It’s safe to say working from home is on the rise. In the past ten years, research conducted by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics shows that from 2005 to 2017, remote work grew by 159%. To back these numbers up, a new study done by IWG in Switzerland found nearly 70% of workers across the world are given at least one day outside of the office. But what does this mean for business owners and employees shifting into new work environments?
While working remotely gives those within a company more freedom, flexible work hours, and additional time with family, this option also has its challenges. For instance, in 2018, the Global Work Connectivity study discovered two-thirds of surveyed employees weren’t as engaged in their jobs when they worked from home. Other problems people might experience are loneliness, lack of time management, and difficulties staying connected to others in the business. These are all serious issues that can lead to unhappiness, decreased retention rates, and weakened teams.
From a leadership perspective, there are several ways entrepreneurs, business owners, and executive leaders can avoid these setbacks. As remote work becomes increasingly more popular, find out how to address potential obstacles to productivity and engagement.
Table of Contents
Step One – Avoid Staying Up Late
Leaders guiding remote teams should communicate the importance of maintaining a healthy sleep routine while following this advice themselves. Practicing good sleep hygiene is crucial to optimal work performance both inside and outside of the office. Preparing for a solid night’s rest includes going to bed at the same time every night, limiting screen time at least an hour before bedtime, avoiding caffeine and foods that disrupt sleep, and having a comfortable sleeping environment.
The old adage “early to bed, early to rise, keeps a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” seems to have some truth to it. When asked about the importance of morning rituals, co-author of My Morning Routine, Benjamin Spall, tells Forbes in an interview, “the statistics we included in the book confirm biases that we all have: yes, we need to go to bed earlier (our interviewees average a 10:57 p.m. bedtime).” Additionally, Spall found in his studies that top leaders and high performers typically wake up before 6:30 a.m.
As more employees work remotely and venture into territory that might be entirely new for them, they need to feel supported. Sharing tips for creating a consistent sleep schedule can help them find what works best for them.
Step Two – Create a Morning Routine
Developing a productive morning schedule is equally important for remote workers. Working from home fundamentally changes the structure of the start of a person’s day. Most in-office employees spend at least an hour at home getting ready for work and then commuting. When working remotely, this means at least an extra hour in the morning for starting the day in a purposeful, intentional way.
A study done by HomeArena on 23 business owners, politicians, and other successful people showed that while each person’s morning ritual varied, they all had a routine to jump-start the day. Some of the top morning activities included exercising (59%), spending time with family (41%), answering emails (36%), and checking the news (32%). Steve Jobs, Ariana Huffington, and the CEO of American Express, Kenneth Chenault, all cited setting intentions in the morning as something they do each day, too.
Introduce employees to this practice by working through it with them during digital Monday morning meetings. This helps everyone stay aware of team members’ priorities for the week. Additionally, it shows leaders where the team might need their support. When working through this strategy, have everyone share three to five major professional and personal intentions for the week. Before setting new goals, follow up on the progress made so far. Doing this helps people approach their work-life with habitual purpose.
Step Three – Work in Time Blocks
Unlike working in an office with set hours, those working remotely have the flexibility to create their own schedule. To increase productivity, entrepreneurs, executives, and employees can track their optimal working hours. This helps break up the workday into periods of productivity. Set aside time blocks in your schedule to turn off notifications and focus on a hyper-specific goal. In addition, encourage employees to do the same by finding the times during their workday they feel most effective. This also helps leaders know the best times to check-in and communicate with team members. Likewise, avoid scheduling meetings or discussions during the majority of team members’ optimal working hours.
Working this way also helps people get into a flow state (otherwise known as deep work). This is not as simple as setting aside time for a productive day. Self-control is key for those practicing deep work techniques. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work tells Entrepreneur.com, “You have to treat your attention with a lot of respect like a professional athlete might treat their body.” Ultimately, working in flow is something a person can train their mind to do over time.
When working in time blocks, penciling moments of rest into the schedule is equally important. When analyzing remote workers’ productiveness, researchers at Airtasker found taking breaks is key. Additionally, encourage team members to take regular breaks throughout the day. This prevents overworking to the point of burn out. From a work culture standpoint, communicate with employees and let them know taking a periodic breather is not only okay, it’s healthy.
Step Four – Practice Time Management
Practicing time management is the thread that ties together all of these tips for engagement and productivity. When working in an office, time feels rigid. Most people within the organization follow the hours of operation determined by the business. While those working from home might have a loose schedule, for the most part, employees determine their own hours. Transitioning out of a typical, in-office, 9 to 5 structure and remaining productive requires a heightened ability for effectively managing time. Thankfully, there are tons of apps and time management tools that can help remote workers stay on track.
