- According to one study, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts, resulting in more than three additional weeks of work per year.
- 29% of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31% said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health.
- One of the most effective ways workers can stay productive is by taking breaks throughout the day. The Pomodoro Technique is one such method for employees to decompress for a moment and come back refreshed and ready to focus.
Many employees and business owners alike have been working from home for years, thanks to developments in tech that make remote work possible. For a growing number of Americans, this is the norm. Now, amid the recent COVID-19 outbreak, most companies and their workers are following suit, raising the question: Is this working arrangement a productive one?
A 2019 survey by Airtasker says yes. Researchers polled 1,004 full-time employees throughout the U.S. about their productivity, their commutes and other facets of their lives. Among that group were 505 people who worked remotely. The study found that working from home not only benefits employees by eliminating their daily commutes, it also increases productivity and leads to healthier lifestyles. It's a win-win situation that workers relish for its flexibility – but often at the cost of their work-life balance.
How to be productive at home
With all the modern comforts of home beckoning for our attention, it would be understandable if employers saw a dip in productivity, yet the opposite is true. According to the Airtasker study, telecommuters "worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year" than people who worked in an office.
However, researchers also found that working from home can be more stressful than working at the office. Approximately 29% of telecommuting respondents said they had a hard time maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Just 23% of office workers reported the same struggle.
In addition, 54% of remote workers and 49% of office workers said they felt "overly stressed during the workday," 45% of remote workers and 42% of office workers "experienced high levels of anxiety during the workday," and 37% of remote workers and 35% of office workers said they "procrastinated on a task until its deadline."
To help your team stay focused and efficient during this work-from-home phase while combating stress and maintaining work-life balance, here are some tips to help you out.
The most effective way for remote employees to stay productive, according to the Airtasker survey, was to take breaks (37%). The research found that office workers took shorter breaks than remote workers, though longer breaks have been shown to increase productivity.
Encourage your workers to get up every so often during the workday, especially when they're particularly drained or distracted, to grab a healthy snack, walk around their home, call a friend, meditate, etc.
Many people find success using the Pomodoro Technique, which follows this method:
- Choose a task.
- Work on it for 25 minutes.
- Put a check mark on a sheet of paper after the 25 minutes are up.
- Take a five-minute break. (This marks the completion of one "Pomodoro" sprint.)
- After every four Pomodoro sprints, take a longer break.
- Continue this throughout the day until your workday is over.
This technique can help your employees decompress and come back more focused.
Follow a schedule.
The second most popular way employees stay productive at home is having set work hours (33%). Encourage employees to maintain the same schedule they did when they went into the office. Following a routine will help your workers feel more structured and efficient, and it will help keep their attention focused.
Keep a to-do list.
The Airtasker survey also revealed that 30% of remote employees reported that keeping a to-do list helped their productivity. Encourage employees to write down what they wish to accomplish each day so they are not jumping from assignment to assignment. Now that you and your team are working remotely, communication is critical. Set daily or weekly meetings where you and your team discuss and prioritize projects, including deadlines, so you can stay on track.
Researchers found that, along with spending more time doing work, remote employees lost 27 minutes per day on distractions, as opposed to the 37 minutes distracted office workers lost. The survey also found that just 8% of remote employees and 6% of office workers reported finding it hard to focus on their tasks.
Text messages, phone calls, social media ‒ all are forms of distractions. At home especially, employees will experience many disturbances throughout the day. Steps that your workers can take to stay focused include silencing their phones, working in an office-like space rather than a bed or couch, and staying away from areas of their home that could otherwise tempt them to direct their attention elsewhere.
Benefits of working remotely
One of the biggest benefits that employees gain through working remotely is that they no longer have to commute to work. Commuting has led at least 1 in 4 respondents to quit a job, according to the Airtasker study. In fact, many workers said they would be willing to give up a lot of things to end their commute.
The average American's commute is now nearly 30 minutes. That much time on the road means workers are spending more money on fuel, not to mention maintenance and repair costs due to the wear and tear on their vehicles. According to researchers, the average remote worker saved more than $4,500 on yearly fuel costs. The lack of a daily commute also led to a slight decrease in maintenance costs, with remote workers spending $55 per month versus the $59 per month office workers spent. Additionally, it helps the environment by decreasing the number of people taking cars, trains, and buses to and from the office.
Along with the cost savings, respondents said they noticed that they had more free time once their commutes were eliminated. On average, employees said they had an extra 17 days' worth of free time as a result.
Some of that regained time has gone to building healthier exercise habits. According to researchers, remote employees spent two hours and 44 minutes on physical exercise each week, marking a 25-minute increase over office workers.
Additionally, sickness spreads quickly among co-workers sharing the same office space. Offices are typically packed with people who work in close proximity to one another and share germs without even realizing it. With the spread of the coronavirus, many states have issued stay-at-home orders, and many companies have mandated that employees work from home to "flatten the curve" of the pandemic. Allowing your team to work from home helps stop the spread of COVID-19 between members of your staff with other employees and their families.
Managing work relationships
One of the downsides of working from home is that it can be more difficult for employees to connect with their co-workers. According to the study, 70% of respondents said maintaining relationships with their co-workers was just as important as their jobs. Only 19% said they prioritized work over relationships, while the remaining 11% said co-worker relationships were a higher priority.
As an employer, consider using video conferencing to get your employees together at least once a week, so they still feel like they're part of the team. [Read our recommendations of the best video conferencing services of 2020.]
However, too much contact might hinder performance. While it's nice to be friends with your co-workers, researchers found that such relationships can be a distraction. Office workers spent an average of 66 minutes per day discussing nonwork topics, while remote employees only spent 29 minutes doing the same. Managers were found to be particularly distracting, as they were found to spend nearly 70 minutes talking about nonwork topics compared to the 38 minutes spent on average by nonmanagers.
Managerial distraction, as a result, affected remote workers less than their office-based co-workers at 15% and 22%, respectively.
Andrew Martins also contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.