We asked 850+ remote workers how they stay focused and productive. It comes down to one thing.

If you’re nervous about what actually happens when you or your team works from home, just look at the data.

Our recent deep dive into WFH productivity data found that remote workers are more productive and save 2–5.5 hours a day compared to office workers. However, what the data misses is what differentiates a successful WFH team from one that struggles.

From Feb. 16th to 26th, we spoke to 850+ knowledge workers–both in-office and remote–to understand the unique concerns, strategies, and results of working remotely.

What we found is that the single biggest barrier to being productive when you work from home is a lack of clear policies and expectations–especially around availability. 

If you’re currently working from home for the first time or moving your team to remote, here’s what you need to know about the good, bad, and ugly of remote work.

The good: Remote workers work fewer hours, finish more tasks, and feel better about their daily accomplishments

Let’s start with a simple fact: Remote working works. 

With the right support systems, remote workers are more likely to:

  1. Work fewer than 8 hours a day
  2. Complete the majority of their daily tasks
  3. Feel more accomplished at the end of the workday

Remote workers are more likely to work fewer than 8 hours a day

First, only 48% of remote workers say they work for 8 hours or more a day vs. 68.5% of office workers. Instead, they’re twice as likely to work 5 hours or less a day. 

(40% of people also said the main benefit of working from home was having a flexible work schedule.)

Remote workers are 20% more likely to complete their daily tasks each day

However, fewer hours worked doesn’t equal lower output. 

In fact, remote workers are 20% more likely to say they complete all their daily tasks “every” or “most days.”

Remote workers feel more accomplished at the end of the day

Seeing regular progress is one of the best things for boosting emotions, motivation, and perceptions. (Psychologists call it The Progress Principle).

This is probably why remote workers are also 17% more like to say they “leave work feeling like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”

The not-so-good: Without clear policies and expectations, remote workers feel anxious, uncertain, and unproductive

If you’re new to working from home these numbers are probably a relief. However, while remote workers typically work less and get more done, much of that is due to their own hard work and habits. 

Unfortunately, few companies have policies in place to support remote workers.  

According to our survey, remote workers are also more likely to:

  • Keep their email or chat app open all day
  • Feel like they need to be online at all times
  • Be pressured into working variable hours including evenings and weekends 

Let’s dig into some of these issues and how you can help solve them.

1. The majority of remote workers say they feel pressured to be online and available

There’s a phenomenon known as work from home guilt (or WFHG). When you can’t be seen working (or, in most cases, sitting at a desk), you make up for it by being constantly online, answering every message, and generally “performing” more. 

As one respondent told us:

“It feels like I should pay back the privilege of working remotely.”

But all of that time spent being visible takes away and eats into your productive time. We know now that multitasking is a myth. However, many remote workers don’t feel like they can go “heads down” and focus deeply on a task.

Here’s what they told us:

Remote workers don’t feel trusted to do their work

Many remote workers feel like their managers and bosses don’t trust that they’re actually working. And so they become more vocal and “visible” online:

“People who come to the office more often are perceived as if they’re ‘working’ more. So at risk of having my work invisibilized, I tend to work longer hours and find it harder to disconnect.”

“My firm has not fully embraced results orientation, or at least measures results by a single variable, so with no face time other signals need to come in place.”

“I want to make the employer sure I’m working and not slacking off.”

There’s no good way for others to see when you’re deeply focused if you’re not in the office

When you’re not in an office together, it’s hard to know if it’s OK to reach out to a coworker. You can’t visibly see if they’re focused so you either don’t reach out (and slow yourself down) or do it anyways (and potentially kill their focus). 

For many of the remote workers we spoke to, that lack of visibility pressured them into being “always available”:

“People think that I have a lot of free time to drop everything and help them.”

“I don’t know when my colleagues are available online so I can miss them. (While in-house, you can simply go to their desk).”

“I get work emails 24/7 and feel pressured to be constantly on email, responding, and/or working on things.”

Remote workers don’t want to feel like they’re missing out on opportunities

Lastly, many people we spoke to said they feel they don’t get the same growth opportunities as their in-office coworkers. To make up for this, they feel the need to be everywhere all the time:

“It’s hard to be thought of as available if you aren’t around the first few times someone tries to contact you.”

“You have to chase the opportunity. Sometimes that means working outside normal business hours.”

“People who come to the office more often are perceived as if they’re ‘working’ more. So at risk of having my work invisibilized, I tend to work longer hours and find it harder to disconnect.”

2. Companies rarely have policies around setting meeting times that work for remote teammates 

It’s not just email and chat that causes headaches for remote workers. Meetings can also be especially hard.

Despite having more tools than ever for online meetings (like Zoom or Microsoft Teams), few companies have remote-friendly policies around when meetings happen. 

As one respondent told us:

“Since we’re not all in the same time zone I feel like I can’t organize my day properly since I have to be online sometimes even after I’ve already finished my 8-hour workday.”

3. Only 10% of teams communicate their status throughout the day

Lastly, remote teams rarely communicate what else is going on in their life.

While it’s easy to look up and see what’s going on in your office. It’s not the same for remote teams. 

The easiest way to solve this issue is to just communicate. Let your team (or those who need to know) when you’re going to be AFK–away from keyboard. This could be for a break, exercise, or some other obligation. 

Unfortunately, just 10% of teams have an actual policy around communicating status. While another 31% say they usually do (but don’t have to).

While it might seem like overkill, this sort of communication rebuilds the connection and context that’s lost when you work from home.

How to support your remote teams: Set specific times for meetings and communication and be clear with expectations

So what does this all mean? Looking at the responses, there are two key factors that ensure your remote team is successful:

  1. Trust them to do their work (and give them the tools to do it)
  2. Create clear expectations (and follow through with them)

To put it even more simply, remote teams need clarity around when they need to be available and when they can focus. 

Here’s how you can make that happen:

  • As a manager:
    • Have an open conversation with your team about expectations on response time and availability. Make it clear that you trust them to do their work and to be around when they need to be. (And have flexibility with their day otherwise!)
    • You might want to create a communication runbook that clearly spells out these expectations, or simply lead by example.
    • As we discovered in past research, your team will mirror your actions. So if you’re always on and communicating at all times, they will too. 
  • As a member of a remote team:
    • Talk to your manager about expectations if you’re uncertain about them. When do you need to be available?
    • Ask if you can make that time outside of your peak productive hours (so you can focus).
    • If you’re nervous about being offline, make sure your team knows how to get in touch with you in case of emergencies.

Need help working remotely? Try RescueTime for free.

RescueTime is an automatic time tracking and productivity tool that shows you exactly how you’re spending your time and helps you build better habits and block distractions.

We’ve been a fully remote team for over a decade and would love to share what we’ve learned.  

Check out our full guide on how to use RescueTime when you work from home and sign up for a free 14-day trial today.

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Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay is a writer, content marketer, and editor of the RescueTime blog.

One comment

  1. Yeah, that’s a great news. But in this world challenging time we need to stay at home. Keep it up. Remote job is the best way for good job. Thanks for nice sharing details about your article.

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