Is remote work lazy? It can be. Here are four ways to be productive and less distracted while working from home

February 1, 2023, 10:45 AM UTC
Woman stretching at computer
Tip one: It might seem counterintuitive to start your day by walking away from your home desk, but don’t knock it until you try it.
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When it comes to working from home, there is one thing that managers and their reports just can’t see eye-to-eye on: just how productive they really are.

It’s why CEOs like Tesla and Twitter’s Elon Musk, Disney’s Bob Iger, and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz are mandating workers’ return to the office. 

And perhaps they’re right.

Just as there were time wasters in the workplace pre-pandemic, there will undoubtedly be people abusing the trust bestowed on them to actually work while at home. 

Surrounded by home comforts like a wide-screen television and a fridge filled with your favorite snacks, it can be all too easy to put yourself on mute during meetings and watch reruns of Friends in pajamas instead. 

If that sounds like you, be warned: When all remote workers are painted with the same brush, your laziness could result in your remote team being less trusted to do their job and penalized.

This could look like an increase in micromanaging tactics or worse, a return to working in an office five days a week. 

So if you know you’re not at your most productive while working from home, listen up; Here are four things you can do to reduce distractions, be less lazy, and stop giving remote workers a bad rep. 

Create a fake commute

It might seem counterintuitive to start your day by walking away from your home desk, but don’t knock it until you try it. 

“In-office work typically involves a commute that physically separates the employee’s home and work lives,” says Jill Cotton, Glassdoor’s careers advice expert. For some, that lack of structure can become a struggle. 

“I once spoke with a manager who got dressed for work, had breakfast with the family, and then walked out the front door—only to turn around and head down to his basement office to work for the day,” echoes Mark Mortensen, associate professor of organizational behavior at Insead.

At the end of the day, he would similarly emerge from his basement, to announce “Honey, I’m home.”

“While this sort of ritual may seem a bit over-the-top, it played a critical role in creating a boundary and helping him differentiate between relaxed family time and focused work time,” Mortensen adds.

Plus, there’s no denying that how you dress, directly impacts how you feel.

“Staying in your PJs all day sends the mental signal to your brain that you’re lounging,” Cheryl Naumann, chief human resources officer at the University of Phoenix, says, adding that “the pace and manner in which you work will likely follow that signal.”

Embrace your newfound flexibility

Remote working hasn’t necessarily made people lazier, according to Ioana Lupu, an associate professor at ESSEC Business School. The wider issue is that people have a lot of newfound flexibility and don’t know what to do with it.

Despite the ability to work from your garden, in a café, or in any room of the house that suits you, most people wind up sitting at the same makeshift desk day-in day-out, which of course doesn’t inspire productivity. 

Instead, remote workers should make the most of their newfound flexibility by “designing a day that suits your needs and those of the company,” suggests Cotton.

This could look like taking walking meetings over the phone, or using different rooms in the house for different tasks to give variety to your day.

More drastic measures could look like, if you’re a morning person for example, asking your manager if you can do your “head-down” tasks at 7 a.m. instead of in the afternoon when you’re more likely to experience a slump.

Track your productivity 

Do you wake up in the morning full of hope for the day ahead and then wonder where the day went by 5 p.m.?

If you’ve been on your work laptop all day but have nothing to show for it, then it’s time to track your productivity.

The simplest no-frills way of doing this is through a to-do list. Cotton says that creating one daily “will help keep you on track and ensure you complete all the tasks needed in your role.”

Take out a piece of paper or open a Word document in your laptop and start jotting down everything you need to do that day. Then rejig it in order of importance. 

That way you can see how productive your day was by how many tasks you have ticked off your list. 

Plus, by being disciplined and setting self-imposed deadlines which prioritize urgent tasks first, you’ll be seen as more productive than if you had spent the whole day online working on tasks that aren’t business priorities.

“With your line manager in a different location, the willpower to enforce deadlines is crucial,” adds Cotton. 

Schedule downtime in your diary

With remote and flexible working becoming more commonplace, the boundaries between when is “work time” and when is “downtime” is blurring.  

As a result, “people are working longer hours,” says Mortensen.

In this new working world, taking out-of-hours Zoom meetings according to other people’s flexible working schedules, or working on projects in the evening after the school pickup, is not uncommon.

“We need to make sure that one person’s “laziness” is not another person’s needed downtime after a substantial block of unseen after-hours work,” Mortensen warns.

Dispel any perceived laziness from the top, by making your boss aware of the extra hours that you are putting in and how that might impact your performance during your actual business hours. 

Meanwhile, no matter what time you clock off work, your daily schedule should also include regular breaks to maintain productivity levels. 

Cotton suggests timing your break with your favorite downtime activity to avoid getting distracted and keep you on track.

For example, if you are taking an extra-long lunch break because the company owes you two hours from the evening prior, then watch a movie that’s around as long as the break you intend to take. Whereas if you know you only have half an hour to hit pause, then listen to a podcast of that length. 

But ultimately, if your boss thinks you’re unproductive, even though you know that you’ve removed all distractions in your way, you’re communicating effectively and you’re ticking off your to-do lists, then it could point to a wider management issue

“The remote work paradigm shift requires that both remote workers and their leaders flex and adapt to a new way of working,” echoes Naumann.

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