Productivity at a distance: how to work from home

Try these tips for improving focus and maintaining effective management while working remotely.

Home office space

In recent weeks, the professional landscape has started to look a little less like the office and a lot more like home. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many offices and businesses to require employees to work remotely for the sake of their health and the health of others. But working from home is far from a unique proposition – According to Global Workplace Analytics, working remotely is already the norm for 3.8% of Americans, and 79% of employees believe that remote working at least part of the time is the ideal work situation.

Unique challenges become apparent as employees and managers transition to being mostly remote. If you’re new to working remotely, how do you stay focused when surrounded by distractions? What do a productive schedule and reasonable expectations for performance look like? If you’re a manager, how do you maintain morale between employees who have to collaborate regularly, but are physically distant from each other?

Lee Stuart, leadership instructor, says the key is finding ways to stay connected digitally. “The best tip is for managers to have daily huddles with their teams using a remote communications platform,” Stuart says. “Daily touchpoints, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes, keep the work flowing and maintain relationships and organizational culture.”

Trying to find ways to stay focused or keep your office culture alive while working remotely? Keep these tips in mind.

Tips for managers of remote teams

When your team doesn’t share a physical space, it can be easy for individuals to forget about their responsibility to the team, and to balance personal success and team success. One way to encourage collaboration and teamwork is to make sure members stay connected to each other, even when they aren’t in the same office space.

1. Create a virtual water cooler

Use a platform like Slack, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts to open up space for conversations that have no set agenda, and can help make up for real-time interaction.

“Virtual lunches are another thing to try,” Stuart says. “Remote workers can join a communications platform from, say noon to 12:30 for social purposes only.”

2. Keep your team accountable

Try enacting a buddy system between your team members. Co-workers should expect to have a face-to-face phone conversation at least once weekly, even for just a few minutes.

Tips for remote team members

1. Set a routine

You may be working from home, but try to stick to the same practices you keep when you’re going to the office, which help signal a transition into the workday. Avoid the temptation to work in your pajamas, and let the effort you put into getting ready prepare you to put your best effort into your work output. Getting into a professional mindset at home can also help get you focused if you’re easily distracted. Maintain normal work hours, stopping when you would normally leave the office.

2. Get visual

Messaging platforms are helpful for short communications when necessary, but don’t forget the value of actually seeing someone else. Do you have a regular check-in with colleagues or a supervisor? Try holding it over video chat and making sure you turn on the camera for them. Using your camera can help resolve feelings of isolation and pick up on cues you might miss in an audio-only call or an email.

For everyone: keep your skills sharp

Working remotely doesn’t mean you have to give up on learning new professional skills. Giving a good presentation or developing clear communication styles are still important, and they look different when you’re working at a distance. Some websites, such as LinkedIn, currently offer free resources to help you figure out what productivity, communication and leadership look like in a remote work setting. The KU Edwards Campus also offers a free monthly link and learn series on workplace communication, as well as regular leadership workshops and webinars.

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