How to be productive when working remotely

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With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully now in sight, it’ll be fascinating to see how the world adapts to such a period of turmoil and upheaval. Will we all go back to our pre-COVID ways or does the pandemic mark a watershed moment?

It seems doubtful that we’ll ever look at hand gel or face masks the same way ever again. Being able to dine inside a restaurant, shop at an actual brick-and-mortar store or sending the kids to real school will never be taken for granted again. But what about work? Has the 40 hour office week disappeared for good?

It would seem so. Even companies that previously allowed little or no work-from-home flexibility have realized the benefit of allowing employees to work remotely or, at the very least, to choose when it’s most efficient to work in the office. Currently, just less than half of Americans work remotely, although the return to the workplace has undoubtedly begun. However, research suggests that the number of Americans working entirely remotely will have increased by a whopping 87% post-pandemic, with an even higher percentage seeing increased flexibility in their schedule and locations.

Initially, as lockdowns took hold globally, organizations had to rapidly adapt their systems, tools, and procedures to accommodate a remote workforce. The challenge now is not how you create an environment in which remote employees can still get their job done, but how do you create an environment in which remote employees can thrive.


The dawn of the digital workspace

We take the physical workspace for granted: the desks, the monitors, the coffee machine, the meeting rooms. For companies and individuals to be highly productive, we also need to give them a workspace to thrive. It’s essential that, in doing so, companies don’t just try to replace physical tools with virtual equivalents but that they reconsider the whole experience from a remote perspective.

Choosing a suite of productivity and collaboration tools is critical for creating a successful digital workspace. But with so many solutions to choose from, how do you know which ones to choose?

  1. Focus first on productivity drivers. While some tools are nice-to-haves or might make employees feel like they’re getting the latest and greatest workplace app, you should demonstrate a Terminator-style ruthlessness in adopting only the tools that will drive business or increase employees’ efficiency.
  2. The Terminator was ruthlessly efficient, but he wasn’t much fun at parties. Once you’ve identified the type of tool necessary, opt for the solution with the best UX – one that your employees enjoy using.
  3. Think through all the ways your employees interact. While we tend to think about the more prominent tools, such as collaboration apps and project management tools, what happens if employees’ laptops suddenly stop working? It’s hard to be productive when you can’t access your work, and you can’t exactly send Dave from IT jetting across the globe to fix password issues. Remote access software could be a critical inclusion in this instance. What other problems could bring your departments grinding to a halt?
  4. Tools that can be integrated easily will make for a happier and more productive workforce and digital workspace. Integrations save employees the time and effort of jumping between apps, which has been shown to interrupt focus and flow more than managers expect.
  5. Finally, the best productivity tools are straightforward in a plug-and-play kind of way but can be tailored to each employee’s or team’s needs.

remote work zoom

The force of habit

While technology certainly supports productivity, being a truly successful and efficient remote employee is also a matter of developing individual habits and barriers. While apps and tools can help support these, they can’t (yet) replace them entirely.

  1. Create a schedule and stick to it. Your schedule isn’t just a question of your working hours, but it should incorporate elements such as a morning ritual and seek to optimize your working day. If your energy levels are highest in the morning, for example, you might like to create a Bookable Calendar for accepting taxing client meetings only between breakfast and lunchtime. Think about what your best and most productive day looks like and use the tools at your disposal to make that happen as often as possible.
  2. Bob Dylan, the AC Cobra, fish and chips… sometimes, the classics are the best. The tried and true classic of productivity is the to-do list and, whether pen and paper or multi-device app, the to-do is as reliable now as ever. A couple of tips tho. Rather than crowd your to-do with an endless list of ambitions, pick three must-do tasks each day and focus on those before doing anything else. Take it a step further and follow Brian Tracy’s advice to “Eat That Frog” – tackle your most demanding task first thing and you’ll breeze through the rest of your working day.
  3. Make time to become a master user of the tools you have at your disposal and brush up on the latest features. A few hours of learning now will likely save tens of hours going forward.
  4. It’s impossible to be productive every hour of the working day. Taking breaks, whether short breathers or longer pauses, is essential for maximizing productivity. Research suggests that an average of 52 minutes of working followed by 17 minutes of rest leads to the best results, while many of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs and business minds swear by lunchtime walks, long lunches, or bouts of exercise.
  5. Companies can organize (virtual) productivity workshops or training to increase remote employees’ awareness of the latest productivity trends and tools that can help raise morale as well as organizational efficiency. It also helps if leaders share their morning routine or explain why their lunchtime walk or afternoon meditation sessions are crucial parts of their day. Role modeling sets a better example for employees to follow than simply issuing empty statements about your company culture.

The final analysis

Peter Drucker is almost certainly the most over-quoted figure in business and management, but that’s because he provided a handful of absolute humdingers when it comes to encapsulating business strategy in a one-liner. Arguably his most important: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” That applies to employee productivity too.

Measuring an organization’s productivity can be daunting and expensive, but there are two ways that all companies can tackle the issue:

  1. Take a helicopter view and study how the company is performing. In general terms, is business going well? More specifically, are indicators like NPS, employee engagement surveys, and employee reviews trending in the right direction?
  2. Get waist-deep in the data trenches. All the platforms and tools that constitute your digital workspace should have robust back-ends that allow you to analyze usage trends and employee behaviors.

So there you have it. Remote work doesn’t have to be the poor relation to in-situ work. There’s a mound of research to suggest that working remotely is at least as efficient as working in the office, if not even more so. However, it has to be done correctly and deliberately.

Are you interested in digging into your office culture to see if remote work would work for your organization? Jumpstart an internal survey to see if working remotely is the future of your company. Give us a call today!

By Matt Warnock