According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, about 23 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work from home. In 2003, the first year for which comparable data was available, that figure was somewhere around the 17 percent mark. Some companies look at remote working as a strategic move to provide flexibility and save costs and then there are businesses that discourage the practice citing productivity issues. From what the numbers suggest, remote working is definitely here to stay and is expected to grow.
If we compare remote working with working from an office, the elements that are missing are face time with colleagues, supervision (upward & downward) and in-person communication channels. In theory, that should be all but in reality, there is one significant factor that most first-time remote workers completely miss; Environment. An office environment is designed to be productive while a home environment is not. Most productivity issues arise out of the inability to bring the same level of discipline and focus in the home environment.
My wife is a professional who works from her home office. We casually got talking on this subject last week and here are some of the insights I gathered from our conversation.
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6 Tips for Creating a Productive Home Office Environment
- Create your Workspace at Home – It is important to create an area at home that helps you get into the “work zone”. If you have to spend eight hours a day in that space, you need to feel comfortable. This space should be a slight departure from the home environment, to ensure you feel like you are entering a place of work. Some seasoned remote workers also dress the part to get into the zone.
- Get into a Routine – The human minds only adapts when it is subjected to a routine. Remote working gets a whole lot easier when you create and follow a routine. One way to do it, especially if you are working on projects is to identify when you are most productive in the day and plan your work around those times. If your job involves collaborating with others it would help if you adopted the same working hours as them. If you are working with people in different time zones, you might need to build a routine that gives you some overlap. Whatever the scenario, a routine is a must for productivity.
- Avoid Distractions – Let’s face it. Our home environment is full of distractions. Nothing stops you from watching an episode of Game of Thrones, or playing temple run or taking a nap on your cozy couch. The bigger issue is family members trying to get your time during working hours. Distractions are a sure-fire way to ruin your remote working experience. Once you give into distractions, your productivity will nosedive and recovering from that is a challenge you don’t need. The best way to deal with this is to set clear ground rules for yourself and your family members. Those 8 hours a day should be sacrosanct, and it completely lies in your control.
- Improve Time & Task Management – One of the advantages of working from home is that you are pretty much by yourself most of the time. You, therefore, have more control over your day and how you plan to spend it. So it’s important to a) Create a weekly task schedule and b) Optimize your meetings. Having a view of the entire week is a great way to plan your time and effort. This way you prioritize daily tasks and plan ahead for the week as well. If you are managing a team, ensure you have complete visibility into their schedules and that you are monitoring progress through the week. Remote working demands better communication and conference calls are probably the best way to achieve that. Sometimes this could lead to a call overload and could end up overwhelming you. It’s best to have scheduled daily calls and weekly/fortnightly status meetings. The key is to keep ad hoc calls to the minimum. Set clear agendas and expected outcomes from these calls to ensure that they are productive for everyone involved. Most important of all – have a personal time management philosophy – You could follow popular time management techniques like the Pomodoro Technique or develop one that suits your profile and comfort. The intent is to be productive by managing the time at hand well.
- Plan for In-person Communication – Remote working isolates you from the office environment. You will miss out on the water cooler chats, the impromptu brainstorming sessions, the quick chat with the boss and the team huddles. These are essential components of workplace communication dynamics. The good news is that with some rigor, you can put a communication philosophy in place. Plan some of your meetings outside your “home office”. You can meet your team or even clients at a convenient place – either their offices or even at a coffee shop. The facetime always helps build and sustain the relationships.
- Don’t forget the Work-life Balance – Remote workers say they end up working more hours than they would if they were in office. When you work in an office, your workday typically ends when you leave office. How do you draw the line when you work from home? You might end up being online all the time. It is imperative to maintain that balance and decide when to switch off. Work-life balance is important whether you are in the office or working remotely.
Remote working can be very beneficial to both employees and organizations if the proper processes and methodologies are followed. With integrity, time management, and proper communication, remote workers can get the best of both worlds. If you are a home office professional, do share your tips and experiences.