While working from home is not new, it was never widely adopted before 2020. In fact, only about 5% of workers worked from home in some way. Many people questioned its efficacy (how productive workers could be) or warned against it obliterating the lines between work and life.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many more people to work from home, providing a greater data set to study its effects. And that data so far has confirmed the best, and the worst, of our suspicions.
The good and the bad
Most studies show that working from home improves productivity over a given week. Some show a gain of few minutes, where others reflect an entire day, a truly stunning number. People working longer hours each day accounted for some productivity gains. But people also have more dedicated focus time to commit effort and energy to important activities.
Working from home is more isolating and can be detrimental to a person’s health and wellbeing. This, coupled with the findings that people have a higher chance of burnout caused by working longer hours, taking fewer breaks (plus less vacation time) and allowing their work/life balance to blur, leads to an emotional state of always being on. We weren’t built for that. If we don’t address it, it can cause real harm to a person and eliminate any productivity gains.
What to do
Here are two important strategies to consider when implementing a work from home policy.
Normally a person only has about 30 minutes of focus time each day. This equates to less than three hours of real productive work in a given week.
Time chunking defines and dedicates focused periods for specific activities. No email, no Slack, no Zoom calls, no texts. No interruptions during these windows of time. This gives people agency to filter out distractions and focus on important tasks. More focused periods will result in higher productivity and morale as people see tangible outputs of their labor.
Time chunking should also include taking real breaks, which will in turn decrease the burnout potential.
Windowed work moves away from the traditional 9-to-5 schedule and allows people to dedicate various working periods that fit their lives over a given day. It’s unrealistic for some people to have focused periods of time during this traditional window, with the need to care for children and other family members as one example. And some people just work better during “off hours.” The focus should be on results, rather than when someone is sitting at a computer
Like everything, it’s all about expectations. Talk with your team to understand how you can support them and how they can best work together. If employees can dedicate specific time periods for work, for interacting as a team and for themselves, it will make the work from home experience less stressful, less ambiguous and more beneficial for all.
Neither productivity nor mental health should suffer because we are working from home. But it will take working together to make sure both are attainable.