How to Stay Focused as Remote Work Remains

Published January 11, 2022

Here's why many employees still prefer to work from home and how you can improve focus and motivation.

When the Pew Research Center found a large percentage of workers still preferred to work from home at the end of 2020, some skeptics might have expected this trend to soon reverse. But as 2021 has proven, working remotely has in fact become even more entrenched and expected by the workforce.

In mid-October 2021, Gallup simplified the situation with this headline: “Remote Work Persisting and Trending Permanent.” The global analytics firm was referring to its recent study that 91% of more than 9,000 American remote workers surveyed prefer to keeping working virtually in some way, shape or form. The same percentage of people expect to hang on to their remote schedule into the new year.

About half (49%) want to remain fully remote, while 45% prefer a hybrid arrangement. Only 6% of those surveyed who are currently working remotely want to reenter the office full time.

Why Employees Prefer Remote Work

Gallup’s research shed some light on why working from home is now the strong preference of so many employees. Preserving time and maintaining balance top the list of concerns, specifically:

• Avoiding the long commute times.

• Having flexibility to coordinate management of personal and family life alongside work duties.

• Reaping benefits related to health and well-being.

• Enjoying fewer interruptions and distractions.

Feeling more productive is an additional reason for wanting some at-home work time, according to workers who prefer being fully remote as well as those who prefer hybrid.

The Pew Research Center’s findings also illuminated some of the rationale behind the stay-at-home trend. Contrary to the oft-reported phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue,” Pew revealed that 65% of those surveyed are happy with online tools like videoconferencing and feel they are “a good substitute for in-person contact.” Pew also reported that about half of U.S. workers who interact with others in the workplace expressed concern about catching or spreading COVID-19, a concern that’s mitigated by virtual work arrangements.

The Challenges of Remote Work and Tips for Success

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns with remote work, of course, and Pew’s study flagged a few areas of struggle. In particular, the research showed that parents, particularly working moms, are having a harder time working uninterrupted at home. Younger workers are also feeling more challenged finding motivation to do their work when they’re in a virtual setting, according to the study.

With that in mind, below are some best practices for maximizing work-from-home arrangements to improve focus and motivation. These can help not only Gen Z and Millennial employees and working parents, but others who work remotely as well.

Focus on Your Own Best Schedule

Problems with focus often come down to timing. Different people are better able to focus at different times of day. For parents of small children, that timing includes working around the other things that must be done for the family and carving out distinct times for work to actually get accomplished without dropping any balls at home.

Everyone has a peak time of operation. If you’re a morning person, then it’s important to reserve your fresh morning “think time” for your most important projects. A mistake that’s easy to make is letting all-day tasks (such as responding to emails) nibble into your most productive hours, ending up with nothing to show for your efforts.

Understanding which work hours are your most productive is only half the battle; you must then also structure your day around those times. Plan in advance and earmark the daily block of time that you’re at your best for what you need most to get done. Once you’ve set these parameters, it’s important to stick to them, which leads to the next strategy.

Make Clearer Boundaries

Interruptions – whether from kids or colleagues – often result from a failure to set ironclad boundaries. If you seem to be available and haven’t stated otherwise, then people may assume that it’s OK to interrupt you. Communication is key here: Let the usual sources of your interruptions know when you are able to discuss things and when you need to be left in peace.

With kids, this may mean clarifying a signal (such as wearing headphones or a sign on your door) that means you’re working and should only be interrupted in an emergency. For colleagues, it may mean explaining your schedule and availability via email so that you’re transparent about when you will be “offline” even when you’re online.

Collaborate When You Can

If you’re struggling with motivation, then a dose of virtual collaboration may be just what you need – particularly if you’re a younger worker. Author Joel Goldstein dubbed millennials the “collaboration generation” and acknowledged the challenge that people in this cohort may feel if working remotely makes teamwork more difficult to participate in.

If you know that you’re someone who thrives on partnership in the workplace and wilts when you’re solo, then ask your manager for some reliable options to connect with your team or others in your company. Whether it’s a weekly brainstorming session or a virtual lunch to look forward to, knowing that you’ll have a chance for connection and regular touchpoints can make all the difference when it comes to feeling engaged.

Since working from home is working well for so many, it’s important to take steps to ensure your continued success at it. Try the tips above to help ensure that you stay focused and motivated when it matters.

(Source: AICPA & CIMA – CPA Letter Daily - US News & World Report – December 1, 2021)