In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak and the increasing need for social distancing, remote work is on the rise. Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment (BE.Center) wanted to provide some useful, research-backed tips for how to work from home productively (without feeling too lonely).
Though these times may be challenging, for those of us who can do our work online, this is an opportunity to explore teleworking and reduce our commute-related emissions. Also, you never know what innovations will come out of this. Issac Newton identified gravity while under quarantine and working remotely!
Among the biggest concerns about working from home for an extended period are productivity, loneliness, and being unable to unplug from work. So, we dug into the research on what helps keep people motivated and feeling socially engaged when working away from their teammates. Here is what we found.
- Get dressed (even with shoes)
This simple step can set you up for a productive day. Research shows that our clothing can impact our psychological processes and affect our work performance. Basically, dressing the part when working from home can help you stay focused and embody your “work self.” Experts also say that wearing work clothes helps create boundaries so that when you change into your more casual clothes, you know you can unwind and disconnect from work. The way our clothes impact our decision-making and processing could also be seen as a form of choice architecture, where wearing certain clothes prompts us to engage in certain patterns of behavior (i.e, wearing sweatpants might nudge us to the couch and the chips, whereas shoes and trousers might nudge us to sit upright at a desk).
- Create a dedicated workspace and create boundaries for your time
Establishing your physical workspace might mean replicating your office space as best you can, by setting up a desk or a work table and making sure you have a comfortable place to sit (or stand!). Even placing organization-branded items nearby like a water bottle or a notebook, or wearing company swag can help you feel more connected and remind you that you still do, in fact, have a job.
For keeping your work-time delineated from off hours, you could check out this productivity timer that sets up 25-minute work blocks and reminds you to take breaks. A relevant note here: don’t forget to eat and don’t forget to move!
- Communicate in short bursts with your teammates
Studies conducted on remote teams showed that communicating in rapid bursts followed by longer periods of silence lead to better team performance and creativity.
This could mean sending rapid-fire Slack/Skype/Teams/Morse code messages instead of typing out a long e-mail, or jumping on a Zoom call with your teammates to talk through topics more efficiently.
The idea here is to get closer to normal, in-person communication. Especially in office spaces where colleagues regularly connect, engaging in bursty virtual communication patterns can be key to keeping teams creative and successful.
For Slack users: Whenever you want to start a Zoom call, just type /zoom in your Slack conversation and a Zoom call will automatically start.
For Microsoft team users: Whenever you want to start a Zoom call, you can click the three dots in your chat window and then click on the Zoom icon to create a new meeting. You will be able to share the Zoom invite with your teammate directly through the chat.
On social isolation:
- Use video calls
Research has found that 87% of remote workers feel more connected through the use of video conferencing. This shouldn’t be too surprising, but seeing a person’s face and hearing their voice is richer and more human-like than exchanging typed words. This entails making sure that you are set up to take video calls when you are working at home (see #1 and #2 in the productivity list above).
- Play virtual games/activities with your teammates
Many entrepreneurs and remote-working gurus suggest playing games with your remote team. This can promote team cohesion, improve communication, and reduce people’s feelings of social isolation.
Here are a few ideas of games your team could play:
- Play virtual Pictionary while video conferencing on Zoom
You can use the Drawize game, which gives each person a random word to draw while the whole team can guess what’s being drawn. Click “play with friends” and create a “room” for your team. Share the room code or link with your teammates and everyone can play together.
- Play virtual charades (so fun)
- Play this (awesome) “Aliens have landed” team building and communication game
Find more suggestions of team-building, virtual games here.
We hope these tips provide you with some useful ways to make your remote-working experience as productive and positive as possible. Behavioral science tells us that the status-quo is a powerful force, so we can expect to feel some discomfort when we break up our usual routines and shift to a new work environment. Simplifying our decision environments to encourage productive and focused work, as well as getting creative about how we “spend time” together as teams can help us get through these strange times together.
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Adam, H. Galinsky, A. Enclothed Cognition (2012). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Boomer, D (2015). Infographic: 87% of remote workers feel more connected to their team with video conferencing. Cisco Webex. Retrieved from: https://blog.webex.com/video-conferencing/infographic-87-of-remote-workers-feel-more-connected-to-their-team-with-video-conferencing/
Buffer (2019). State Of Remote Work. Retrieved from: https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019
Cheyung, H (2019). How I Use Online Games to Skyrocket My Remote Team’s Productivity. Medium. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/startup-grind/how-i-use-online-games-to-skyrocket-my-remote-teams-productivity-9179dba98c9d
Reidel, C., Woolley, A (2018). “Bursty” Communication Can Help Remote Teams Thrive. Behavioral Scientist. Retrieved from: https://behavioralscientist.org/bursty-communication-can-help-remote-teams-thrive/
Time Doctor. 15 Virtual Team Building Activities To Level-Up Your Remote Team. Retrieved from: https://biz30.timedoctor.com/virtual-team-building/