remote workers can be more productive than office workers

Six years ago, we surveyed our employees with the goal of determining the optimal place for each of them to work in terms of maximum efficiency and productivity.

What we quickly determined was that no one wanted to work in the office.

Workers Can't Concentrate in the Office

When asked to identify the best place to get work done — specifically work that requires maximum concentration and creativity, such as designing a web page, programming new functionality for software, developing a financial report or writing a sales proposal — not a single member of our 34-member team chose the office.

Rather, they selected:

  • An extra room at their home
  • Their favorite coffee shop
  • A train or airplane

Our finding wasn't an anomaly. In a much larger study based on 2,600 interviews, FlexJobs concluded that 76 percent of workers prefer to avoid the office when they have important work to do.

Control Does Not Equal Productivity

So why do so many companies continue to insist that employees show up in the office every day? More importantly, why do most companies even bother to lease office space when most work can now be done just as effectively by remote workers from anywhere, anytime?

The main reason: control. Many managers still harbor the illusion that workers who are seen are productive. They convince themselves that their team members are effective and productive because they show up at 9 a.m. and remain in front of their workstations until 6 p.m.

But this is nothing but a false sense of control.

Someone sitting at desk in the office is not necessarily productive — or coming close to his maximum potential in terms of quality and productivity.

Productivity Climbs with Fewer Distractions

Control doesn't increase productivity. Rather, productivity climbs as a result of fewer distractions.

To be productive, a person needs, on average, between three to four continuous hours without interruptions.

Compare this, as an example, in terms of sleep. If you go to bed at night and for one reason or another someone wakes you up — interrupts you — every hour, you can hardly say that you slept well by the time morning comes.

The same exact thing happens at work.

People Need Time to Think

Creative people — writers, programmers, designers, engineers and the like — need extended time without interruptions to achieve an optimal level of creativity.

But this article from the Washington Post explains up to six hours per day are lost to interruptions. In essence, the average workplace is limiting the productivity of its team to two hours a day and loosing 75 percent of its collective time.

The ideal is to have three to four continuous hours without interruptions in the morning and another three to four hours in the afternoon, after a lunch break. This is the optimal point for reaching maximum productivity with your employees.

3 Major Workplace Distractions

But to do this, you need to eliminate all the interruptions, which constantly distract your employees. As a manager, this is your job and responsibility.

What are the 3 greatest interruptions to destroy?

Email

Email generates a “push” interruption in your daily work. When people want something from you, they sends you email, which interrupt your flow of thought.

In our company, we turned to alternatives to reduce email — options such as Basecamp, Asana and Slack. Now, when someone is contributing to and working on a project, instead of giving a “push” with email — which distracts the people from their work —they make a “pull” and retrieve information directly from the place where everyone is working together on the same project.

Additionally, it encourages more collaboration. The problem with email is that all the information remains enclosed between the sender and receiver. The communication remains behind closed doors.

When a new team member wants to join in on a project, they have to bother another person to catch up on the state of the job and learn the way the project is advancing, triggering another flow of email to catch the person up to speed. Now, that new team member can simply log onto the platform, Basecamp, for instance, search for the corresponding project, and find everything they need to begin working.

Meetings

As shown in this infograph, $37 billion dollars are lost each year in the United States alone because of unnecessary meetings. Employees spend more than 60 hours per month in unproductive meetings (with half of those being considered by them to be a total waste of time).

Who creates meetings? Yes, people who live from one meeting to the next —managers!

Their agenda is full of meetings. This is due to the fact that they are not the ones doing the true work — the work that serves a purpose, which has value and adds up, the productive work.

The ones who do the productive work are the programmers, designers, etc. They need to have a work schedule with no meetings for them to reach their maximum level of productivity.

If, for example, they sit down to program and but then need to stop in an hour for a meeting they not only lose the time that they spend in the meeting. They also lose momentum — and need more time to regain concentration and pick up where they left off.

On top of this, if three programmers and one designer go to a meeting which lasts one hour, it was not just one hour that was lost, it was four hours that were lost for your company (1 hour x 4 workers = 4 hours with no productivity).

And if we suppose that it took each one 30 minutes to regain the same level of productivity, then the total is 6 hours lost.

If this is a daily meeting, it is almost as if you have to hire one other programmer just to recuperate the time and productivity wasted.

The best way I can share about how to eliminate meetings is based on the experience of our own company. First we started by reducing the time of the meetings and the number of people involved, setting maximum limits, until we finally came to a point where we decided to do a one-month trial without meetings, and from then on we never went back.

If you would like another reference point on how to eliminate unnecessary meetings, you can read this reflection shared by Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn.

Another reference point is this article by The Economist, where a study showed that a factory was able to save the equivalent of eliminating 200 jobs just by limiting meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes and 7 people per meeting.

Bosses

If a project’s information is stored in a place where it can be accessed freely by all of the employees and you don’t have any more meetings, then what is the use of having bosses?

As Larry Page, founder of Google, shared: “Engineers shouldn't have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge.”

Historically, the function of a boss was to make sure that the whole project and each one of its parts (the employees) were on the same page and advancing properly together.

But today, with the all the technological advances, it can be clearly seen when a project is advancing on time and in order and even when its members are doing their job as they should or not.

If the role of the boss is to interrupt the one who in reality is doing all the productive work, then their services are no longer needed, and furthermore, they are even counterproductive.

Embrace the Digital Workplace

When you work without email, meetings (both by phone or physical) or bosses, you will go from having synchronous to asynchronous communication.

What this means is that if someone needs something from you they will have to communicate strictly by text using the project management tool and when you finish your three to four hours of continuous work you will be able to answer the messages based on your time, without it being an interruption.

In an office, when someone comes to your desk, you do not have the option of not responding to their verbal questions at the same time they are made to you. But if you are working remotely, you can deactivate the notifications on your cell phone or computer and then activate them when you are available — when you have finished your continuous stretch of time you need to do your work productively.

Furthermore, in not having an office, you will be able to have a competitive advantage in the fact that you are not limited to a specific geographical space. Therefore, you will not only be able to hire excellent professional talent in another city or country, but also if one of your team members needs to relocate for family or personal reasons, they will not have to stop working for you.

In a digital world, there's no sense of working like it's 1999.

Title image by Tim Gouw