With the vaccination efforts in full swing, companies and knowledge workers around the world are now facing an important question: “Go back to the offices or stay fully remote?”
And we can’t but sympathize with the dilemma.
Telecommuting comes with some great benefits—flexible schedule, being your own boss, no more traffic jams—but it’s not the easiest thing to pull off. In fact, remote work is really hard, especially for the uninitiated (more on that in a bit).
While many knowledge workers have successfully converted and don’t look back, some are still on the fence: “Is remote work for me?” And the question is as much of a financial as it is of a lifestyle and psychological nature.
So, can remote work still click for you?
💡 Before you start… This article is part of our series on the changing remote-work landscape. Read similar stories on the blog when you’re done.
- 🗓 2020 Year in Review: Taskade and the Future of Remote Work
- 👨💻 From WeWork to Remote: Virtual Coworking Space for Distributed Teams
- 🤝 Remote-Friendly vs. Remote-First Culture: On the Crossroads
Table of Contents
🤔 “How Did We Get Here?” or the Remote Paradigm Shift
When Douglas Engelbart came up on stage during the historic 1968 presentation—known today as “The Mother of All Demos”—remote work we still a thing out of sci-fi novels. While the idea was revolutionary, the awe didn’t last long.
As Engelbart recalled in a Wired interview:
“It was the very first time the world had ever seen a mouse, seen outline processing, seen hypertext, seen mixed text and graphics, seen real-time videoconferencing.”“How Doug Engelbart Pulled off the Mother of All Demos” at Wired(1)
It took over 50 years and a global healthcare crisis for remote work to finally settle. So, when the pandemic hit, it didn’t just paralyze the economy. It also kickstarted what became the greatest “work-from-home experiment” in history.
But, as noted by professor Cal Newport, history has a tendency to repeat itself.
“In some respects, we may be in an electric-dynamo moment for remote work. In theory, we have the technology we need to make remote work workable. And yet most companies that have tried to graft it onto their existing setups have found only mixed success. In response, many have stuck with what they know. Now the coronavirus pandemic has changed the equation. Whole workplaces have gone remote; steam engines have been outlawed. […]”“Can Remote Work Be Fixed?” by Cal Newport at New Yorker(2)
So, where is remote work in the mid-post pandemic world?
According to FlexJobs, many heavy-hitting companies including Spotify, Square, Twitter, or Shopify are adopting a permanent remote model. Others like Facebook, Salesforce, and Microsoft opt for flexibility in home to office days ratio.(3)
Many telecommuters share a similar sentiment for the remote lifestyle. A fresh study by Harvard Business School found that 27% would like to stay fully remote post-COVID and 61% hopes for at least two days of work-from-home per week.(4)
Are we really more productive at home? Well, the jury is still out.
On the one hand, remote work gives teams and organizations superb agility and better responsiveness, 24/7 business hours, and time-zone handoff. On the other, we still don’t have the right metrics to judge whether the experiment has panned out.
But maybe it’s not about the metrics after all?
👩💻 Why Remote Work Makes Sense
Going partially or fully remote lets you take control of your workday. Team activities aside, you decide when you want to work and which tasks you check off first. That’s nothing to sneeze at compared to a typical 9-5, right?
And speaking of schedules, remote work proves that an 8-hour workday—a relic of the Industrial Revolution—is no longer a reliable measure of productivity.
Still not convinced?
Scraping long commutes—who doesn’t love these?—lets you save plenty of time and money you’d normally spend on fuel and public transport. And that comes with some compelling environmental benefits of its own.
For many, staying at home is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to brush up on mental and physical health. Whether you want to start eating healthy, meditate, walk 10,000 steps a day, or work your ABS at the office, now you can.
So, what about working with kids at home? It’s hard. But we can’t but appreciate the extra family time that comes with the whole work-from-home experiment.
Granted, it takes some time-management superpowers and nerves of steel to pull it off. But a daily family dinner and precious moments together are well worth it.
And finally, let’s not forget that staying at home is easier than ever before. With online grocery shopping, same-day delivery, and expanding access to broadband, going back to the office doesn’t feel like the only bleak alternative.
🤷♂ “So, What if I Can’t Get Productive At Home?”
It’s 2021 and you’re alone in your home office, hunched over your laptop hoping for the whole “remote work” experiment to end. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Like millions of other workers, you’re probably stuck with remote work because your entire company switched. Maybe you even tried to enjoy it once but couldn’t reap the elusive benefits everybody is yammering about. But that time is long gone.
There are many reasons why you might not enjoy working from home. The good news is many of them can be fixed with small workflow tweaks you’ll find below.
1. You Don’t Have Your Special Place
Not everybody has a dedicated workspace at home. And even if you have one, chances are you have to share it with other household members or that it doesn’t give you the privacy you hope for. Either way, it sucks.
