Working Smarter: How Working From Home Can Improve Your Work

Whatever your opinion about working from home, one thing is certain – it allows you to exert control over your work environment. And if you use that control to work in continuous bursts, working from home can make you a far more effective employee.

How? By taking advantage of the science behind the results curve.

How Results Change With Time – The Results Curve

Let me show you how your results change with time when you are working on a task. As shown in the chart, when you start to work on a task, you start to get results, and as you continue, you get more results. At some point, however, the results level off and then diminish, because you get mentally tired and no longer productive, you need someone else to do their part before you can continue, or you complete the task.

This is all good in theory, but what happens in reality is that a few minutes after you start to work on a task, you are interrupted (e-mail, phone, someone stops by, etc.). When you are interrupted, your results go down to zero. A few minutes later, you start again, and you start to make progress, but you get interrupted again. This time it’s an IM, or your boss is calling. Your results go down to zero again, and this happens repeatedly. This is life in today’s work environment.

This cycle is devastating for your overall results. Working this way, you get only a small fraction, maybe five to 10 percent, of the potential results that you could be getting if you were to stay focused. In addition, when you are working a few minutes here and a few minutes there, you are staying at a superficial level and not going deep into any particular project or line of thought.

So the point is that you need to stay on a task long enough to achieve the focus, in-depth thinking and creative problem solving that gets meaningful things accomplished. This can take 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or several hours, depending on the task. Then once you have accomplished something worthwhile, it is time to stop your focused session and switch to being collaborative – to handle e-mail, make phone calls, and have live discussions. This is the work where we get most of our team productivity and equally important results:

Then, after the collaborative session, it is time to take a break – move, eat, recreate – do something that gets you re-energized and ready for the next focused session.

Working in “Bursts”

As I demonstrated above, the best results are accomplished by working in bursts: alternating between bursts of focused effort, bursts of collaborative effort, and bursts of play time. This brings us back to the remote versus office work debate. Each burst needs to be supported by the appropriate physical location, tools, and people.

The Focus Burst and the Office

The focus burst (you can call it the “alone” burst) is likely to require silence and uninterrupted work, allowing you to dive deeply into the task at hand and unleash your creativity. Your surroundings need to be conducive to focus and creativity. Most offices aren’t necessarily designed to support this burst. Nor are the people at the office trained to behave in ways that support these bursts. Home is the better “office” in this case. For some people, however, home can be noisy and full of interruptions and temptations, in which case a third place may be the answer, such as a café, conference room, or some other remote location.

The Collaborative Burst and the Office

The collaborative burst requires access to the people you want to collaborate with as well as the collaboration tools that can support this effort. If your team is in one office, then the office is likely to be the ideal place for this burst. But if  your team is spread among multiple offices, and perhaps even time zones, then the physical location becomes less relevant, and access to effective collaboration tools becomes crucial. Home may again be the ideal “office,” cutting down on commute time and giving you the best of both worlds – focus bursts when you need them and collaborative bursts when you need them.

The Play Burst and the Office

While the play burst seems secondary, it is actually critical for productivity and engagement. This burst needs to happen whatever the location, and it needs to happen often. While many such bursts can be short periods of as little as a few minutes, more significant play bursts, and play-together bursts, are also vital to productivity.

Remote Work Can Benefit the Organization

Not all jobs or companies benefit equally from the ability of employees to control their environments enough to work creatively in bursts, but those that do should factor productivity science into their policy-making. But as with most things, all-or-nothing approaches are probably not the most effective. Companies should experiment; untethering employees from their desks can help wake up a culture, align workers to the company’s goals, and prepare the organization for its next set of challenges.

Where do you get the most work done? Where can you best make productive leaps?

Pierre Khawand is the founder and principal of People-OntheGo, a corporate productivity coaching firm. For more suggestions about how to increase your productivity, download his free eBook Results Curve™.

Pierre Khawand
Pierre Khawand is the founder and principal of People-OntheGo, a corporate productivity coaching firm. For more suggestions about how to increase your productivity, download his free eBook Results Curve™.
Pierre Khawand
Tags: Business,BYOD,Downtime,Productivity,Technology
  • claire cohn

    Makes good sense and aligns with the stress cycle where symptoms (eye strain, headache, digestive problems) occur when there is no let-up in work intensity or boss’ pressure. People aren’t required to take breaks from work so tend to eat lunch at desk and not move around enough to feel refreshed. Working remotely, you set your own schedule and put the locus of control inside of you. You arrange things the way your work efficiency works best!
    Like your graphs!
    Claire Cohn
    On Your Feet Wellness

  • Melissa

    I’m an introverted type, so when I previously worked in an office, I found that the Focus burst was quite difficult to achieve with frequent interruptions from co-workers. Now that I work at home, I can definitely provide more structure to my workday, minimize interruptions, and really dig into unobstructed creative work. I don’t experience much collaborative work at home, which can be difficult at times, but I do use that time to check in on email and also “bring my head above water” to see what’s going on in the world: maybe read a bit of news, etc. This also helps to refresh my mind and bring a new attention to the next Focus session, and can also provide inspiration for social media and blog posts.

  • Hady

    At the current stage unfortunately I do not have the possibility to work at home, yet, in the past I had the chance to experience it and I think that it gives better settings for higher performance; however, it lacks the team interactions and the advantages of being part of a team.

  • Christine

    The occasional work from home day proves to be very rewarding in terms of productivity and wellness. I can get so much more focused work done with less interruption and allow myself to take regular breaks that actually help relieve stress to recharge. I do miss the interaction and collaboration with the team when needing input or feedback. I definitely like the balance of both.

  • Sara Reed

    I only started having the chance to work from home in my current position and have been amazed at how much I can accomplish with short bursts of time. I started using Pierre’s tools (timer and email as a task) and have completed projects that had been lingering over me. It’s also something I encourage my leaders to do when they really need to think and focus. With technology today, it’s too easy to get distracted!

  • Bill Tompkins

    Our company recently changed our working environment from cubicles and multiple buildings to an open office environment, and moved most of the staff into one building- great for the bottom line, and great for collaboration, not so great when I need to focus and get some tasks done. I’ve found work at home days to be very helpful when I can work them in. I live close to our office, often times I will work from home for only part of the day, a nice compromise between focus time and collaboration time. We’ve also set up “quiet” areas in our office where we can go to get things done- whether it’s a quick conference call or just some time away from our desks (and away from interruptions) to focus on a specific task.

  • Jenn Steele

    Our company has what we call a “results orientation”. In other words, we don’t care if you work from the moon every other Tuesday as long as you come back with results. That said, we’re trying to reconcile that with building a fast-growing team, so most of us are in & out of the office (mostly in), and our weekly all-hands is mandatory for both Sydney and SF offices.