Whenever I talk to people who telecommute or work from home or a remote office I hear, “I am so much more productive at home. I get all my work done without interruption.” That’s great, and it’s important. But when I ask them if they’re more productive, they look at me like I have three heads. “Of course, I am. I get more done.” But that’s not the same thing as true productivity.
Some time ago, Harvard Business School did a study on productivity and found that people who work from home, or at least remotely, tend to get more tasks finished in a given period than people who work in the office surrounded by co-workers and (more importantly) their boss. They tend to get interrupted, sucked into discussions and other activities that distract from finishing what’s on their to-do list. However, people who worked co-located with others tended to score higher in things like “seeing obstacles before they arise,” troubleshooting problems, and more.
The fact is, you can complete a task uninterrupted, but without feedback and input from others you may find yourself working hard on something that may need to be fixed immediately upon completion, or doesn’t meet the full requirements of your customers (internal or external). If you finish a task quickly, but then have to engage in rework, or stop completely to overhaul your work when you’re half-finished, you’ve lost some of that productivity.
If you’re working remotely, take the time to check in with your boss and co-workers. If you have a question or concern, don’t be shy about using instant messaging, internal blogs, Sharepoint or other tools to check assumptions and answer questions.
If your boss asks you, “how’s it going?”, “Fine” is not the best answer. Be specific about what is going well, and what questions you might have. Check in with her about what she thinks any challenges might be. Sometimes we act like there are extra points for getting off the phone quickly. There aren’t.
If you are in the office, but working with someone remotely, be proactive when reaching out. It only takes a few seconds to answer a question or offer an opinion. If you hear hesitation or a question in someone’s voice on a conference call, check in. Active listening, paraphrasing and effective questioning can uncover problems that often result in frustration and rework. Don’t be shy about using webcams, too. You’d be surprised how much more honest people are when they’re looking each other in the eyes.
Productivity is a long-term measurement that involves the completion of tasks, but also the ultimate success of a project or piece of work. Completing a task quickly, only to have to do it again or fix it, isn’t really productive.