How to create a productive working from home culture

'I've always been an advocate of the watch the work not the clock mindset'

How to create a productive working from home culture

Until the COVID - 19 pandemic, many managers viewed remote working as a privilege and continued to judge workers by their visibility rather than their productivity, according to speaker, author and mentor Donna McGeorge. 

The growing concern with worker health and attempts at reducing the spread of the virus has forced many organisations into compulsory working from home arrangements. 

McGeorge, who is also author of Making Work Work, said this is not only putting strain on technological infrastructure but also old ways of working.

“Whether you are a manager or not, working from home creates some challenges around how we continue to get done what needs to get done in a way that keeps the right people involved and informed,” said McGeorge.

“I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘watch the work not the clock’ mindset.  Mostly because the 9-5 paradigm is a hangover from the industrial revolution.” 

The 9 to 5 workday was introduced by the Ford Motor Company back in the 1920s, as a way of trying to curb the exploitation of factory workers, according to McGeorge.

“On a production line it might make sense to pay people by the hour. It doesn’t, however, make sense for knowledge workers. And yet the ‘time is money’ mindset pervades even today.”

Also, people work at different a pace according to a range of things including experience, knowledge, education.  and when managing people and teams remotely, this becomes more important.

“I’m an advocate of outcome watching not clock watching at the best of times, and when working from home, this is something we need to be particularly diligent about,” said McGeorge.

The jury is out as to whether people are more or less productive at work or in the office.  A 2019 study by Airtasker showed that people reported to be more productive when working from home despite taking longer breaks than office workers.

However, those working from home did tend to work longer hours, and over a year that accumulated to 16.8 extra days.

There are three key things that managers and workers need to stay on top of when it comes to having a productive working from home culture:

Have clear outcomes and communicate them
One of the biggest fears of (granted more old school) managers is that, “If I can’t see you, I can’t be sure you are working!” Whilst I’m not suggesting you constantly check in or update your manager or team (this feels needy), having an agreed method, preferably in the morning, of sharing with your manager and co-workers what you are working on, is a great way to keep you focused, and also keep people informed.

In his paper, The Definitive Guide to Remote Work, technology expert Simon Waller says there are different technologies for different things.  For example, technologies to communicate include instant messaging, email, phone, videoconference and webcam. For things like collaboration or co-ordination we have things like Trello, Asana, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.

Pick one, and then all agree use it. It can be as informal as a quick note to a WhatsApp group, or something more formal like MS Teams.

Set working hours
Both managers and workers need to be clear on the start and end time every day.  This doesn’t have to be 9-5, however if people are relying on being able to contact you, the way they would if they could walk up to your desk in the office, it’s only respectful to let people know your movements and availability.

Whether you work the whole day or not, it’s important not to let work time bleed into social or personal time.  Setting a boundary around this will help your team to know when they can and can’t contact you, and it will also help you manage your work/social life balance.

If you are a manager be warned that any form of actual or perceived micromanagement around time can lead to people avoiding work, and avoiding you! 

Take breaks
Francesco Cirillo’s book The Pomodoro Technique centres around short bursts of work for 25 minutes at a time, followed by a short 5-minute break. This choice of 25 minutes was not arbitrary and was based on several different trials, experiments and iterations before landing on 30-minute work intervals

Another study in 2016 done by the Draugiem Group, a social networking company, found that their most productive employees didn’t work full 8-hour days: they took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.

If you are new to remote working, it will take a while to make the adjustments.  Focus on what people are doing, not how many hours they are putting in.

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