“If you want to drastically improve the productivity and effectiveness of your remote team, start giving your team dedicated blocks of time throughout the day when they have to be online and other times when they can disconnect and work free from interruptions.”
When Your Employees Are Remote, You Have To Stop The Body-In-Seat Mentality
There’s an insidious attitude permeating many companies; that when employees have their bodies-in-their-seats, it means they’re productive. But if you’ve ever seen studies on actual employee productivity, or if you’ve ever forced yourself to sit at your desk for eight straight hours, you know that having a body-in-the-seat does not equal productivity. And the problem becomes especially acute when the body-in-seat mentality follows suddenly-remote employees into their home workspace.
Before the pandemic, a Leadership IQ study found that remote employees are 87% more likely to love their jobs than people that work in offices. Why? One factor is that normally-remote employees have figured out productivity hacks to enable themselves to spend more concentrated time on deep work. They’re able to focus without interruptions, and one way they accomplish that is with time-chunking. Unfortunately, that’s a concept that has been slow to permeate traditional working environments.
A study from RescueTime found that knowledge workers check email and Slack every six minutes, with more than a third checking email or Slack every three minutes. And 40% of knowledge workers never get more than 30 minutes straight of focused time. The email interruptions and lack of straight focus time help explain why knowledge workers, on average, have just 2 hours and 48 minutes a day for productive tasks.
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By contrast, top freelancers, who’ve worked from home for years, have long known the fallacy of the body-in-seat mentality. And that’s why they’re more likely to work intensely for dedicated blocks of time.
Time chunking (also known as time blocking) is essentially carving out pieces of the day when you can disconnect from email (or Slack or IM, etc.) and focus on performing work that requires deep thinking. It’s not a complicated concept, and you’ve no doubt experienced the drastic productivity improvements that time chunking creates. It’s just like when (pre-pandemic) you worked from a coffee shop and accomplished more in one hour than you would have accomplished in eight hours at the office.
If you want to drastically improve the productivity and effectiveness of your remote team, start giving your team dedicated blocks of time throughout the day when they have to be online and other times when they can disconnect and work free from interruptions.
For example, you could set core periods throughout the day, e.g., 10 AM-12 PM and 2 PM-4 PM, when employees have to be accessible online (via email, Slack, IM, etc.). You could even add these three sentences to your work from home policy:
Employees must be available to their supervisors and co‐workers during core work hours. There are two core periods each day. The first runs from 10 AM – 12 PM and the second from 2 PM – 4 PM.
Making this kind of policy change offers several benefits: First, you’re giving your employees periods of the day when they’re allowed to disconnect, to focus deeply on their work without interruptions, and actually produce great results.
Second, having times throughout the day when they can disconnect allows your suddenly-remote employees that have kids to connect with their family. It can be chaotic having kids and spouses around. But when your employees have an hour to disconnect from email and check-in with everyone in the house, they’ll likely be able to restore some semblance of order. And that means when they come back to their desk, they’ll be significantly more focused and productive.
Third, there’s much to be said for focusing on the results someone achieves rather than how long they sit in front of a computer. But when we’re operating with a body-in-seat mentality, we’re de facto telling people, “it’s not what you get done but how long you sit there that matters.” I’ve seen organizations where employees are online for three hours a day that accomplish twice as much work as companies where everyone is online for ten straight hours.
Finally, when your employees get to disconnect for a few hours a day to accomplish deep-thinking work, guess who else gets to unplug and enjoy similar accomplishments? You! It’s an absolute treat for most leaders to have a few hours when they know that they won’t be interrupted and, thus, can produce better and faster results.
In our study “Interruptions At Work Are Killing Your Productivity,” we discovered that when people get interrupted frequently, there’s only a 44% chance that they’ll leave feeling like “today was a really successful day.” By contrast, when people can block out interruptions at work, there’s a 67% chance they’ll leave feeling like “today was a really successful day.”
The body-in-seat mentality doesn’t work well when people are the office, and when they’re working from home, it fails miserably. Top freelancers (e.g., writers, programmers, artists, etc.) have long known that it’s important to disconnect to accomplish great work. It’s time for suddenly-remote teams to learn from them and end the body-in-seat mentality once and for all.
Mark Murphy is a New York Times bestselling author, founder of Leadership IQ and teaches the online course Leading A Remote Team.