Recommendations for Time Management
Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner takes the traditional approach most people use for time management. This well-designed, no-frills planner keeps things simple and organized.
For those looking for a daily dose of motivation, the SELF Journal is a “13-week planning, productivity, and positivity system for inevitable goal success.” Unlike a traditional planner, this unique product walks high achievers through their entire day.
Trello is a project management tool that places all of a person’s tasks on “boards” that break down into lists of: “to-do,” “doing” and “done.” Leaders can also connect everyone on their team to a board, making it easier to delegate work and track goal achievement.
While very similar to Trello, Monday.com allows leaders and team members an overview of company progress. As an organizational tool, the system labels each task’s priority level. This project management app is easy to navigate and customize. Depending on the user’s preferences, business objectives can be viewed either in a super simplistic manner or one that is hyper-detailed.
Another suggestion for time management when working from home comes from Cathryn Lavery, co-founder and CEO of BestSelf Co., who produces the Self Journal mentioned above. In an interview for Inc.com, she suggests organizing schedules with a zero-based calendar. This method places all tasks an individual is responsible for into blocks of time on the calendar. Levels of productivity are increased by helping to wisely allocate a person’s time.
Step Five – Eliminate Possible Distractions
People usually find out the hard way that distractions often increase when working from home. From loud neighbors to barking dogs, there’s a variety of factors that can break concentration. When it comes to distracting noises, a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones can be the difference between a productive workday and a futile one. Because of this, business owners with remote workers might consider supplying these to employees who don’t already own a pair.
In addition, personal distractions can weigh significantly on working parents. As an employer, discuss work expectations with team members in this situation. Use empathy and try to be as flexible as possible with those who have family obligations. Let employees know that you are supportive of work-life balance and are willing to help them figure out a game plan that works for everyone.
One of the best ways of eliminating distractions goes back to time blocking and practicing the self-control needed for deep work. Abstain from running errands, doing housework, or answering calls and texts. Instead, attend to these things by scheduling them into breaks outside of optimal working hours.
Additionally, avoiding distractions can sometimes require a change of scenery. The great thing about working from home is being untethered to an office, so encourage employees to find an alternate place to work when they need a break from their house. Create a list of potential workspaces, share it with the team, and let them add to it (based on their location).
Step Six – Stay in Communication
When working from home, communication is key. Being accessible, available, and connected to the team helps maintain “business as usual.” According to Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work report, 21% of remote workers mentioned issues with communication and collaboration. To prevent feelings of disconnect on both sides, business leaders need to regularly check in with employees. Virtual meetings can prove effective in the exchange of updates on projects and discussions on how to best support one another.
Staying in contact shows the team that leadership is still there for them. In addition, it boosts emotional well-being. Because remote workers face limited amounts of human interaction, this can result in “loneliness, increased stress, and bad decision-making,” says Forbes.com writer Ankur Modi. Maintaining a connection to others in the company keeps those within the organization happier and more engaged in their work.
Remote Communication Tools
Slack is downloadable for free on desktop and mobile. It provides services for instant messaging, video chatting, and calling (paid plans are necessary for larger companies). In addition, people can set a status to let others know when they’re working or unavailable.
Similar to Slack, companies use Google Hangouts for instant messages, calls, and video chats with their team (price depends on the number of employees). Google Meetings can be recorded, which is effective for important conversations requiring playback.
Zoom is a popular video conference program that allows users access to live meetings with their teams. There are options for recording calls, sharing the screen, hosting presentations, and more. Out of all the video communication tools listed, Zoom is the best for larger businesses. It is free for limited plans—larger organizations will require a paid plan.
The slogan of Teams is, “Work remotely without feeling remote.” Their free plan only includes instant messaging. Priced plans with Office 365 cost up to $20.00 per month for more exclusive features like video calling, productivity apps and services, security and compliance, administration, and customer support.
Find What Works
While no two people will have exactly the same workflow, share these methods with the team and figure out what works best for everyone. Create an open, company-wide list for suggestions of best practices. Compile employees’ working from home tips into a guide that can be shared with new employees or those transitioning into remote roles. This helps team members feel supported as they join the remote workforce.
Most importantly, look for ways to stay connected as a team. Remote work doesn’t need to be an isolating experience. Meet with the executive leadership team and develop a strategy for maintaining a vibrant team culture while moving toward more modern, flexible ways of working. This helps everyone in the company stay engaged, happy, and productive.