Efficiency and Productivity Loss in Remote Work

Remote work takes dedication, discipline, self-motivation and organization. Someone who works remotely must be accountable, reliable and not need micromanagement. They must be able to function on their own, in their own environment, without someone breathing down their neck to complete an assignment. Still, even with these qualities, efficiency isn’t always there for remote workers. There are several factors that cause efficiency and productivity loss in remote work, factors which we will outline below.

The biggest factor for remote work inefficiency is poor discipline and time management. This boils down to the actual worker and how they function in their environment. Some people are really good at time management, really efficient and productive. But there are also people who are highly distractable, who have trouble focusing and being motivated. These people need an office to remove the distractions around them. Even at the office these people can be distracted, but the distractions are minimized by the office setting.

Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum, those people who hyper-focus to the point where they work 10, 12 or 14 hour days because they lose their sense of time while working. They do this for so long that they become exhausted and burn out. They forget to eat and barely go to the bathroom, and it backfires, you see a dip in productivity or receive backlash from people who hyper-focus. And it’s an emotional outburst because they are so deprived of what their body needs (like food and sleep) that not only their production suffers, but their ability to think clearly is diminished.

One of the biggest keys to combating efficiency and productivity loss in remote work is figuring out what really motivates someone, what kind of person they are, and create guardrails around that. If you are working at home and there is a television show you want to watch, or you’re going to be demotivated just sitting in your house all day, you have to find a workaround. Record your show and watch it during your lunch. Take a 20 minute break and go for a walk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing is a priority, so even just standing in the sun in your back yard for 20 minutes is a good idea. Give yourself small doses of distractions as incentives for getting work done.

Another way to combat distractions is to set a timed schedule. Work for two hours and then take a 20 minute break. Feed the distractive edge so that when you sit down to work, you can focus.

If you fall into the second category of people, those who hyper-focus and forget to eat, set alarms. Set an alarm for lunch, set an alarm to take a break and move around, set an alarm to signal the end of your day. Give yourself a cutoff time where no work is completed or attempted after that. Make sure you take care of your body and mental health.

At the end of the day, what needs to happen is for remote workers to figure what kind of constructed framework that exists in the office best helps them work efficiently. Once that is determined, find a way to bring that aspect of the office into the home or place where work is completed. Some of those things aren’t going to look the same. For instance, if you have to set an alarm to remind you to eat, that is akin to seeing a co-worker get up for lunch or having a co-worker tell you they are going to lunch. Instead of a person being your reminder, it’s your alarm, that’s your cue that you need to eat, too.

Remote work is difficult, especially in today’s circumstances in the middle of a pandemic. Efficiency and productivity loss in remote work is common. Finding ways to compensate for being at home are a big factor in whether you will be efficient and productive or not. Those guardrails are important, they keep you in a place where you’re working but also staying sane. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. This is your job, your career, and if you treat it as a sprint you will burn out that much faster. You want to have the ability to focus and work productively every day, potentially for a very long time. Creating the habits and boundaries that allow you to be productive and efficient will make all the difference in how your career progresses.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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