Remote working: how to be more effective

April 27, 2018 Richard Justenhoven

remote working

3 tips for more effective remote working

With remote working still on the increase and seemingly the future of how we work, how does it impact our productivity and focus – and how can we make sure we work most effectively when we work remotely?

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report in 2017 showed that that nearly 40% of those surveyed in the US spend some amount of time working remotely from their co-workers. Other research suggests that 85% of so-called GenY or millennials want to telecommute 100% of the time. But what’s behind this? What are the benefits to the organisation and the employee of remote working? And if we choose to go this route, how can be make sure we work effectively?

One of the most widely referenced studies of remote working is with contact centre staff in a Chinese travel agency.  The researchers investigated the both the productivity of and impact on the contact centre agents working from home and away from the usual in-office environment. They found that those working remotely had:

  • Increased output: The study witnessed a 13.5% uplift in performance by remote working agents over their in-office counterparts. Of this 13%, 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).
  • Improved retention: working from home agents were 50% more likely to remain committed to a role, perhaps due to the comfort and convenience of working from their own homes.
  • Higher morale: work at home agents reported that they were happier with higher levels of work satisfaction – and took fewer sick days – than their office-based peers.

At the end of the study the company offered all employees the option to work from home. Over half opted to work from home and productivity rose by 22%.

The findings show the benefits from remote working for both employees and the organisation. But the study also found the allowing agents to work from home also helped attract better talent – essential to contact centre hiring. But perhaps remote working suits one group of workers better than others? Certainly this study focused only contact centre agents. But data from other studies does support these findings:

So how can we make the most of remote working and make sure we’re effective and productive?

Here are some tips we’ve learned from Saunders in her HBR article

Tip #1 – make sure to set your working hours. Saunders suggests that we “pretend you’re not working from home.” Don’t let personal or home actions and chores get in the way or work. Set up “office hours” and decide what you will and will not do during that time. Ask yourself, “Would you do that task, make that call, look up that info, if you were in the office?” If not, why do it when you are working remotely?

Tip #2 – structure the day around being successful. Saunders argues that to make the most of your time working at home, you could structure the day differently. For example, if you’re in the home-office only occasionally, then perhaps make it ‘meeting free’. Or, work on one or two defined key topics that you want to make progress on during this time, shutting down email to allow yourself to be creative, strategic, or focused. But remember to tell colleagues you’re doing this so that they know that a delayed response isn’t because you’re sat in the garden!

Tip #3 – set boundaries with others. You know that ‘working at home’ is not ‘being at home’. You’ll place the emphasis on the ‘work’; friends or family may put the emphasis on ‘home’. To make sure you’re as effective as you can be on your remote-working days, you may need to set and explain boundaries; that not being in the office is not an opportunity for non-work-related activities.

The world of work is changing – and the ways in which we work is shifting too. A new set of competencies that enable us to work remotely and digitally must now be acquired.

References:
Bloom, N.A., Liang, J., Roberts, J. & Zhuchun, J.Y. (2013) Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment

State of the American Workplace, Gallup, February 2017 – 

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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