Productivity at the (Remote) Workplace

There are many reasons why I love working at UpBuild, from the consciously created culture to the amazing team I’m lucky to call my colleagues. Remote work is yet another factor which makes UpBuild unique.

At our most recent company retreat in Austin, Texas, we discussed the topic of remote work, the pros and cons, and how each person was handling the task of working from home. This discussion prompted another thought in my mind, one of productivity.

How does working remotely compare to office work environments when it comes to efficiency, and what can we do to increase productivity and output? Does remote work require a certain type of person, or is it something that can be done by anyone when given the right tools to succeed?

Working from Home Does Increase Productivity

My alarm is set for 8:00 am; I roll out of bed, make coffee, take the dog out, and open my computer ready for the day to begin. The commute from the bed to my laptop is about 50 feet and my morning coffee is always to my liking. My office is set up to all my specifications; two monitors, standing desk, extra keyboard, and a dog at my feet.

Yes, this is pretty incredible. But I’m always asked the same question: “How do you focus at home?”

I’ve never had an issue focusing at home; in fact, I do better without the constant hum of conversation in the background, trips to the watercooler, or other distractions. And I’m not the only one.

According to a study from Stanford, remote workers had a 13% increase in productivity with fewer sick leaves and breaks when compared to office workers.

The University of Illinois studied remote work and summarized that “working remotely is associated with improvement in two main employee measures — task-based performance and organizational citizenship behavior, including one’s contributions toward creating a positive, cooperative and friendly environment.

And a ConnectSolutions study found that 77% of remote workers get more done in fewer hours thanks to fewer distractions from meetings, conversations, and noisy co-workers.

remote work is more productive
(www.rewire.org)

Needless to say, remote work actually promotes efficiency and productivity in workers. Why does remote work fare better than office work when it comes to output? What’s so special about working from home?

An Office Specifically Designed for your Needs

At UpBuild, we receive a $500 stipend per year to spend on our home office needs. We can spend the money how we want in order to make our office the most desirable place to work. For some, this may mean a poster of Willie Nelson on the wall, houseplants, or speakers. For others, this may mean a second monitor, payment towards a new computer, or an ergonomic chair. Why does this matter?

(Work best from bed? Go for it!)
(Work best from bed? Go for it!)

Creating a dedicated workspace to your own specifications and needs promotes a sense of well-being and separates your work environment from your home environment. When I walk up to my desk, my mind goes into work mode. This dedicated space provides a barrier between my personal and my work life, while also making it as easy as possible to do my job. I have the computer I want, the desk I want, the house plants I want, and the monitors I want because I know these things will help me focus.

Remote Workers are Productive When they Want to Be (Night or Day)

Working remotely also means working the hours you want (for the most part). Here at UpBuild, we’re all at our computers during “Office Hours,” a 5 hour time period where we are available on Slack to our fellow team members – most of our team and client meetings are scheduled during this time when we know everyone will be available.

However, the rest of the day is up to you. Do you live near the beach and want to surf every afternoon? Go for it! Outside of office hours, you are free to work whenever you want, as long as you fit in your work hours at some point during the week, whether this means working mostly at night, starting at the crack of dawn, or in chunks throughout the day, you do you.

Surfing the internet

This sense of autonomy and flexibility over your schedule allows you to work when you feel most productive. Often when I feel my focus waning, I’ll take off after office hours and head to the sauna. I work best after 20-minute bouts of extreme heat — and I can do this only because I work from home. What office job allows you to take a quick sauna break to get the juices flowing? I don’t know of any.

Fewer Sick Days

While UpBuild promotes time off, encouraging us to call in sick when needed, take a mental health day to binge watch Netflix, and utilize our PTO time however we want, I still find myself taking less time off.

In fact, one study found that when employees work from home, they take fewer sick days. Maybe this is due to working in isolation, not being surrounded by a constant stream of germs all day. Perhaps, people who work from home have a higher tolerance for working while sick. Having a cough at home may not be as much of a struggle as having a cough at the office. Additionally, if I feel a sickness coming on, I can sleep in a little longer, take more breaks, and take care of myself in a way that would be harder to do at an office. We also don’t have to worry about infecting our co-workers when we’re a little sick but still come to work.

The time spent at work is actually time spent working. It also means that I can save my sick days for time off that I truly need, and can return feeling fully rejuvenated and ready to seize the work day.

Remote Work Isn’t Always Hunky Dory

Working from home isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; there are some serious considerations to keep in mind while thinking of remote work. Missteps will be made and there will be days you wished you worked in an office, with colleagues who are occupying the same space as you.

Fears of Isolation

Working remotely during the summer is one thing, but working remotely during the winter is a whole different beast. I found myself dipping into isolation and feelings of melancholy when working alone in my small home office during the cold, grey, snowy months of a Chicago winter. It was during these moments that I longed for real human interaction, face-to-face communication, or a reason to leave the house.

