FLEXIBLE WORKING: HOW TO STAY FOCUSED WHETHER AT HOME OR THE COFFEE SHOP
It’s easy to get distracted when you are not working in the office. Experts share their top tips to improve efficiency and productivity.
Whether self-employed or not, the number of people now regularly working in places other than an office has risen dramatically in recent years, fuelled in part by the fast evolution of technology that makes it possible to connect from anywhere. In 2017, flexible workspace provider Regus found on average 54% of the global workforce works outside of the office for two and a half days a week or more – and more than a third (36%) do so from home. However, almost half (46%) of UK employees feel under pressure to demonstrate they are actually working when working from home, research by LogMeIn has found.
I think most companies are still very stuck in this idea that it’s five days a week, 9am-5pm in an office
Part of the reason for that, Graham Allcott, director at productivity training provider Think Productive, says, may be a misconception around flexible working that’s still evident in some businesses. “I think most companies are still very stuck in this idea that it’s five days a week, 9am-5pm in an office, and you need to be in,” Allcott says.
Research from PowWowNow revealed that for 47% of full-time employees, flexible working is not encouraged at work, despite 53% feeling they would be more productive working outside of the office. There are studies to show this is often the case – home workers rate their productivity at 7.7 out of 10, compared with those in open-plan offices, who score their productivity at 6.5 out of 10; and 50% of US workers in 2015 said they are more productive when working on important tasks from home, citing factors such as fewer interruptions from colleagues, minimal office politics and reduced stress from commuting. Research by Vodafone in 2016, involving 8,000 global employees and employers, found 83% reported an increase in productivity after introducing flexible hours.
Yet, in recent years, some early adopters of flexible working have backpedalled and called employees back to the office. In 2017, IBM announced it would be abandoning its remote work programme to improve collaboration and accelerate the pace of work. At one time, 40% of its employees had worked outside the office. In the UK, where productivity is rated behind France and Germany, remote working is a risk many employers are unwilling to take. Nigel Davies, founder of digital workspace Claromentis, where all of the team has the option to work remotely, admits it’s not for everyone and trust plays a big factor.
“You have to evolve [as a boss]. You have to let go of anything that resembles command and control. If you really think your staff might abuse this then it’s not for you,” he says. Davies has found agile working – where teams work in short (often a week or two-week) sprints towards a common goal – particularly helpful when it comes to keeping remote teams on track. “You get immediate feedback on participation, engagement, progress, etc, irrespective of where [employees] are working from.” He’s also found flexible working has helped him hire and keep staff happy, particularly if they’re from the tech-savvy millennial generation or generation Z. “It just feels like a natural way of life [for them],” he adds.
Clare Evans, productivity coach and author of Time Management for Dummies, believes flexible working can really boost morale among the team if the trust is there. “When people work from home, they have much more control over their working hours. Whether they start earlier, finish later, work around family, and other priorities they might have.” For her, it’s important for home workers to have a dedicated space to work from, to have the right technology and to set parameters for the day – including working hours and daily objectives. “Avoid multitasking – focus on one thing at a time,” she says, adding that hanging out washing and other household chores can be left to an appropriate break. She’s also found the Pomodoro technique – breaking work intervals into 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break, can help maintain focus. “It’s important to take breaks wherever you’re working. Finish one task before getting on with the next one.”
Allcott recommends starting the day with some sort of a commute to optimise productivity, even if it’s just walking around the block to buy milk, or taking the dog out. “Get some fresh air and have a transition – you’re getting ready for work, you’re walking to work, now you’re at work,” he says. Most people are at their most attentive in the morning, so this is the best time to address difficult projects, rather than just answering emails that have come in overnight. “The trick is to ignore some of that latest and loudest stuff, and focus on the deeper, more important stuff,” he adds. He’s also found it helps being accountable to someone else, even if it’s just an email you promised to send at a certain time, or a task you had committed to finish on a particular day.
After six years of freelancing, Dines launched the marketing and design agency Shake It Up Creative with co-director Meg Fenn in 2015. Though she’s had to make a conscious effort to stay focused while working remotely, she says it has definitely helped make her days more productive. She now leaves the couch for non-work related laptop time, in favour of setting up a proper work space in a separate room, always dresses for work (this might include jeans, but never jogging bottoms or pyjamas) and has become really strict with herself about scheduling her work day. “I definitely work harder now than I did when I was in an office,” she adds.