How to Stay Productive & Happy While Working Remotely

7 min read | by Christine Ciampini 
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When the concept of working from home emerged in the early 1970s, there was a reluctance by many companies to encourage it because they feared there would be a significant drop in productivity by their employees. A 1979 Washington Post article highlighted the prevalent arguments at the time, which included “If people work at home, how can one tell how well they are doing or whether they are working at all?”

Fast forward four decades later, and here we are experiencing a remote working boom! Reports show 4.7 million U.S. employees work from home at least half of the time, while 52% of employees globally work from home at least one day a week. Many companies have embraced remote work because they’ve discovered it doesn’t diminish the quality or quantity of the work produced (and perhaps more so, because it can reduce overhead costs).

In contrast to the outdated idea of the lazy remote employee, organizations have also found that people who work remotely are, in fact, highly productive and focused—at times, even more so than their office counterparts.

In a 2015 study, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Nicholas Bloom and his co-researchers offered employees at Chinese travel website Ctrip the opportunity to work from home for nine months. The results showed that the remote employees were not only more productive, but that they worked nearly a whole extra day per week! Another bonus for the employees—and the company—was they were happier and more likely to stay in their jobs. 

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In Owl Lab’s 2019 State of Remote Work survey, 79% responded that “increased productivity/better focus” was one of their top reasons for working remotely.

Bloom attributed the hike in productivity to a calmer environment at home and an earlier start to the workday due to lack of commute. He also found that when people worked from home, they ended up taking shorter breaks, running fewer errands, working the full workday, and clocking less sick days. 

Various remote worker surveys complement these findings. In Owl Lab’s 2019 State of Remote Work survey, 79% responded that “increased productivity/better focus” was one of their top reasons for working remotely. In a Talent LMS survey, a whopping 90% felt they got more work done working outside of an office. 

The high level of productivity comes with many benefits both for the company and remote employees, but it can also come with a well-being cost. A majority of people working remotely work from home and many find it challenging to leave work “at work” because they aren’t physically leaving an office space. In the same Owl Lab report, remote workers felt just as overworked as on-site workers, making them equally susceptible to the rising trends of burnout.

Part of the reason people working remotely become immersed in their work is that they don’t have the daily interruptions (welcome or unwelcome!) that occur inside an office. They don’t get the lighthearted office banter that allows for a positive break in their day—moments that are small but allow for a little relaxation. It’s also not uncommon for remote workers to work into the evening and at odd hours of the night, resulting in bad sleep and general exhaustion. 

In 2019, the World Health Organization declared burnout to be a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Reading the definition, you might not think of burnout as a condition that really affects remote employees, freelancers, consultants, digital nomads, and others who generally work from home. But, as evidence shows, working remotely can mean working longer hours, taking fewer breaks, and in general, letting work life bleed into home life—all of which can contribute to burnout.

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Four Friends Viewing the Sunset by Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
Staying connected and finding a way to rejuvenate outside of work are some tips to stay happy while working remotely.

So, how can people working remotely stay highly productive and excited about their work while preventing burnout?

Here are five tips from the team at LiveBetter, a well-being technology company that supports people who work remotely:

1. Schedule 15-minute breaks in your day

Research has shown that remote employees take less breaks—and shorter breaks—than their in-office counterparts. Good breaks in your workday are critical to keeping you focused, refreshed, and relaxed all the same time. If you can, take a short walk outside, read a few funny articles online, or grab a nourishing snack. Taking these small moments to boost your well-being can make a big difference for the rest of your day! 

2. Stay connected on a personal level

One of the contributing factors to remote worker burnout is the feeling of isolation from the rest of the working (and non-working!) world. What’s important is to create the personal dynamic that comes with a professional situation. You can do this by scheduling regular video check-ins with a coworker that you work closely with, or simply click with, and talk about what you’ve been up to outside of work. Or, plan an in-person meetup with a client or even someone that you’re friendly with who works in your industry. RemotelyOne has also launched a new app that connects you with remote working professionals in your area, if you’d like to check it out. A little face-to-face time can make all the difference in helping you feel happier and more purposeful in your job. 

3. Write an “accomplished” list 

A perk of being in an office setting is that you can receive more immediate feedback, or extra encouragement, as you work on different projects. People who work remotely sometimes feel they aren't being productive enough because they don’t receive as much reinforcement. Instead of writing down what you still need to do, write down everything you've accomplished at the end of the day to show yourself that you are being productive. If you’d like, this can also become part of your end-of-workday shutdown ritual (see next).

4. Have an end-of-workday shutdown ritual

Professor and author Cal Newport has a daily ritual where he reviews his weekly plan, task list, and calendar at the end of each workday. He then tells himself a little shutdown mantra (“schedule shutdown complete”) to ensure his work life doesn’t spill over into his home life. This week, try coming up with your own daily ritual and shutdown mantra to end your work day. Here is a mindfulness-based mantra by Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, in case it’s helpful: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” 

5. Find a way to rejuvenate outside of work

Try a creative pursuit, a hobby, or a sport to give your brain a break from thinking about work. If you can leave the house to do it, even better! As much as your work may fill you with purpose, there is also joy and purpose in the activities you do outside of work. By mentally freeing yourself from work tasks and allowing yourself to be present in activities you enjoy, you'll come back even more creative.

Finding a balance between productivity and relaxation is a unique challenge for people who work remotely, but it’s one you can master by making small changes to your daily work life. For more well-being tips, you can check out LiveBetter's blog on Medium or visit our website to learn more.

Reference List

Apostolopoulos, Aris (2019). Are you training your remote workforce? 67% say they want more. Retrieved from: https://www.talentlms.com/blog/remote-work-statistics-survey/

Bernazzani, S. (2019, September 18). 45 key remote work & telecommuting statistics for 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.owllabs.com/blog/remote-work-statistics

Bloom, N., Liang, J., Roberts, J., & Ying, Z.J. (2013). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(1), 165-218. Retrieved from: https://nbloom.people.stanford.edu/sites/g/files/sbiybj4746/f/wfh.pdf

Bloom, N. (2014, January/February) To raise productivity, let more employees work from home. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from:  https://hbr.org/2014/01/to-raise-productivity-let-more-employees-work-from-home

Braccio Hering, B. (2019, July 27). Remote work statistics for 2019: shifting norms and expectations. Retrieved from: https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/remote-work-statistics/

OWL Labs & Global Workplace Analytics (2019). State of remote work 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2019

Schiff, F.W. (1979, September 2). Working at home can save gasoline. Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1979/09/02/working-at-home-can-save-gasoline/ffa475c7-d1a8-476e-8411-8cb53f1f3470/

World Health Organization (2019). ICD-11 for mortality and morbidity statistics. Retrieved from: https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/129180281

Originally Published by Christine Ciampini on Friday, January 10, 2020 - 09:00 | Updated On Saturday, January 11, 2020 - 07:59

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