Chicago winter and snowy streets
(Photo by Chris Walker)

While I was still incredibly happy at my job, I realized that I need a reason to escape my house during the winter. I began going to coffee shops to work, which helped to an extent, and then realized that perhaps access to a co-working space, even just once per week, would be something that could ease my feelings of isolation.

Isolation can be a big factor with remote teams, with some people wanting to be surrounded by a physical team. This isolation can lead to depression, decreased productivity, and dissatisfaction. So how does one promote a feeling of connectedness throughout a remote team?

Communication

Communication is key at UpBuild, and it’s what makes us a cohesive unit. All-hands-on deck-team-meetings are held via video chat twice weekly in addition to pair calls, a scheduled 15 minute Google hangout with a colleague to discuss anything besides work.

We also freely message each other on Slack, making good use of our Watercooler chat room to talk about everything from The Lord of the Rings, to the new Black Panther movie, or even tacos.

(Not Actual UpBuild Slack Chat)

Our twice-yearly retreats allow us to connect in person, actually talking face-to-face without any delays due to varying internet speeds. This intentional attempt for connection creates a workspace where team members feel valued and part of a team. This by far is one of the most important factors of success and productivity.

A recent study from Harvard found that a lack of close contact and communication greatly affected remote teams, and “inhibits the formation of trust, connection, and mutual purpose — three ingredients of a healthy social system.” Additionally, those employees who work remotely at a company where some employees work in an office may feel left out of important meetings, and treated unequally.

This can all lead to a dissatisfaction at the workplace, with team members feeling isolated, left out, and unfocused. Thankfully at UpBuild, our management goes to great lengths to make us feel heard, create connection, and promote trust.

5 Tips to Increase Your Productivity (From home or the office)

Whether you work from an office or from home, productivity can ebb and flow. It’s important to learn what helps you focus, from coffee to a quiet room, loud music or sauna breaks. If you’re having trouble figuring out what’s best for you, here are some pro tips to hack your productive side.

1. Narrow down your focus (Multitasking doesn’t exist)

It’s time to dispel the myth of multitasking. The idea that we can accomplish multiple tasks at once is not helping. This myth has been perpetuated over and over but the truth is, our brains can’t do tasks simultaneously. In fact, we just switch tasks quickly, which can have a negative impact on productivity, increasing the likelihood of mistakes, and over time deplete our energy.

Instead, make a list of the three most important tasks of the day. Focus on these three main tasks for the day and once they’re done, you can move on.

I started using this strategy when I was becoming overwhelmed with an increased workload. Only allowing myself to focus on three tasks at a time allowed me to relax and truly prioritize my work.

2. Sleep

Yes, we all know we need sleep. But sleep so much more than added energy. A good night’s sleep can help you focus, prevent burnout, improve memory, decrease mistakes, and help you make better decisions. Sleep is the ultimate performance enhancer.

I noticed my ability to focus increase dramatically once I prioritized sleep. This meant I could no longer stay up late and watch “The Voice” or spend my weeknights socializing with friends past my 10:00 pm bedtime. Learn for yourself how many hours per night works best for you, and make sure sleep takes precedence.

3. Turn off notifications

I am a self-confessed phone addict. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, texting, and anything else that makes a sound takes my attention away from what I should be doing. This is why I work far away from my precious phone.

Working on an important task? Turn off your notifications. The constant tweets, bings, bells, and whistles only take your mind off the task at hand. Instead, set a timer for 15 minutes and force yourself to work, without distraction, until the timer goes off. Once you’re done, take a well-earned break.

Play around with what amount of time works best for you. Some can go 40 minutes without breaks, while others need to start with just 5.

4. Start with Small Tasks (Two-Minute Rule)

Have meetings all day and can’t accomplish tasks during those awkward breaks of time? Find small tasks you’ve been putting off that take two minutes of your time, and accomplish these in between a fully scheduled meeting day. This will help make you feel productive and accomplish those small things you’ve been putting off.

This technique has helped me be productive when I otherwise wouldn’t have been. Sporadic meetings used to through me off, I was afraid of starting something new in fear of a meeting interrupting my focus and flow. However, now I know to save the small tasks for those meeting heavy days.

5. Automate

You don’t have to do it all on your own anymore. There’s an onslaught of new tools coming out every day to help us achieve tasks. Think Evernote, Zapier, IfThisThenThatPocket, and Mint. There are automation tools for almost every aspect of life, helping us automate and streamline our busy lives.

Remote work is one of the best parts of my job, and it just so happens it’s one of the best ways to increase productivity and efficiency. But even if you go into an office, it’s important to create a workspace that works for you. Learn what makes you tick, what helps you focus, and find the practices that will set you up for success during the week.

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