wfh productivity

Working From Home: A Productivity Guide for Managers and Employees

Productivity for working from home can be challenging, but it can be achieved. We compiled some tips and tricks, advice for managers, and best practices for employees and put them all together in this comprehensive WHF productivity guide.

Anja Simic
Written by Anja Simic
September 27, 2021
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Remote work and the debate surrounding it started almost a decade ago when we were only getting a glimpse of today's technological possibilities. When working from home first started appearing as a possibility, it was frowned upon as ineffective, lazy, and an excuse not to work. However, in the past few years, companies from startups to big corporations have turned to home working, praising it as more productive than office work. Remote work started entering the mainstream steadily but surely. Then, 2020 happened.

The coronavirus pandemic and remote work

March 2020 brought us the Covid-19 pandemic and a huge, often hasty shift to remote work. Employees all over the United States (and the world) had to switch from office commutes to working from home very suddenly. Companies that weren't even considering transitioning to remote work were now forced to shut their offices to keep their teams healthy. On top of all that, employees were sometimes left to themselves to adapt to remote working and make the best of it. So how well did new remote workers cope with the change of environment, and what conclusions are arising from the social experiment we know as 2020? Let's find out.

Working from home: productivity statistics for 2020

Big companies such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and others often serve as guidance to the rest of the business community regarding workplace trends. Some of these companies were surprised at how smooth the transition to remote work was, while some even vowed to make working from home a permanent option for their employees.

Until recently, there weren't many studies dedicated to working from home, but that is bound to change after this year's events. The main topic in the remote work universe is certainly employee productivity.

Some of the study results show that productivity actually spiked since employees started commuting to their home offices instead of real ones. A Stanford study from 2013 showed a 13% increase in productivity, with respondents reporting higher work satisfaction. Research published by Prodoscore this year shows a spike in productivity of 47%, mainly caused by the lack of commute and distractions.

Remote workers apparently spend less time in meetings, even though meetings and Zoom calls are their only ways to touch base. According to a Harvard Business School study, the average worker spends way more hours on meetings, probably because old habits and inertia die hard.

Still, it's not all sunshine and rainbows: a recent whitepaper found that while productivity can increase or remain unchanged, innovation can suffer in remote workplaces. Due to social isolation and loneliness, people feel less attached to the team and the company culture, and innovation starts to drop.

Discussing remote work in a pandemic lockdown versus normal circumstances is in no way a close comparison - the levels of stress and anxiety we all experience in times of crisis reflect on our work life too. However, these studies will hopefully provide useful guidance to approaching work from home in a post-covid world.

How to be productive when working from home

Workers and managers worldwide are under great amounts of pressure this year. While essential workers everywhere risk their health and safety every day, office workers have become remote employees amidst a raging health crisis. To top it off, add the uncertainty in the economy and the job market, as well as children doing school at home, and you have a recipe for disaster.

If you have somehow managed to get any of these issues under control (congratulations!) and you want to gain insight on how to stay (or become) productive when working from home, we've got some tips on hand.

Make the best of your home office

We are well aware that not everyone has an extra room to convert into a spacious home office. There are, however, thousands of ideas and hacks on how to convert your desk corner into a productive workspace. Give some thought to your home and see what works best with the space you've got. Small steps like adding some plants, getting a good chair, or decluttering your work area can do wonders for productivity.

Organize your workday as you would in an office

Schedules and routines are good for us since they steer our minds in a certain direction and help us focus. Don't try to copy templates and ideas off the internet for this one; instead, take your life into account and plan with it. Think about routines that would make you feel more stable, secure, and focused. For some people, dressing up for work or starting every day at the same time can help cope with stress and bring some much-needed structure to the day. For others, it's the midday exercise session that lifts their spirits. Find your schedule mojo and stick to it.  

Take frequent breaks

One of the biggest advantages of working from home is flexibility, and we advise you to use it to your benefit. No one has an 8-hour streak of focus, so make sure to incorporate small and frequent breaks into your day. If you are particularly proactive, you can plan your workday with these breaks in mind. Whether you're grabbing coffee, walking your dog, making lunch and sitting down to eat, or checking up on a friend, be sure to leave the desk multiple times a day. You will come back with a fresh mind and renewed energy.

Follow communication protocols

By now, most companies have realized that working from home is an entirely separate medium of work that requires its own set of rules and approaches instead of attempts to replicate the office online. This is why almost every company has established communication protocols for remote work that make it easier for managers and employees to stay on track with their jobs. Being proactive in communicating is vital in remote work environments, so make sure to ask questions, seek help, and do everything in writing - this will minimize confusion and maintain clarity.

Maintain a work-life balance  

The most important issue to keep track of is your work-life balance and mental health. Remote employees often cite social isolation as detrimental to their productivity, but burnouts happen just as often. Working from home can sometimes translate into not having working hours and being available all the time, leading to burnout quickly. Employees sometimes also avoid taking sick days since they think they can battle their illness through work. Companies that have experience with remote teams have mechanisms to prevent burnout, but there are actions you can take yourself. Set the alarm to notify you that your workday is nearing its end, unplug from your work devices, and turn off notifications in your off-hours. Setting clear boundaries for work and personal time will only benefit both aspects of your life.

Benefits of remote work

Apart from productivity spikes and time saved on long commutes, the benefits of working remotely are plenty.

From the employees' point of view, the flexibility and ability to organize their workday to align with their lives is a crucial change. Many workers say the casual dress code and being close to their pets all day make them happier and more productive in the long run.

Others feel more motivated to get exercise in their off-hours and keep a healthy lifestyle. Remote companies sometimes offer unique perks to their employees, such as stipends for health and wellbeing, allowances for education and career development, and even budgets for setting up a home office, all of which are great investments into team members.

