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Working Remotely in 2021 and Beyond: How to Increase Productivity Outside the Office

The ability to work remotely expanded exponentially through 2020 and into 2021. With remote work and hybrid teams here to stay, try these top productivity tips.

The letter "J" for Justworks.
May 19, 20218 minutes

Many teams made the move to remote work in the midst of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. While there are signs of turning a corner in the pandemic, it seems that what started out as temporary changes to how and where we work may be here to stay.

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As decisions are made about keeping some teams remote while providing for a hybrid approach for others, productivity remains an important consideration. Consider these tips and best practices to help your team stay productive, maintain trust, and keep the lines of communication open as your business shifts from reacting to the pandemic to preparing for what comes next.

Maintaining Productivity From Home

If you’ve been working remotely from home throughout the pandemic, you probably have your routine down to a science. After finding yourself facing virtual work with no notice in an emergency scenario, now is a good time to step back and strategically decide how to best maintain productivity moving forward.

Prepare for Ongoing Remote Work

Is your at-home work area appropriately outfitted with the tools and resources you need to continue working remotely some or all of the time? If you expect remote work to remain a part of your professional life for the foreseeable future, now is the time to stop dealing with less-than-ideal conditions and get your work area set up as it should be.

  • Is your chair in good condition, or do you really need a new one? Is your desk in good repair and conducive to comfortable work? It may be time to upgrade.

  • Do you have an ergonomic mouse and/or keyboard? A little investment here could help you work as comfortably and safely as possible, which is of course very important.

  • Have you figured out how to sync or integrate the tech-based tools you use or are you still doing double and triple data entry just to schedule or set up a virtual meeting?

Set the Scene

If you’ll be spending a lot of time working from home, make an effort to create a space that’s welcoming and conducive to getting work done. You might have snuck in a workspace in just any old place at the beginning of the pandemic, but now you can take the time to find the ideal spot.

If you’ll be spending a lot of time working from home, make an effort to create a space that’s welcoming and conducive to getting work done.

  • If you perform best with natural light, locate your working space near a window to let in the sun. Maybe add a plant or two for even more of an outdoorsy feel.

  • If you need an isolated area where there’s not much traffic or commotion, carve out a corner in a room that no one else goes in during the hours that you are working.

  • If you prefer to be in a more active area of the house, look for an open spot where you can do your work while keeping an eye on other areas of your home.

Dress the Part

It may sound silly, but virtual workers sometimes find it helpful to dress like they’re going to the office even though they’ll be working from home. This can be an easy way to give yourself a mental cue that it’s time for work to happen, rather than relaxation. Then, after work, change back into your comfies to complete the transition. It’s an easy way to maintain separation between work time and personal time, which is important when both take place in the same location.

  • Change out of those pajamas, even if you are at home. It will make you feel more like getting down to work.

  • You don’t have to put on a business suit, but at least dress as nicely as you would if you were leaving the house to go run errands.

  • Consider opting for apparel that’ll liven up virtual meetings. Wearing your loudest Hawaiian shirt or other bright-colored apparel can add much needed delight to video conferences.

Find Your Groove

Do you work best when it’s quiet, or does silence make you squirm? Find the noise level that’s best for you. According to a study by the Journal of Consumer Research, a moderate level of ambient noise (around 70 decibels) increases productivity more than low and high ambient levels (50 and 85 decibels, respectively).

Do you work best when it’s quiet, or does silence make you squirm? Find the noise level that’s best for you.

  • If you’re in a quiet place and prefer noise, find the music that really makes you tick or invest in a white noise machine. This can make your workday more enjoyable and more productive.

  • If you need music to stay focused while working, make sure you’ve got a solid pair of headphones to help block out the rest of the world for a few hours.

  • If you want to work free from ambient noise in the house but prefer not to listen to music, break out the noise cancelling earphones from your travel bag.

Keep Communication Lines Open

When you’re in the office, it’s easy to see who’s there and who isn’t, and to hold quick chats with team members when they have a few moments between meetings or tasks. That can be challenging in a virtual environment, but it’s not impossible. If you’ll continue working remotely, you’ll be most productive if you master the art of virtual communication and scheduling via collaboration tools.

  • When you’ll be working outside of the office, check your calendar and make sure you have what you need for any important events or meetings that are upcoming.

  • Update the team calendar so it’s clear when you’ll be in the office and when you’ll be working remotely. Include timeframes you’re available for virtual meetings or events.

  • When you’re working remotely, keep Slack open, adjusting your status as appropriate so people can tell when you’re stepping away from the computer for lunch or a break.

Stick to a Schedule

Working from home doesn’t mean you can’t be organized. Unless you thrive on chaos and love being able to stop and start work randomly, maintaining a fairly regular schedule can significantly boost your productivity. Of course, you can allow yourself to be flexible, but having at least a rough schedule can help you make the most of your working hours.

  • Schedule your day ahead of time. When are you going to answer emails? What time is that conference call? When do you plan to start and end the workday?

  • Use a timer or set calendar alerts to help yourself stay on track. If you lay the groundwork in advance, you’re more likely to adhere to it.

  • Allow time for flexibility so you’ll be able to quickly adapt to unique circumstances such as special requests, unexpected projects, or to fill-in for a coworker who’s out for the day.

Track Your Time

Once you’ve set a schedule, track how well you actually stick to it. Did you spend 45 minutes writing reports, or did that actually take an hour and a half? Once you’ve got a good idea of the ebbs and flows of your working habits, use that knowledge to keep yourself accountable and productive.

Once you’ve got a good idea of the ebbs and flows of your working habits, use that knowledge to keep yourself accountable and productive.

  • Consider using a time-tracking app to note when you start and finish work, as well as keeping track of what tasks you are doing at any given time.

  • Keep track of individual projects and the other tasks you complete throughout the workday, as well as potential time wasters that may be sneaking into your schedule.

  • Monitor your aggregate time on a daily basis so you can make sure you’re working the amount of time you should without going over or falling behind.

Take Smart Breaks

Nobody is built to concentrate for eight hours straight (or more). Take strategic breaks to boost your productivity. Not all breaks are created equal. Psychology Today suggests that activities like meditation, working out, or helping a colleague make effective breaks because they help with detachment and boost positive emotions. Experiment to find what works best for you.

  • Plan for a bit of downtime throughout your workday, being sure to allow for periodic rest breaks and (of course!) time to eat some lunch.

  • Consider varying the frequency and length of your work breaks. Social scientists suggest a range of times — work for 52 minutes and break for 17, work for 90 then rest a bit.

  • Get up and move around when you are taking breaks, being sure to give your eyes and brain a break from screen time.

Moving Forward to the New Normal

Following these tips will help you maximize your productivity while working remotely, whether you work from home all the time or if you split your time between remote and in-office work. By taking the time to develop good remote work habits, you’ll be doing your part to help your team and organization succeed in the new world of work.

Justworks is monitoring multiple trusted sources including the CDC and WHO, as well as working with our insurance providers and other partners to ascertain the most accurate and current information about the COVID-19 outbreak. As new and verified information becomes available we are communicating it to our community.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.