The holiday season brings families together, but it also means added distractions for the many people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can remote workers keep their focus sharp and their productivity high while noise and interruptions surround them? And what can businesses do to ensure their employees aren’t slacking and projects are on track?
“Working from home creates a different psychological vibe from the all-business environment of a brick-and-mortar office setting, and that feeling is magnified during the holidays,” says Cynthia Spraggs, a veteran of working remotely, author of How To Work From Home And Actually Get SH*T Done, and CEO of Virtira, a completely virtual company that helps other businesses work virtually.
“The holidays bring new challenges to getting work done efficiently at home, and at the same time, employers have concerns about how the holidays can affect workers’ productivity in a home setting. It can cause tension between managers and employees.”
Spraggs offers tips to employees and employers about working from home productively during the holidays:
How WFH employees can overcome holiday distractions
- Create a mental commute and brain warm-up. A morning routine can help clear the mind and prepare for the working mindset. “The drive to the office used to create a mental separation between home life and work life and give the worker space and time to prepare for the day,” Spraggs says. “A similar separation time is vital at home, especially in a holiday atmosphere, in order to focus on the work tasks ahead. Develop a routine, such as reading or exercise, that warms up your brain.”
- Create must-do lists. The holidays are filled with gift lists, parties, family obligations, baking plans, and other tasks that aren’t usually on the everyday agenda. “When these distractions make it difficult to focus,” Spraggs says, “it helps to start the day with a list of work tasks that must be completed that day. Prioritizing them makes it more likely they’ll get done, even if your mind does veer off into visions of sugar plums.”
- Keep your office space a quiet place, and show everyone the door.
“Establishing a clear boundary is a must,” Spraggs says. “I strongly advise you to put a door between you and the rest of the household, and keep it shut. Otherwise, the home holiday cheer will break your concentration as people and pets stream in.”
How Employers Can Keep WFH Workers From Slacking During Holidays
- Trust, don’t micromanage. Some businesses go so far as screen- or mouse-tracking software on company-provided devices to check in on their workforce. But Spraggs says that type of micromanaging can be counterproductive as employees feel distrusted and overly pressured. “Such a management practice during the holidays comes across worse,” she says. “Managers can find less intrusive ways to help employees stay on track. Set targets and measure results, preferably using online dashboards with status reports. This makes it easy for employees to earn your trust. The more you trust those who have earned it, and don’t hound them, the more they will produce.”
- Have daily check-ins. Remote managers should establish either a daily one-on-one call or team call with their employees. In the holiday season, Spraggs says, extra efforts should be made in communication to compensate for people taking time off and getting projects completed. “A regular routine of calls provides a forum for the employees to consult with the manager and each other,” Spraggs says, “and the manager can track performance in real time.”
- Set holiday goals and rewards. “Your quarterly goals can be augmented by special holiday goals and rewards for meeting them,” Spraggs says. “These dangled carrots incentivize working diligently at home during the holidays and give them a bonus. Making it fun and competitive, the productivity goes up.”
“It’s all about discipline and knowing how to protect the work side of your home from the fun side during the holidays,” Spraggs says.
Cynthia Spraggs is the author of How To Work From Home And Actually Get SH*T Done: 50 Tips for Leaders and Professionals to Work Remotely and Outperform the Office. She is CEO of Virtira, a completely virtual company that focuses on remote team performance. Before taking leadership of the company in 2011, Spraggs worked with large consulting and tech companies while completing her MBA and research into telecommuting.