Remote work was gaining popularity long before the coronavirus. Approximately 4 million U.S. employees work from home at least half of the time, according to a 2017 report. And many have experienced the benefits. Research has found that remote work boosts productivity, increases employee morale, and fosters both mental and physical wellness.
But the remote workers of today tell a different story. As the coronavirus spread across the country and around the world, U.S. companies scrambled to keep their businesses running. For many, that meant adopting a work-from-home structure.
As of April 2020, 28% of U.S. workers are working from home, according to a recent survey conducted by TSheets by QuickBooks.* One in 4 workers is working from home as a direct result of COVID-19. And many of them—around 40%—had never worked from home before.
These workers are struggling with makeshift office spaces. And they’re finding it hard to balance personal and professional obligations.
How working from home due to the coronavirus impacts productivity
Nearly 40% of workers say their productivity has decreased since working from home due to the coronavirus. Another 33% say productivity has increased. The remainder says their productivity levels haven’t changed.
Neither the respondents’ ages, the number of adults in their households, nor the number of children in their households impacted those numbers. But the number of hours these workers are putting in paints a clearer picture. Approximately 40% of workers say they’re working fewer hours per week from home. Among them, the majority is working between one and 10 fewer hours.
Meanwhile, 28% of respondents who are working from home due to the coronavirus say they’re working more—a lot more. 33% of workers who are putting in extra hours say they’re working an additional 16 hours per week. Most salaried employees working from home due to the coronavirus say their work hours haven’t changed. On the flip side, 48% of hourly workers say they’re working fewer hours per week.
5 tips to work from home productively during the coronavirus
Whether your productivity is up or down or you’re working more or less, everyone struggles with distractions when working from home.
1. Set up a dedicated workspace
57% of respondents didn’t have a dedicated workspace in their homes or had to create additional spaces to accommodate another household member. Many workers say that not having a dedicated workspace has challenged their productivity.
28% of workers say they’re working from their living rooms. The rest are split equally between working from their bedrooms, guest bedrooms, or kitchen tables. The smallest percentage of respondents are working from the garage or another storage room.
Mentally leaving “home mode” and entering “work mode” can be difficult if you’re not leaving your home space physically. Creating a dedicated workspace or using the space you have available is essential for productivity.
- Dedicate a space for work. Whether it’s a whole room, part of a room, or just a table, create a space you can dedicate to work. Surround your workspace with things that tell your brain “this is a place for work,” and avoid cluttering your workspace with things that say “home.” If you wouldn’t find it in your typical workspace, avoid keeping it in your home workspace.
- Get the right equipment. Working from a laptop can wreak havoc on your posture. A monitor, keyboard, and mouse can make a world of difference. Don’t forget monitor and laptop risers to make your new space as ergonomic as possible.
- Ask your employer for help. 40% of respondents say their employers have offered to compensate them for at least some workspace equipment. This includes computer accessories, office equipment, and even the internet bill.
2. Embrace virtual communication
Nearly 40% of workers say the number of meetings they attend has decreased since working from home. Over 50% say they’ve taken more phone calls and written more emails since they started working from home due to the coronavirus.
But these changes haven’t affected how workers interact and communicate with their co-workers. While 40% of workers say communication habits haven’t changed, 27% say working from home has improved communication. If you’re looking for new ways to stay connected from afar, try these tips:
- Prioritize virtual hangouts. Put time on the calendar to catch up with co-workers and maintain personal relationships. Treat these hangouts like you would an important meeting.
- Create a virtual watercooler. Start a dedicated chat channel or video conference link that’s live all day. Employees can pop in and out of these channels as time permits.
- Participate in virtual challenges. Challenge co-workers to post a photo of their pets, share their best work-from-home tips, or collaborate on a team playlist.
Nothing can replace face-to-face interactions. But participating in virtual communications can foster team morale and stave off feelings of disconnection or loneliness.
3. Focus on physical and mental health
Working from home during the coronavirus comes with its share of challenges. 55% of workers say they struggle with personal distractions throughout the day. Another 30% say they just feel burnt out. And 29% say they’ve experienced disruptions to their sleeping patterns. And around 4 in 10 respondents say their fitness and dietary habits have declined since working from home.
Right now, work isn’t the only thing occupying your mind. Managing health and safety precautions is exhausting, even without the added stress of working from home. In the meantime, don’t forget to focus on yourself throughout the workday (and every day). Here are a few tips:
- Go outside. Take some time each day to soak up some sun and breathe fresh air.
- Keep a routine. Structuring your days can help you keep your feet on the ground. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Get dressed, even if you’re not leaving the house. These choices keep your spirits and your productivity high.
- Get your blood pumping. Do something to get your heart rate up. Exercise can have a positive effect on your mood.
- Plan a menu. If you’re having a hard time resisting quarantine snacks, plan out your daily menu. Writing it down can help you stick to it.
- Focus on your hobbies. Give yourself time to think creatively or challenge yourself to learn new skills. 34% of workers say they’re spending more time on personal development since they started working from home due to the coronavirus.
4. Avoid the news during the workday
Over 30% of workers say the news hurts their work-from-home productivity. Another 25% say social media has a negative effect on their productivity. And it comes as no surprise. Inundating yourself with bad news can have near-immediate ill effects on your mental health. And too much social media can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. You might try watching Netflix instead.
40% of workers say having access to digital entertainment like Netflix and video games has had a positive impact on their productivity. Another 32% say that caring for pets has had a positive effect.
Additionally, most respondents admit that they spend at least some time on personal tasks throughout the workday. And 30% agree that working on personal tasks like household chores and projects has been good for their productivity at work.
So go ahead. Watch the latest episode of your favorite show. Play some music in the background. Spend some time playing with your pets. These activities give your mind a much-needed break and allow your productivity to soar.
5. Talk to your employer about the future of work
Social distancing regulations have forced millions of Americans to work from home. But many business owners are starting to see the benefits of remote work. 30% of workers think their employers will be more open to work-from-home options once state governments lift social distancing regulations. Business experts across the internet are predicting that the future of remote work is now.
There’s a chance that some employers will let some employees work remotely some of the time in life after the coronavirus. However, if the survey’s told us anything about working from home during COVID-19, it’s that some workers are thriving while others simply aren’t. As you look to the future, it’s a good idea to talk to your employer about your productivity while working from home. Work together to find a solution that works for you and the business.
*Methodology: TSheets by QuickBooks, an Intuit company, commissioned Pollfish to survey 1,068 U.S. adult employees, contractors, and freelancers working from home due to COVID-19 with internet access who were rewarded for their participation. The poll was conducted on April 22, 2020, with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points. The margin of error is larger for subgroups.
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