Improve staff homeworking productivity

  • 18 Jul 2022

Written by: Alicia Navarro, founder and CEO, FLOWN

The ‘new normal’ of remote working offers plenty of benefits to both employers and employees. Businesses save on office costs, and can recruit from a wider pool of talent. Home-working employees save time and money on commuting, and gain autonomy over their working life.

But there are challenges. People working alone at home can lose the sense of accountability that comes with working with others, and productivity can suffer. Online meetings to ‘check in’ or foster collaboration can add to meeting fatigue, and digital meetings have been shown to be more tiring than in-person ones. Exhaustion can compound the sense of isolation caused by being away from the office, and it’s much harder to see if a member of staff is unhappy if you only see them fleetingly on Zoom.

How can small businesses harness the benefits of remote working while maintaining productivity and minimising employee unhappiness and turnover? More companies are turning to deep work as the answer.

Deep work is complete focus on a complex task. An employee doing deep work is at peak capacity: immersed, immune to distraction, and extremely productive. The term was coined by Georgetown professor Cal Newport in his book Deep Work, and he places it in opposition to ‘shallow’ work – mentally undemanding but time-consuming work like answering emails or formatting documents.


 

 


Deep work gives staff a sense of achievement, and scheduled deep work time frees up space for collaborative tasks. As shallow work gets increasingly automated, deep work will become more important, and will be a differentiator for the successful business.

Deep work can help your remote employees produce their best work at a high level, faster. But it needs to be championed from the top. Here are some steps you can take to embed deep work in your flexible workplace.

Create a culture of deep work

Encourage staff to block out deep work time for focus without distractions. Distraction kills focus: on average it takes 23 minutes to regain focus after a single distraction. Support your staff by not dropping meetings into scheduled deep work time, or expecting replies to emails. And lead by example. Use your own deep work time to ignore busy work and focus on the big picture.

At FLOWN, we encourage staff to block out time as needed, usually during our online community deep work sessions. It helps to have common deep work times across the business, and deep working alongside others provides accountability. We also run Deep Work Fridays, giving staff a whole day of focus without the pressure of meetings.

Another simple way to promote deep work culture is to encourage staff to share their work status with colleagues. At FLOWN, our staff signal deep work mode on Slack with a butterfly emoji, and holiday time with a palm tree.

Maximise your working spaces

Separating different kinds of work – deep, shallow, collaborative – into different physical spaces can boost productivity. Certain spaces suit certain types of work, and spaces can also be powerful motivators, as entering an environment associated with a specific work type can spark the appropriate mindset.

Flexible working fits well into this idea. For example, the quiet of home might be best suited to deep work, while ‘office days’ are good for meetings and shallow tasks. If your office has room, define spaces for quiet research or for noisy brainstorming sessions. If you don’t have this luxury, the local library, museum or café could stand in.

Introduce rituals and community

Foster a sense of belonging among your remote workers with morning stand-ups. The ritual of setting intentions together with a community is known to increase the likelihood of work getting done. You could also run your team’s (silent) deep work time together over Zoom.

Schedule enriching breaks

It may sound counter-intuitive, but taking breaks helps workers get more done. A quality break – away from screens – refreshes the brain after focus. Physical activity and time outdoors promote new neural connections, improve creativity and result in better quality work when staff get back to the desk.

Designing healthy activities and incentivising your employees to engage with them will help your staff achieve the work/life balance promised by remote working, while improving productivity.

Small businesses have many challenges. In the current employment marketplace it’s more important than ever to maximise staff engagement and fulfilment, but this can be difficult with remote working teams. Instilling a deep work culture into your business could help maximise productivity on a small budget without sacrificing the happiness of your staff.

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