These days it’s extremely easy to...oh, what? 

Ah, Yes, it’s pretty easy to get distracted nowadays.

With working from home and all the highlights of the new normal, losing focus has become something familiar to everyone. 

Apart from getting distracted, it is easy to slip disengagement, both the employees and their employers.

Thus, this begs how one can ensure productivity and engagement in the incredible mess brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In fact; engaged employees are more likely to invest in their work, which would result in better productivity. 

With the absence of physical interaction, communication amongst employees became reduced to being only virtual through compulsory meetings and the like.

Let’s discuss the distractions to productivity while working from home.

Bye, Focus

Arguably, there are few things better than working in your pajamas, but there are even fewer things worse than bringing your work to bed. 

This here is something everyone is guilty of at one point or another. What could ever be a big deal in working from the comfort of the bed? 

After all, it means starting earlier and closing later. Only one piece of advice to address this issue: Don’t Do It.

Another distraction comes from those around. It could be parents or kids or even spouses and friends. 

Irrespective of who is bringing it, it can become a nightmare when one is just trying to be productive. 

There is also the stress of doing chores or remembering the tasks you need to do while working.

Apart from these, there are distractions caused by devices. It might be a notification from Twitter or even one for a work email. Whichever it is, it serves to pull focus from what one is currently working on. 

Seeing as it is impossible to control all aspects outside one’s immediate environment, the issue of noise is also a big distraction while working remotely. 

It could be a neighbor’s lawnmower or the party down the block. These collectively and individually are the bane of productivity, but luckily, they can be overcome. 

top distractions when WFH

In addition to facing the above challenges, employees and employers battle a lack of communication or disengagement with their colleagues and jobs.

The Challenge

Although with current digital technology, maintaining a connection is not a hassle. 

Learning the change in communication type, however, is a different thing.

I remember that I was once a bit riled when my EA used to call almost consistently at 8 am to tell me that I had a meeting scheduled with my R&D team

I had to consciously remind myself that it didn’t mean it was not time to work because I wasn’t dressed. 

And the angry thoughts I had were something that everyone was thinking or had thought at one point or the other.

Another hitch in the flow of employee engagement I observed was how familiar obligations became more pressing. 

There were no more babysitters, no cleaning agencies, no personal shoppers, and so on. 

An employee who only had to work 9-5 before going home for a beer and family TV time now had to be on top of the game from as early as 7 am till late at night, which is not ideal in any way.

As such, in a situation of shaky employment stability and other life adjustments that shadowed the pandemic, it would be absurd to expect employees to remain fully engaged without company leadership affecting some change.

Given the above distractions, one can’t help but wonder how productivity can be ensured while working from home. 

The first thing to do is to know and understand your distractions. It could be anything really as it differs from one person to another. 

Once you can pinpoint things that distract you most, it’s easier to get them done before starting work. 

It could be letting the pets out, doing the dishes, planning your meals for the day, and so on. 

It is imperative to invest in great internet options. The whole context of working from home is based on your connectivity. 

Being unreachable during work hours is far from acceptable. Clear communication devices like microphones, headphones, and cameras of good quality are necessary for meetings. 

They say fake it till you make it, so pretend you are going to the office. 

Wake up, get dressed, and physically have a mentality for any typical workday at the office. 

Apart from this, it is necessary to set boundaries between your work and home life. 

Sit down with both younger and older ones and explain the need not be disturbed at set working hours. 

To not miss the balance that you can strike between working and living, one must set specific hours for what time is for work and the time for other things.

Comfort is not to be sacrificed for anything when it comes to remote working. 

So get a comfortable chair, clear any clutter from the designated workspace, get noise-canceling headphones or listen to white noise, depending on your choice. 

There are sit/stand workspaces that ensure one can still get some movement while working, not sitting in one position for hours. 

The goal is to create an atmosphere that’ll motivate you to be productive. 

how to successfully work remotely

While working, it’s advisable to batch your tasks. 

This means doing similar tasks at once instead of spacing them over time. If you have to send emails or make specific calls, do them in the same block of time. 

This prevents little tasks from piling up.

In addition to this, breaking up things into smaller bits makes them easier to complete. The same reasoning applies to office work. 

Breaking it into timed bits will make it go easier and smoother. Another thing that can be done to increase efficiency is to create a to-do list of everything on the day’s schedule. 

It is also beneficial to take short breaks from work. It could be watching an episode on Netflix, interacting with other people, or even taking a walk and having lunch somewhere away from home. Talking about interacting with others, it is pertinent to keep in contact with colleagues. 

Working from home is not necessarily synonymous with becoming an island. Ask questions, relate with others; this serves to bolster team spirit even as it increases productivity. 

We’re Engaging! (Employers)

At this point, it is essential to note that trying, individually, to make a change does not make for efficiency. 

Enacting any changes will require a communal effort. It took me a while to fully understand this. 

From insisting on regular video calls to enforcing mandatory meetings, all my efforts seemed to worsen the situation.

Cue in a brainstorming session with the Human Resources department that resulted in some modifications to suit the present situation. 

