Remote workforces: Maintaining productivity without burnout

Historically, only about 5% of workers worked from home in some way. This small sample size wasn’t enough to convince WFH skeptics of its efficacy (how productive workers could be). Nor was there enough information to prove that it obliterated work-life balance.

The unfortunate reality of COVID-19 is that the pandemic has forced many more people to work from home. But, this has provided a larger data set to study the effects of WFH. That data so far has confirmed the best, and the worst, of our suspicions.

Champions and critics are both right

Most studies prove WFH champions correct: working from home improves productivity over a given week. Some show a gain of a few minutes, where others reflect an entire day, a truly stunning number. People working simply working more accounts for some of this boost. But, with fewer distractions and ability to disconnect from interruptions, people also have more dedicated focus time to commit effort and energy to important activities.

Critics challenge that 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.

Surge – a Catalyte company has been operating with a network of fully remote developers for close to 15 years. We’ve learned a lot in that time about what it takes to keep workers focused and happy.

In order to boost the benefits and reduce the negative of WFH, here are three important strategies to consider when implementing a work from home policy.

Time chunking

Forty percent of knowledge workers have only 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. Time chunking should also include taking real breaks, which will in turn decrease the burnout potential.

This technique 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.

Windowed work

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.

Communicate 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 respecting your employees and working with them can ensure their well-being and continued production. See how our engineers feel about the Surge remote work lifestyle.

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