October 21, 2020
As the second wave of COVID-19 is starting to hit hard around the world, WFH will prevail well into 2021 for most of us. Opinions divide: while some companies pledge a commitment to remote working more permanently, others lament the drawbacks of not being able to meet face-to-face. Last time we talked about how distractions are killing our focus, so now it’s time to take a look at other measures you can apply to make working remotely successful.
In truth, the success of remote working often lies in how you approach it. There are plenty of behavioural changes YOU can make to improve your productivity no matter where you work.
Before we get into that, let’s look at some news:
68% of people report feeling more exhausted by WFH than office workdays. Is this work exhaustion or communication exhaustion? We talked about workplace distractions last time, and the need for leaders to step up their game to give employees more time for real focus.
Some of their worries are valid, but being stubborn in the face of change doesn’t affect circumstances. Working from home is here to stay (at least for the next while!). If companies and employees fail to adjust their working cultures, they will fall behind quickly. So keep up…
I love productivity hacks and have fine-tuned my approach to work over the years to work at my optimum. Being productive while working remotely is not a difficult habit to cultivate, and it’s one we must embark on collectively. Here goes a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Ditch most recurring meetings
These meetings have their place, but in the majority of cases are an overall waste of time. Cut down by reassessing your schedule:
Are meetings being planned automatically, rather than out of necessity?
Are attendees invited as a formality, or will they bring value?
2. Block out focus time
Everyone should carve out time in their calendars, free from meetings, free from distractions, to focus. Read more about why you need to make focus a priority. Creativity and new ideas do not arrive when you are in the middle of an email - you need to give yourself time to think.
3. Block out ‘chat’ time
Don’t let communication eat into your focus time. Having your Slack, email, or any chat platform, open day to night is an easy way to overload your day with messages. Instead, structure your day into segments and only open these platforms in the allocated times. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains this method best in his pioneering book ‘Flow’.
4. Don’t underestimate quick 1:1 chats
These conversations can be gold. Maybe you have to wait until you’re both free (jump to #8 for more on that!), but in the long run quick video calls are highly productive - a much more fruitful use of your time than constant back-and-forth messaging. Two heads are better than one at dynamically delving into a problem, unlike aimless meetings. These newsletters often benefit from such discussions - I call my colleague, she challenges my thinking and helps shape ideas in real-time. Read more about the power of 1:1 meetings.
5. Reduce email threads
Lengthy internal email threads are boring - don’t make everyone cc-ed in have to scroll through pages of text. Pick up your phone and kill time by turning it into a discussion with the people who matter (see above). It is surprising how corporate culture is clinging to email when superior communication channels like Microsoft Teams, Slack & Google Meet exist.
6. Sync your systems
While working remotely, save time by connecting all platforms: calendars, Zoom, Slack, Webex, etc. It’s far easier to have one workspace rather than a constant juggle between several tabs. At Time is Ltd., we managed this with zero lines of code using Zapier/Integromat.
7. Shorten your meetings
Unless you are brainstorming a critical subject or preparing for something lengthy, long meetings have no place in the workday. All meetings should have a concise agenda, but how many do? Creative discussions require little time, updates are far faster via email.
8. Protect each other’s focus time
Distraction is a two-way street - set up boundaries with your colleagues and stick to them, so you are not trespassing into someone else’s flow. Check your colleague’s Slack status and calendar before disturbing them, plan out your problem solving as a team to reduce escalation. People Analytics gives you the data you need to coordinate focus time properly and use collaboration tools productively.
9. Plan your end of day
What time do you plan to finish? Make working overtime the exception, not the rule. Make an end-of-day routine: closing your laptop, mentally leaving your workspace. Cultivating the right work-life balance is crucial to your wellbeing while working remotely. Without a commute or physical separation of work and home, we see too many people blurring the boundaries between the two.
10. Look at the data (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again!)
Don’t make assumptions about how your team is working. It’s hard to get a grasp on collaboration and communication when you aren’t in the office every day, so use data to understand how they are working and when might be the right time to check in with your team. Making data-informed decisions removes bias and stereotyping.
*And a bonus point for luck… Watch videos at 2x the speed
Speed watching is something I have been doing for many years, and your brain adapts quickly. Political discussions, educational podcasts, explanatory videos - they are all easy to digest in double speed. But don’t worry, I’m not a philistine who would suggest this for anything artistic.