Despite it being touted as the easy, chilled out way to work, working from home is not without its own challenges. It can be difficult to keep work motivation levels high when there are so many temptations within reach: a fridge full of food, a cosy bed, a Netflix account….
But with a little self-discipline – and a few useful technological solutions – you can stay motivated, focused and productive to keep your team on track.
Still act like you’re going to work
Turns out there’s some merit to the phrase ‘dress for success’: dressing like you’re still going to an office can actually help boost productivity and work motivation. Researchers at Northwestern University found that clothing can influence the wearer’s perceptions and attention, so resist the urge to stay in pyjamas all day and get dressed. Not only will this eliminate the potential for an embarrassing incident of overexposure on your next video conference, it will help you structure your day and stay on track.
Part of acting like you’re still going to work also means not working in bed. Create your own home office – preferably near as much natural light as possible to avoid drowsiness – that’s purely for work.
Find your most productive time of day
Many of us would lose those productive early hours to a commute (possibly involving traffic, delays, etc.), but working from home lets you literally roll out of bed and start working. Studies have shown that morning people are generally more proactive than night owls, so fight the urge to continue snoozing your alarm until 10 am simply because you can. Get up early and – more importantly – find your peak time. Maybe you find you get the most done between 6 and 11 am, perhaps you’re most productive before 1 pm. Whenever it may be, make sure you keep that prime time free.
Turns out a workout not only keeps you healthy, it can boost your work motivation and productivity levels. A study conducted by Stockholm University wanted to see if it was possible to use work time for a workout and still achieve the same – if not better – levels of output. The result of their research found that in fact, just 2.5 hours of exercise per week helps maintain and increase production, and even helps workers feel more productive.
Incorporate a regular workout into your working from home routine, and make it an activity you actually enjoy doing so you’ll be more motivated to follow through. Consider taking a class or finding a running buddy, something that gets you out of the house for a little bit and lets you socialise for a bit!
Get the right tech
Having the right tech can encourage work motivation since you are able to work in your comfort zone with your preferred systems, settings and programs. When you have the freedom to use your own devices, you feel more in control and productive. However, one of the potential drawbacks of relying on screens as a home worker is a growing sense of virtual distance, or feeling disconnected physically and emotionally from your team members. Seemingly little things – like not being sent a meeting invite about a project you’re a part of or having to be the one to remind your boss about your annual review – can build up resentment over time, and could lead to a serious drop in employee motivation. That’s where having a few key tools to keep you connected can come in handy.
Although apps, programs, websites and other tech-related gadgets tend to be more of a distraction than a productivity aid, these tools will actually help your team work better together.
Cold Turkey – this free program lets you block certain sites for a scheduled amount of time, so you can break your constant need to refresh Twitter or cut yourself off from the Internet if you’re working to a tight deadline.
Titan Pad – this is a bit like Google Docs in that it’s a document that many people can work in at the same time, but Titan Pad doesn’t require you to make an account to use it. This is a free online text editor that reflects edits in real time, and is a more efficient way to collaborate than emailing every time there’s an update.
Slack – this free messaging app/project management system is a more organised way to collaborate remotely. Plus, it works just as well as a social chat tool – a great way to include remote staff in socialising!
World Time Buddy – if you are working across different time zones, World Time Buddy lets you easily find and schedule a fair time for team members to meet. You can install this as a Chrome or mobile app, or simply use the desktop version.
GoToMeeting – when working from home, you need to learn to be well-versed in online meetings, as it’s the quickest, easiest, most cost-effective way to meet remotely. GoToMeeting is your all-in-one video conferencing tool with an easy-to-use interface, sharing features, mobile capabilities, and more.
High-quality webcam/noise-cancelling headphones with a microphone – these are absolute essentials for remote workers. You need to make sure you’re well-equipped to participate in or facilitate video conferences, so a technical glitch doesn’t derail a meeting.
Create a schedule (sort of)
In his webinar titled ‘9 Hacks to Improve Business Productivity’, B2B communications consultant Roger Courville discusses this notion of making better use of your time by ‘planning for the unplannable.’ He talks about how when we talk about time management, that can often be code for ‘schedule everything,’ from your work-related tasks down to your gym sessions. Although this system might work for some, it becomes problematic when an unexpected project with a pressing deadline comes in, consequentially rendering the rest of your carefully-scheduled plan useless. Instead of planning every day down to the last detail, Courville encourages us to block extra time into our schedules in anticipation of an unexpected deadline. He also encourages us to use a tool like Schedule Once – which integrates with a ton of third-party apps including Outlook, Google Calendar, even GoToMeeting – allows your team to book in a meeting or video conference without all the back and forth of trying to find a suitable time.
When you rely solely on digital communication to collaborate with your team members, it can be hard to disconnect since it’s more difficult to ‘leave the office’ (so to speak) when you happen to live there. Since we so often use our tech for work as well as for personal use, the line between the two sometimes blurs. But just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to be available 24/7, so keeping your own office hours – and budgeting your time wisely – is essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Working from home space
Working from home is undoubtedly more relaxed than working in an office, but that doesn’t mean it’s a breeze. In addition to setting up and maintaining a system of successful virtual collaboration with your colleagues, there are certain outdated misconceptions about working from home to debunk. Many employers assume that remote workers are less productive, simply because they are not ‘witnessing their productivity,’ i.e. not physically seeing them do work at a desk in an office. This puts pressure on employees to ‘show up’ to stay in good standing, even when their health could pose a significant obstacle to productivity (such as a staff member coming into the office while still contagious with a cold and infecting others). This is called presenteeism, and it’s costing the economy $34 billion a year. By removing a culture of presenteeism and allowing staff to manage their health through remote working, businesses could save significantly on sick days.
Another misconception around working from home is the idea that the office is the only place you can get things done. Being around your colleagues certainly has its advantages: you can all meet face-to-face; you can bounce ideas off one another in person; and you’re able to form stronger bonds through socialising. However, the office actually isn’t the best place to get work done because of the office itself. The office is full of disruptions, so each day is filled with continually toggling between tasks as well as the constant expectation that another interruption will come at any time. Research by the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine took a closer look at this phenomenon, and they found that this anticipation of interruption creates significant levels of stress, which in turn makes the employee try to work faster to compensate, which only creates even more stress (and more room for mistakes). Working from home allows employees to find their best pace and eliminates the stress that comes with forestalling a disruption for better productivity.
With the right tools – and the right mindset – remote working has the potential to make employees healthier, more productive and more motivated in their role to ensure business success.