Remote work, or working from home, is a growing phenomenon in the modern workplace. New technologies, especially communication platforms and cloud-based programs, are making it more feasible to work from home, while increasing trends of independent contract and freelance work are pressuring more professionals to work outside the office. Top it off with the fact that most employees are happier working from home, or at least appreciate the benefit, and you have a solid potential working arrangement for the majority of positions.
But working from home isn't perfect, as most new remote workers find out; in fact, most end up wasting time in more than one area, and if you aren't careful, these time wasters could seriously jeopardize your overall productivity.
Some people work better on a strict schedule, while others do better in a more flexible environment, but you'll need some kind of time-based backbone if you want to hold yourself accountable for getting your work done. In the office, the reliable, repetitive 9-to-5 may get old and annoying, but at least it keeps you on a given beat. When you come to work, you work, and when you're done with your work, you go home. This incentivizes you to stay on task for that portion of the day. At home, you can do your work whenever (as long as you hit your deadlines). You might wake up late, bounce between tasks, and end up working until midnight or later to fit everything in. To compensate for this possibility, it's a good idea to adhere to some kind of schedule.
Dedicated remote workers probably have a specific office space set up somewhere in their house, whether that's a full office room or just a desk where they accomplish most of their tasks. However, most people just make do with what they have, working on a dining room table or bouncing around the house with a laptop. Without a dedicated workspace, your mind is free to wander--it makes it harder to distinguish between your personal world and your professional one, and may make it harder to perform the work you need to do efficiently. Try setting up a dedicated space for your work, and be consistent with it--even if it's just a nook of a seldom-used room.
Errands, chores, and personal responsibilities
One of the greatest advantages of remote work is being able to handle some of your personal responsibilities without interfering with your work schedule, such as picking up the kids from school or getting groceries during the day. This can be beneficial overall, but it can also distract you from your work responsibilities. Try to keep your list of to-dos with chores and errands separate from your work to-do items, and if you can, do them at different times of the day.
Inefficient choices in communication
If you're trying to launch a coordinated effort (and almost everything in business requires some level of coordination), you need to be able to communicate efficiently, and this is where remote work comes with some ambiguities. Thanks to the modern era, you never have a shortage of options; you can call, email, IM, text, video chat, or employ some other communication medium, but which medium is the right one for this situation? What do your teammates prefer? What do you prefer? Furthermore, are you communicating on all the points you need to communicate on? Are you doing so in a timely manner? Are you available to chat at the same time as your team members? There are tons of inefficiency points you'll need to watch out for if you want to maximize your chances at success.
Distracting websites are a problem for office workers and remote workers alike, but since there's nobody looking over your shoulder at home, they're more of a temptation when working remotely. If you find yourself plagued by distracting websites, you could always download and install a plugin like StayFocusd, which can help you block specific sites from yourself. And if you really want to disconnect from the world of distractions that lives on the internet, you can disconnect entirely for dedicated "focus sessions" to boost your overall productivity during that time.
The question of productivity
After reading this article, full of the ways remote workers end up wasting time, you might question whether remote work is inherently less productive than working from an office. However, early studies seem to suggest the opposite; whether it's because employees have more control over their work schedules and processes, or because of a bias that encourages remote workers to work harder to keep the privilege, the fact is that remote workers tend to get more done than their office counterparts.
Typically, remote work is advantageous for both employees and employers; the former gets more freedom while the latter sees more productivity and saves money at the same time. But that doesn't mean that working from home is a perfect arrangement. As we've seen, there are a number of productivity traps that remote workers can fall into, wasting their time and disrupting the flow on both sides of the equation. Avoid these, however, and you'll be set up for a smoother, faster, more productive working situation.