On the other hand, employers find their horizons for recruiting to be incredibly broadened, especially if they opt to hire internationally. Talent pools become broader, and filling demanding roles gets easier when companies are not limited only to residents of certain cities.

Another plus side for employers is talent retention; if your employees can choose where they want to live without fear of losing their job, it lowers their chances of leaving. Don't forget the cost savings: with a remote workforce, you can lower your real estate investments and channel them towards perks and benefits for your employees - you will soon realize which one of those benefits the company more.

Finally, remote work has one benefit for everyone: a lower environmental impact. Remote workers produce less waste, save energy, and use less gas, making them kinder to our planet than office workers.  

Managing work relationships

Now let's talk about managers and their role in bridging the gaps in working from home. First of all, managers are employees too, and your first task is to adapt to the new work environment. The productivity tips we gave above are crucial for all remote workers, managers included. Once you are set to tackle the world of home working, you can start managing your teams. Whether work from home is a full-time endeavor in your company or just a short-term remedy for the coronavirus pandemic, there are significant changes bound to happen in your day-to-day work.

When you are working from the office, your primary job is to manage your team, meaning their performance. Telecommuting, however, changes your job profoundly. Managers are the ones holding a remote team together, so your main job when working from home is to encourage team cohesion. When a physical office space isn't available, the manager is the point of contact and the one in charge of keeping the atmosphere good.

Remote employees usually have no issues doing their jobs since that's what they know how to do well; what they are not used to is the loneliness that can come with remote work. So while you should, of course, keep managing their work and performance, emphasize good relationships first. Prioritize teamwork and collaboration in any way you can, and do it proactively.

If you have a new hire joining your team remotely, reconfigure the hiring and onboarding experience, so they feel adequately welcomed. Organize and schedule regular team check-in sessions to discuss tasks with coworkers and keep up to date on how their work impacts their colleagues. Most importantly, you are in charge of stimulating your team to bond over the screen. A video-call happy hour on a Friday afternoon is just one good idea you can use, in addition to opening a channel for exchanging cute pictures of pets and kids with coworkers.

Even though this switch of roles may seem odd at first, managers are actually supposed to keep their teams happy, satisfied, and productive, and we are sure you will adapt in no time.  

How to increase productivity when working from home

There are several techniques to increase productivity in remote teams, from both the manager and employee sides.

Managers should set clear expectations of their team members, primarily with communication. Remote work functions best when everything is done in writing, and nothing is left to interpretation. Deadlines, tasks, and progress need to be documented for everyone to see, preferably using team collaboration software.

Consider your company, the team you manage, and their tasks and set expectations in any other domain necessary. For example, if there are no set work hours, is there a time of day when everyone needs to be online and available? Educating, training, and preparing your employees from remote work will help everyone get on track quicker.

For employees, the most important tricks to boost productivity start with limiting distractions. Steering off from social media, making a deal with roommates and family to respect your work hours, and limiting distraction sources can go a long way in getting the best of your day.

Making to-do lists is another classic tip great for employees and managers alike. The planning pros will advise you to make to-do lists and plans the evening before, so when you start your day, there is no anxiety in organizing your day on the spot.

Organizing face-to-face time for remote teams is incredibly important for team building and bonding. Keep that tip in mind for some time in the future when public health crises won't impend our team retreats.  

Finally - avoid multitasking. Office workers often succumb to the allure of juggling multiple things at once, but telecommuters have the luxury of organizing their time to focus on each task separately. It may sound counterintuitive, but doing one thing at a time will result in doing more in the end.

How to measure productivity when working from home

Now that we have gone through all the high-level organizing tips, how do you actually measure remote workers' productivity?

With office-based teams, managers often scramble when it comes to measuring performance and productivity because being close to someone every day can sometimes hinder your objectivity as a manager. On the other hand, typical work environments rely on everyday contact between coworkers and their physical presence, so they often don't have mechanisms that capture the essence of employee productivity.

With remote teams, the situation is different. Managers should take into account each position and its core tasks. For example, customer support specialists can be measured against the number of phone calls or tickets they completed. Simultaneously, software engineers should have their productivity rated by the number of code lines finished.

Measuring the performance of remote employees should focus exclusively on their output, not the number of hours they put in working. Establishing trust and flexibility in terms of work hours should and must be followed by measuring the results of someone's work and its quality because that's what matters in the end.

We recommend creating evaluation criteria for each position that will be readily available to the employees. This way, the expectations are clear and adjusted on both sides.

Essential WFH productivity tools and apps

Work from home (WFH) is made possible by technological advancement, so it's fitting to dedicate some time to researching your team's software needs. Depending on your industry, workflow, and team culture, you can choose from dozens of options, some of which we've covered, with pricing and plans, in a previous article. However, here are some categories to think about implementing in your remote team:

Communication and video-conferencing

Tools like Zoom and Slack have turned out to be essential in the playbook of working from home. They are the 101 tools of every remote team - we can't imagine working from home without them.

Collaboration tools

Keeping remote teams organized with all their files and enabling them to collaborate effectively is no easy task. Map out your workflow to find out which software fits your needs the best. Some of our favorites are Notion, Slite, and Basecamp.

Project management

This is a diverse and well-established category of apps and services, catering to many different industries and needs. From GitHub that caters to software developers worldwide, the simple and functional Asana, to Trello, which is made for color-coding enthusiasts, there is something for everyone.

Contracts, compliance, and payments for remote teams

If you are considering hiring contractors or remote employees for your business, Deel can help you streamline the onboarding process by offering localized contracts, tax form collection, and the best payment experience for both sides. Schedule a product tour with a specialist to learn more.

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