but are not very good at allowing you to rediscover that information later.
Have a dedicated space in your home for work. Dress for work as well. Getting into the right mindset has a lot to do with your self-image and your readiness to be productive.
Make Room for Productivity
Dedicate blocks of 60-90 minutes for deep work. When you do this, shut down email, text messages, etc. This means staying away from temptations like social media or binge-watching your favorite shows on Netflix!
Take breaks, too. In between those deep work sessions and your meetings, it’s just as important to get up, stretch and hydrate. It is easy to work through your breaks and end up feeling tired and worn out early in the day if you don’t do this.
Work Would Be Great If Not For …
Take time to check in with your colleagues socially. We have a tendency to use group chat windows for all-business but social connections that happen in a physical workplace need a digital outlet as well. Share a funny meme or talk about non-work related things every so often, especially at the beginning of video calls.
Pay attention to how your co-workers prefer to connect. Some people hate being interrupted by chats and like emails instead. Try to respect the working styles of others.
Even if you are not comfortable with video, you should always turn on your video at least at the beginning of every conference call. We respond better to seeing faces and need those nonverbal cues to build rapport with co-workers and customers. Also, remember most video conferencing software won’t blur out your background. Be mindful of what’s behind you!
Todd Nilson, a renowned digital strategist for Kane Communications Group and others, has been working remotely periodically since 2013. Most notably, Nilson has worked remotely as part of a team with members in London, Australia, and New Zealand and continues to collaborate by phone or video call with clients who are globally distributed. His favorite work-from-home location is in front of his fireplace because that background is a fantastic conversation starter on video calls.
James Burnett, Kane’s director of strategic public relations, worked remotely from time to time as a journalist and for a three-month stretch in late 2018, as he and his family transitioned from Boston to Milwaukee. In news, much of Burnett’s remote work involved extreme deadlines, so he rarely got to pick his setting, which ranged over the years from an earthquake-ravished airport tarmac to the busy waiting area of a federal courthouse. His favorite place to work-from-home? A quiet nook of his basement, where the family dog has room to lie next to him.
You’ll find that you are more productive working from home, provided you can block out distractions and learn to focus.