How to Fix It: Optimize What You Can 🔧
If you don’t have a dedicated workspace, try to create some boundaries.
Decide when and where you’re the most productive. Is it by the kitchen table in the early morning? Or maybe you can get away with a few hours of tranquility on your living room couch?
Whatever does the trick for you, make sure your work environment is as accommodating as possible. Stick to one location and furnish it within reason. A cheap folding or wall-mounted desk is everything you need to rekindle the office vibes and get more productive at home.
2. You Feel Isolated
It doesn’t matter how introverted or in love with remote work you are. Loneliness gets to everybody once in a while. If cabin fever hits you every time you close the door to your home office, it’s time for a mindset one-eighty.
How to Fix It: Look For Help (Seriously) 🔧
Psychologists and psychiatrists have had their hands full ever since the pandemic hit the stage. While this isn’t the most popular piece of advice out there, we believe that looking for emotional support is a must.
Reach out to your HR department and see if they provide this kind of service. You can also talk things over with your manager and colleagues. Chances are they’re facing some of the same struggles and will gladly vent to fellow a remoter.
3. You Ain’t a Time Management Wizard
Setting your own schedule, prioritizing work, juggling chores… when you work from home, you’re in a full manual mode. And that can be stressful, especially when you have kids at home or you’re new to remote work.
How to Fix It: Take an Honest Look at Your Routines 🔧
If you feel your workflow is broken, start by introducing incremental, gradual improvements. Try to stick to the same wake-up time. If possible, eat meals at regular intervals. And most importantly, unplug when it’s time to do so.
While those changes don’t seem like much, self-imposing a more firm routine is the best way to get in the right mindset and get more productive at home.
4. You Don’t Feel Motivated
Office rituals like team meetings, coffee breaks, and watercooler chit-chats are powerful stuff. They keep you grounded, motivated, and help you build momentum. Compensating with internal motivation alone is anything but easy.
How to Fix It: Capitalize on the “Me” Time 🔧
While remote work creates an expectation to stay online 24/7, always ready to socialize, jump on a call, or attend a meeting, you should learn to enjoy the “me” time as much as you can. Even if getting work done alone may seem strange at first.
Learn to enjoy those quiet mornings when everybody else is still asleep. Use the time away from calls and meetings. Work deeply on your most important tasks and become more productive at home.
If you want to learn more about the power of deep, intensive work, check our article Losing to Distractions? Boost Team Focus With Deep Work.
5. You Can’t Escape Distractions
We’ve said that once, we’ll say it again.
Getting work done at home is hard. Poor office ergonomics, pesky household noises, kids invading your home office, and a ton of other distractions don’t make for the most productive environment.
How to Fix It: Act Proactively 🔧
Start by adding some friction to your routine. Install a browser extension and block sites that suck your time. Facebook, Google News, Netflix, they all have to go. Top it off with a Pomodoro timer and work in short bursts to maintain focus.
Don’t forget to turn off all notifications and put your phone in a DND (Do Not Disturb) mode. If you can afford it, buy a pair of industrial earmuffs. They will set you back mere 20 bucks in exchange for up to 31 dB of peaceful silence.
6. You Can’t Find Work-Life Balance
Everybody is babbling about work-life balance, and it’s driving you nuts. The only kind of balance you can get is when you juggle the laundry, toss your kids’ pancakes, and try to check some tasks off your mile-long to-do list.
How to Fix It: Create Compartments 🔧
Here’s the thing. For most of us, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. Ever since mobile phones and instant communication took the stage, our personal and professional lives started to intertwine.
These days, the boundary is non-existent.
So, instead of trying to find balance, you should learn how to separate both. Log out of team chat, and turn off your phone notifications. Heck, rip that cord from the power outlet if you must. And when the pandemic’s over, subscribe to a co-working space.
🐑 You Can Become More Productive At Home
As the world is slowly easing into the “new normal,” the question of whether to go back to the office (or stay remote) is still up in the air.
While we believe that the future of work is asynchronous and distributed, the mode of work should be subject to choice and preference rather than top-down decisions.
Don’t get us wrong, we love online real-time collaboration. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate in-person meetings or company retreats. It all boils down to a healthy equilibrium.
If the office environment makes you feel happy, go back and enjoy it. But if you’re still bent on getting truly productive at home, use our tips, tweak your workflow, and see what happens. Maybe things will finally click.
💡 Before you go… We’ve covered the topic of work-from-home several times on the blog. If you’re looking for more practical tips, be sure to check these articles next.
- 📗 Work From Home: A Pocket-Sized Guide
- ☝️ Remote Work 101: Essential Tips for Working From Home
- 🔥 Remote Work Burnout? Follow These 5 Simple Steps to Recover