At some point in the near future, we’ll likely reach the point where talking about “working from home” isn’t any different than talking about working from the office. However, while it may become normal, it doesn’t mean it’s natural. Millions of workers around the world have had to make a serious adjustment to this new form of work. Work from home productivity has increased for some but has lagged for others. Learning to be productive while working from home may unlock serious career opportunities for employees who figure this out.
Help Employees Work Productively at Home
As an HR department, and as a company, helping employees maintain productive work-from-home schedules should be top of mind. Do not assume that employees have or will figure this out on their own. Help your employees work from home productively by giving them tools, tips and advice to make the most of each day.
The goal of this article is to get you started on that path. This may even be something you’d like to share with your employees so as to help them work more productively at home.
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Why Work-From-Home Productivity Differs From Working In-Office
Outside of the obvious difference in location, working from home presents new challenges, especially when it comes to employee motivation, focus, consistency, and productivity.
When working in the office, employees have an accountability system built into their work day. Because they’re surrounded by colleagues, they are always being watched (or at least feel like they are). This sense of being observed generally keeps people on task.
When you’re working by yourself at a desk in your house, the freedom to do what you want when you want can be exciting and overwhelming. This new-found freedom can clash with an employee’s motivation to get work done and use their time productively.
Beyond the accountability structure built into an office environment, working from home offers other challenges. For example, you may be regularly interrupted by your partner, your roommates, or your children. You may also feel responsible to lend a hand when a spouse or roommate needs help, even though you’re technically “at work.”
These distractions may seem harmless and innocent at first, but as they repeat over the course of a day and a week, they begin to take a toll on productivity.
For this reason, it’s important to get serious about the tips and tricks that increase employee productivity while working from home.
13 Ways to Help Employees Work From Home Productively
Below, we’ve created a list of 13 ways companies can help employees work from home productively. While this list is not meant to be exhaustive (nor is it meant to be followed to the letter), it should give your company a good starting point.
We recommend that you encourage your employees working from home to do the following:
- Maintain regular work hours
- Take scheduled breaks
- Organize their calendar
- Follow the company’s work-from-home policy
- Create a dedicated work space
- Minimize distractions
- Communicate regularly with their team
- Set clear goals
- Seek support for mental health
- Create morning and evening routines
- Use a VPN
- Turn on cameras during meetings
- Share feedback
Now that you’ve seen the list, let’s take a second to dive into each one of these individually so as to better understand the impact it can have on employee productivity.
Learn how to help employees avoid burnout while working from home.
1. Maintain Regular Work Hours
One of the most important things you can do when working remotely is to set expectations for hours worked. When transitioning to remote work, some employees may feel the need to “always be on”, and they have a hard time drawing clear lines around the beginning and end of their work day. Other employees might see the opportunity to work from home and misinterpret it as a “work when I want” policy. The best thing you can do is make it clear from the beginning what hours are expected (and, if necessary, outline when those hours are to be worked).
2. Take Scheduled Breaks
Employees working from home will drive themselves crazy if they never take a break. Emphasize the importance of regularly scheduled breaks and encourage employees to take them consistently. During a break, employees should move, walk around, go outside, or have something to eat. Encourage them to get out of their home office and briefly change their scenery. These breaks are good for both body and mind and will contribute to employee productivity.
3. Organize Their Calendar
It’s difficult to be productive when you stroll into your home office in the morning and begin the day uncertain about what you should be working on. Maintaining and organizing a calendar is a great way to plan out your day, and it helps keep you accountable. Considering having employees share their daily calendar with their managers. This way, a manager can check in on an employee and see what they plan to do at any given hour of the day. This also benefits the employee because it forces them to think through how they plan to use their time effectively.
4. Follow the Company’s Work-From-Home Policy
First, in order to ask employees to follow a company policy, you must first have one in place. Creating a work-from-home policy for your company is an effective way to clearly communicate the expectations and behaviors for employees working for your firm. The policy should specify things like what technology will be used to communicate with co-workers, how employees will be monitored, and what employees can expect the company to provide (in terms of office equipment, internet access, etc). Ensure that all employees read and familiarize themselves with the policy and then ask them to follow it.
5. Create a Dedicated Workspace
To help employees work productively at home, they’ll need to designate a workspace. Whenever possible, this workspace should be separated from common living areas (like a kitchen or living room) and should be free from distractions. If an employee has the ability to designate an entire room to be a “home office” they should be encouraged to do so. If an employee is living in tight quarters and has little space available, they should do their best to carve out a private area. Companies may also consider paying for an employee to use a local co-working space if their home cannot provide them a proper working environment.
