When I tell people I work remotely, I usually get one of two reactions:
“Wow, you’re so lucky!”
Or, more commonly, “I don’t know how you do that. I’d never get anything done! Isn’t it distracting?”
I always find that particular comment amusing because, for me, it’s quite the opposite. When I’m in my home office, I’m in the zone. I’m 100 percent focused on the tasks on my plate. There are no water cooler conversations, phones ringing (except for mine, of course), or interruptions.
As a result, I’m able to perform tasks like editing audio, researching for interviews, and writing articles in a much more efficient way. When I’m able to focus fully on my tasks, I’m more productive and creative.
And it turns out, I’m not alone in this regard. According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, the number of people who have difficulty concentrating at their desk has increased by 16 percent since 2008. It also found that the number of workers who say they don’t have access to quiet places to do focused work climbed by 13 percent.
For me, being able to drown out the noise of a cubicle environment was always a challenge — particularly because I was usually contributing to it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the banter and chit-chat, but it made it difficult to plow through to-do lists. At home (or Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, my local coffee shop, or any of many places I frequent), I can control the volume level by choosing the right location, or moving if necessary.
“With no office distractions and greater autonomy, remote workers have the freedom to get more done,” wrote Aha! CEO and co-founder Brian de Haaff in a recent article. “This is something most people crave.” He cited a recent study which found that 65 percent of people said telecommuting boosted their productivity.
De Haaff is a firm believer that “it doesn’t matter where people are getting the work done — as long as they are focused and working hard each day.”
Sounds like basic logic, right? And yet, many organizations aren’t just hesitant to allow remote work; they dead-set against it. Years ago, I had a manager who, despite being only a few years older than me, was stuck in the dark ages when it came to working arrangements. He was convinced anyone who didn’t want to commute to the office, whether it was because of inclement weather or because they were returning from a work-related trip, simply wanted to “sit on the couch watching reality shows.”
On a related note, he was also a fan of constantly monitoring those who worked for him, using software to randomly view our monitors, and demanding that we send in detailed lists of every task we accomplished in a given day. While that might be necessary for a junior staffer, asking that of experienced editors only bred contempt.
On the other hand, leaders who show trust in their team are rewarded with dedication and a desire to do great work. Speaking from experience, I greatly appreciate the fact that I can take an hour or two during the day to do things like attend school events (I was recently the first grade “guest reader”), go to the dentist, or run to the grocery store, as long as I get my work done. As a parent, I’ve found that 6 a.m. is the most peaceful time in my house, so if I need to catch up, I’ll do it then.
There’s no asking to take a half-day for a physical (when, in reality, it only takes an hour tops), or worrying about burning through sick days when my son has a fever.
It’s precisely why de Haaff is happy to offer flexible schedules for his team.
“Remote workers do not need to make excuses. Since they are not tied to an office, they can design their workday to meet the demands of their lives,” he wrote. “If they have a cold, they can work from home without spreading the germs to others. And if they need to run an errand, they can handle it quickly without losing a workday. This ultimately makes remote workers more present for their work and team.”
It is, however, a different world when you telecommute. And although everyone has different strategies that help them navigate their work days, I’ve found these tips to be helpful:
- Have regular calls with staff or team (you don’t have to see each other in person to stay in touch and make sure everyone’s on the same page).
- Change the scenery when you can to help your mind stay fresh (it might just mean going to a different Starbucks from time to time).
- Attend industry events whenever possible to reap the benefits of networking and face time.
- Always be prepared. If you have to run an errand, that’s fine, but make sure your phone is always with you and charged.
Finally, create a plan that works for you. And realize that, if you’re afforded the opportunity to work remotely, you are, in fact, lucky.