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Six ways to stay productive when working remote

From establishing a routine to defining the rules of engagement and onto taking time out during your day, here's how to keep productivity high when you're working from home.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor on

While many professionals are now returning to the office, experts also believe that hybrid working is likely to remain the norm for many knowledge workers, with employees splitting time between office and home. For those who continue with remote work, what's the best way to stay productive? Business leaders give us six top tips.

1. Establish a routine 

If you want to be productive, then you can't afford to slip into bad ways. Just because you don't have to be in the office for a 9am start doesn't mean you can have a cheeky lie-in.

Emma Frost, director of innovation at London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), says her personal top tip is to make sure she starts the day on her own terms.

"I purposely wake up a little bit earlier than I need to and I either go for a run or I do just 10 minutes of stretching," she says. "I really like starting the day with a sense of wellbeing. So, even if I have got back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, then I feel like I've done something mentally and physically to kick the day off."

Cindy Stoddard, CIO at Adobe, has a similar approach. She advises all professionals to manage their schedule effectively from the get-go: "I go on a walk with my Corgi every morning. I start with a fresh mind, and I will not do anything to upset the way that I start my day off," she says. 

2. Get the right set-up

Something we've all learnt during the past two years is that you won't be able to work effectively from home if you don't have access to the right kit. 

Professionals who are now turning hybrid working into a new normal need to make sure their hardware, software and desk set-up is as good at home as it would be in the office. 

That's why Alejandro Massuet, IT manager at Supernus Pharmaceuticals, replicates his office set-up at home: "I try to have everything here to enable me to do everything that I need. I have my speakers, my webcam and my two monitors." 

3. Define the rules of engagement

Working from home allows you to mix work and home demands. But it's also important to make sure that the demands of home life don't impinge on your ability to work productively and effectively.

One way is to establish ground rules for engagement, says Massuet: "I work from our basement when I'm at home. My kids know when they come home after school that, if the door is closed to the basement, they cannot come in. I'm busy working."

SEE: The hybrid work divide: Managers think tech is the answer - but staff disagree

It's also important to recognise that the rules of engagement work both ways. Make sure that you use time gained from not commuting or working late in the office to give quality time back to those you love.

Loïc Giraud, global head of digital platform and product delivery at Novartis, says this kind of flexibility helps to make everyone feel better, even if you've had a busy day at the coalface: "I try to make sure I have dinner with my family every day."

4. Use the isolation to your advantage

Working from home can be a lonely affair but it's also a good opportunity to get away from some of the distractions you find in the office.

LLDC's Frost says she finds it easier to focus at home than at her HQ. "I'm in the office today and it's constant back-to-back meetings," she says. 

"There's people asking questions and you've got to move from one place to another. I'm quite disciplined at home. So, I do find it much easier to really focus and concentrate on bigger pieces of work when I'm out of the office." 

That's something that resonates with Lee Cowie, CTO at Merlin Entertainments, who advises professionals to think about how they can make the most of the splendid isolation that home working provides. 

"I'm always better in the morning. I structure my day so that if I've got to do some serious thinking then I'll try and schedule that in the morning," he says.

5. Make time for casual collisions

While being in the office can mean it's sometimes tough to focus, it's also nice to have a chat with people at the water cooler. 

Adobe's Stoddard recognises we've all missed real-life human contact during the past two years. And now, in a world of hybrid working, she's creating a strategy to ensure that the casual collisions that take place in the office also form part of her home-working day. 

"I block time, so I can call people. If your day is blocked with meetings 100% of the day, that doesn't leave any thinking time. So, I have blocks during the day and I use that to create my own casual collisions." 

SEE: The future of work: How everything changed and what's coming next

Stoddard might Slack or email staff members individually and ask them 'how's it going?' Those chats might spark a conversation that leads to a more in-depth Teams call. It's an approach that produces benefits for the team – and for her as a manger.

"I think it's all about breaking up the day with different activities that can help keep your mind fresh and to help you connect with people," she says.

6. Take time out during the day

Home workers get a bad reputation in some quarters for spending all their day in their pyjamas watching Netflix. As many professionals will testify, the reality is often very different.

"Something that I should do, but I don't do, is to have my breaks," says Supernus Pharmaceuticals' Massuet. "Sometimes, I get stuck into work and I forget the clock. That's something that I need to work on."

Evidence suggest it's a common issue, with many professionals staying tied to the desk when they're at home. 

To break this pattern, Loïc Giraud from Novartis makes sure he goes for a 30-minute run every day, usually around lunchtime when it's quieter: "It just gives me a refresh."

Most crucially, Merlin's Cowie says professionals must ensure they don't feel guilty for taking time out. "If you need to go for a walk around the block during the day or go to the shops, do it," he says.

"Blend home and work life together. You don't need to be sat at your desk for 10 hours and focused on your screen. In fact, if you do, you'll be unproductive. So, carve out enough time to stretch your legs and get a breath of fresh air."

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