6. Minimize Distractions
Distraction is one of the biggest challenges we face when working from home. Distraction disguises itself in many ways and can be a productivity killer. To help employees work from home more productively, we recommended discouraging behavior that lends itself to distraction. This can include limiting time spent on social media, limiting time spent texting friends, or limiting time spent watching television or playing video games while working (a sad but real problem for many work-from-home employees). How do you know if employees are being distracted while working? Ask them. Don’t be afraid to broach the topic in regular one-on-one interviews. Once you understand what distraction they’re struggling with, help them create a plan to minimize it.
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7. Communicate Regularly with Their Team
We’ve heard from many employees and company leaders that team communication is one of the biggest challenges they face while working from home. Employees who are generally more social or extroverted tend to do a better job at regularly communicating than those who are less social and introverted. As a leader, it’s important to be aware of these differences when assessing your employees. Do not assume that because some people are doing a great job communicating that everyone is doing a great job. Ask managers to try and have daily communication with each individual who reports to them as well as daily or weekly meetings with the entire team.
8. Set Clear Goals
Employees who feel isolated at home may not feel connected with the company’s goals or aspirations. Because they no longer enjoy the camaraderie of an office, they may begin to wonder about their place in the company and how they’re making a difference. Thoughts like these hurt employee productivity and bring down morale. Never let an employee wonder about how their work fits into the goals of the business. Make it clear to them that what they do matters and pushes the company forward. Help them set clear goals and make sure those goals are aligned with the company’s goals.
9. Seek Support for Mental Health
Maintaining good mental health is one of the most critical things and employee can focus on. Good mental health leads to better performance, more productive work, more enjoyable work, and higher retention rates. Many companies are now including services like an employee assistance program in their benefits package. These programs give employees access to mental health professionals whenever they’re in need. These programs are confidential and provide employees a safe space to express themselves and improve their mental health. Beyond employee assistance programs, there are many things that businesses can do to bolster emotional wellness and wellbeing for employees. We have many ideas on how to improve the health an wellness of remote employees.
10. Create Morning and Evening Routines
Routines are the lifeblood of productivity. When employees can create routines and form habits that allow them to get into the zone and work efficiently they become increasingly valuable to the organization. Encourage your employees to create both morning and evening routines to get the most out of each day. A morning routine may start with a workout, a shower, a healthy breakfast, and an assessment of what they plan to do that day. An evening routine might begin as the workday ends and may start with making a list of the employee’s top priorities for the following day. These routines will help employees working from home stay productive and stay on track.
11. Use a VPN
If your employees work with confidential information or sensitive data throughout their workday, it’s probably best to ensure that their internet connection is safe and secure each time they open their computer. If employees are working from home, it’s difficult to know how secure their wi-fi connection is, or who else has access to their network. This is also true if employees work from coffee houses, co-working spaces, or elsewhere. In order to put these concerns to bed, it may be smart to use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows employees to connect to a secure network no matter where they are. This will give you peace of mind that the sensitive or confidential data they’re working with isn’t compromised while your employees are away from the office.
12. Turn On Cameras During Meetings
We get it, having your camera on can be a little awkward. It also can be exhausting to look at yourself on the screen while you participate in video calls throughout the day. But in the end, we have found that turning your camera on for meetings with people inside your organization does a lot of good. Putting names to faces, building relationships with real people (and not just voices behind a black square), and interacting face-to-face virtually is good for all of us. Additionally, by having your camera on, you can pick up on the many non-verbal cues that are missed when you can’t see the person you’re speaking with. After all, it’s been said that around 55% of the meaning derived from communication is non-verbal. To limit misunderstandings and increase social interaction, we think it’s a good idea to have your camera on.
13. Share Feedback
At the end of the day, working from home is still new for many of us. Although we’re now more experienced than we were a year ago, we still have some old habits to re-think and some new habits to form. No one will be perfect. Everyone has room to improve. For this reason, we think it’s important for company leaders and employees to share feedback with each other regularly. This feedback should include ideas for how to work from home more productively, as well as specific ways employees can improve. Creating a regular feedback loop will help the entire company work more effectively and will produce amazing results.
Learn how to build and maintain company culture while working remotely.
The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually end, but working from home is here to stay. There are too many benefits (for both employers and employees) for this trend to disappear. So, with that in mind, it’s important that your company is doing all it can to help employees working from home be as productive as possible. We hope that this list provides a springboard for your organization to take working from home to the next level.