Here are a couple of actions we have decided to take to rectify the issue of employee engagement.

First, we created semi-formal interactive platforms or groups where employees can communicate with each other and with the leadership team.

Seeing how successful this turned out, we decided to have an hour, monthly, where everyone can take a break, interact informally, play games, and generally have fun.

Another idea that has been a sweeping success was the creation of a virtual cafeteria where everyone can let loose and be free, a break from both the fuss of work and life. 

However, as important as having fun and positive communication is, the work must go on. 

This thought brought forth weekly meetings with team leaders to interact more personally with their team members. 

This was done to instill responsibilities in the team leaders and brush up on the team’s skills.

Monetary satisfaction through winnings from company games and rewards for outstanding work and promotions through in-house hiring is part of other things introduced into the company.

Given the fact that learning never stops, we, in addition, have now allowed our team the opportunity to share the changes they believe will make for smoother remote work in the company.

Trends Affecting Employee Engagement in the New Normal

Given how engaging with employees and vice versa has become such a hassle, let’s walk through some trends impacting engagement in the workplace.

Transparency and Communication

Have you ever visited a place you always loved to go to and found out it was locked? 

The same disappointment you feel is how employees feel when management makes changes in the workplace without communicating with them. 

78% of employees said they understood why their organization made changes between April 2020 and January 2021. 

This number dropped to 70% by July 2021.

transparency and communication in WFH

Trust in Leadership Declines Post-2020

An essential catalyst for employee engagement is trust in leadership. 

2020 witnessed an increase in the trust employees place in their employers. 

This has since been reduced in the second half of 2021.

Disrupted Work-life Balance

Flexibility is vital to engendering employee engagement. 

In 2020, during the lockdown, employees favored adopting flexible work policies. 

This has, however, led to a decline in their perception of work-life balance come 2021. 

When employees see goals, workload, and expectations absent, they become stressed about work, leading to burnout. 

Re-evaluating their work-life balance is, as such, necessary.

Reduced Employee Recognition

This is not to sound like a broken record, but I believe this point, no matter how self-explanatory or repeated, is essential. 

If your employees see their efforts are not recognized, their engagement will be shallow, and vice versa.

It really is that simple.

Blurry Career Growth Opportunities

Has someone ever asked you, “so, where is this going?”

That question can have you deep in thought for hours and could immediately change how you view the person or the situation. 

And that is how it feels for employees when the opportunities for career growth are not clear.

The best action to take is to leverage one-on-one talks to understand your employees’ career development interests.

WFH Stats That Will Blow Your Mind

Now, no one method can be described as ideal for all professions, but it’s time to kill the talk disparaging remote working as substandard. 

So here are some working from home statistics that will trump arguments against remote work. 

A survey by CoSo Cloud shows that 77% of workers are actually more productive when they work from home. 

This 77% of workers, and their answers, are valid reasons to continue working from home.

Articles such as that by Forbes about Panic Productivity might seek to debunk this, but the fact remains that people got burned out by late 2020 and early 2021 because they weren’t just working from home; they were also restricted from going out. 

It is realistic to say that feeling stifled would not be an issue with the lockdown lifting globally.  

But let’s talk about the benefits of working from home during covid and even after lockdown.

Given the flexibility that comes with WFH, it is not surprising that many people want to work from home at least once in their lives. 

According to research by Owl Labs, remote work makes 81% of workers recommend their companies to others.

How often do workers want to WFH

Another survey shows that 23% of workers would instead take a pay cut and work from home than go through the hassle of commuting. This in itself backs the argument that remote workers have less stress and are healthier than traditional workers. 

remote work stats for employers

However, these statistics do not mean that remote workers live the best of both worlds, the above section on distractions being a case in point. It has also been seen that 20% of those who work from home have difficulty fighting loneliness.

Remote Work and the Future

However, remote working has come to stay. Whether it’s coming was sped up by the pandemic or not, it has become the future of work. Companies like Facebook have praised how it has widened the pool of talents to work with, and Twitter announced their workers would work from home permanently.

The exponential progress in digital technology and communication has also set the stage for productive remote work. Gone are the days of compulsory physical meetings. The same seriousness can be communicated over Zoom or Google Meet, Microsoft teams, and a host of others. 

remote work and the future

With this in mind, the need to prioritize cybersecurity becomes a focal point. The attacks on Colonial Pipelines and others that have rocked the world in the past months are a wake-up call for change in the way companies and countries as a whole have approached cybersecurity. 

Reluctant companies should get with the program. Questions like “will working from home be the new normal” have been answered.

Remote work is the new menu, and we are all for eating it up. 

digital transformation tools 

Don’t believe me? Look at this figure again.

Final Note

I have found these steps and actions above favorable in addressing my company’s and employees’ challenges from the beginning of the past year. 

This, however, is not to say that they are universal and would prove functional in every circumstance. The key to solving any situation is to acknowledge a problem, then work your way towards making a change. 

My challenge to leaders and employees thus is, as working from home has become a norm, what will you do to drive productivity engagement in your company?