The Science of Working from Home: Present and Future

Under today’s pandemic conditions, working from home has transformed from a perk enjoyed by some to a daily requirement for millions of people across the world. 

“The current COVID-19 crisis is really a watershed moment for telework,” says Dr. Timothy Golden, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a management expert who has studied the subject for over 20 years. 

This level of remote work is unprecedented both in the U.S. and globally, with many employees and managers surprised to see that working from home full-time isn’t what they imagined. In fact, what workers think they know about working from home can sometimes get in the way of the work itself — reducing productivity and efficiency, while increasing avoidable frustrations. So how can newly remote workers and managers separate fact from fiction? 

Here, Dr. Golden delves into some of the biggest myths about remote work and offers research-based advice to help workers develop positive habits and practices — during COVID-19 and in the future. 

Productivity and oversight remain strong even on remote teams

For employers, one of the biggest myths surrounding working from home involves management: Can people who aren’t in the office actually be supervised? According to Golden, this is a misplaced worry: “The fact that you’re not there within physical eyesight doesn’t mean that you cannot oversee from an electronic standpoint.”

Communication is crucial for maintaining close relationships and productivity during this crisis. Golden suggests regular check-ins with employees throughout the day via email, instant messenger or short video meetings. The key is to be strategic about the methods of communication: consider your goals for the encounter, as well as the information that needs to be shared.

Just as individual workers need to feel connected to one another, it’s important for managers to continue building relationships with those on their teams. Golden recommends scheduling a few minutes at the beginning or end of team meetings for people to have the same types of casual conversations that they would in person. 

Productivity is another top concern among employers, as managers have long worried that remote workers can’t accomplish as much or be as fully engaged as their in-office counterparts. However, research indicates the opposite. When working from home, “people tend to work longer hours and work longer periods that are uninterrupted,” Golden says. Not only are they more engaged and focused when away from the distractions of the office, but people also tend to continue working past their usual stop time.  

Contrary to what some have long thought, managers should focus less on their productivity fears and more on supporting workers who, if left to their own devices, might not know how and where to draw boundaries. Golden suggests encouraging teams to be mindful about not stretching themselves too thin, to “[make] sure that people don’t get burned out or emotionally or mentally exhausted by work.” 

It’s also important to log off — for good — at a reasonable…

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