The 3P Model for Remote-Work Success
Not surprisingly, “Productivity” is the top of the model. That seems simple enough. After all, getting the job done is typically the prime factor in whether you keep a job, regardless of where you work. This is the question most organizations ask themselves when considering remote work: Will we get at least as much quality work from someone if they don’t work alongside everyone else?
If you started working from home so you could get work done without constant interruptions and the day-to-day craziness of the office, this might seem like a no-brainer. But getting tasks accomplished is not the same as being productive.
By definition, productivity is the measure of work yielding results, benefits, or profits. It is about outcomes, not activity. So while it isn’t unusual for remote workers to be busy, the question isn’t so much “Are you working?” as “What are you working on?” “How’s it going?” and “What does it bring to the team’s goals and outcomes?”
A team member focuses on their work and tasks. A teammate considers not only how to be personally productive to get the most and best work done in the time allotted, but how to help the rest of the team and organization meet its goals.
Perhaps the most surprising thing we uncovered in our research was the one word that both managers and workers agreed best described a great remote teammate. That word was proactivity.
When you have a question about your work, do you ask for clarification immediately or do you just try to work through it? In coaching conversations, do you accept that your manager isn’t talking about your personal development plan or do you raise the subject yourself? When that meeting is running long, do you speak up and try to get the team back on track or do you sit back, roll your eyes, and go answer your email instead?
Both managers and team members say that the thing they look for most in a teammate is that kind of initiative. It requires bravery, trust, and engagement but may be the single most important component in your long-term success as a remote worker.
Finally, do you consider the long-term implications of your work and the choices you make? This is perhaps the most difficult thing about working remotely, and often contributes to our feelings of isolation and disengagement over time.
By putting your head down and focusing on your own work, have you taken yourself off your manager’s radar for future assignments?
Perhaps you are so focused on completing an assignment that you have appeared rude or pushy to others. Have you considered what that snippy email might mean in the future, or is accomplishing this task right now the only thing on your mind?
When you are in the middle of something, and just trying to get the job done and move on, it’s easy to forget that short-term decisions can have long-term impacts.
Getting Your Mindset Right
It’s not just your job, it’s your career.
You may be here thinking about the short term. How to succeed (or even just survive) in your current working situation. It doesn’t matter how you got here. It doesn’t matter what the current work or role is, whether this is just a short-term job or gig to help pay for college, or if you don’t plan to do this kind of work for long. The work may not connect to the work you love or plan, but the way you think about this job today and the way you do the work will have an impact on your long-term success. Every day you work you build habits and routines. And, like any other habit, the longer you do things in one way, the harder it will be to change your behavior later.
While you may be thinking about all of this with a short-term view, there’s more to it than that. This is about your career, and your entire life. We want you to be thinking about what success—both today and tomorrow—looks like to you. It might always include working remotely; it might not. Beyond the daily work, be thinking about how every day now is contributing to the career that you want to create.
You have mindsets—beliefs about your work and working situation that are guiding you now. We strongly urge you to examine these. How does your current set of thoughts and beliefs impact your work, relationships, and overall motivation and energy? All the skills, approaches, and ideas that follow will be most effective and easier to implement and maintain when backed by a teammate mindset.
- When you think about your work, how successfully do you consider your teammates and the organization as well as your own work?
- How well do you strike a balance between your tasks and the team’s work?
Getting and Staying Motivated When You Work Alone
When talking about the energy to get work done, it could be physical or mental energy or, more often, a combination of both. Working separately from other people often results in doing tasks in ways that might feel right, but often are counterproductive in the long run.
One way to keep your energy level up is to not drain yourself. Work with your manager to meet the requirements of the job. Set a realistic, and agreed to, start and stop time for your work and then walk away. Shut down your computer or close your office door when it’s quitting time. If you don’t have a door, at least shut down that laptop.
We know the laptop isn’t the whole problem, though. Chances are you are carrying a tether to your work 24/7. It is called your phone. Make sure you set boundaries on how much you will allow yourself to engage with work from your phone during nonworking hours. Turning off the email notification is a good first step. Manage your screen time no matter what device it is.
Another way we drain energy is by not taking breaks during the day. For whatever reason, whether it’s paranoia, hyperfocus, or dedication to our work, we often don’t schedule and take breaks the way we do when working in the office. Even when we stop working, we then switch over to our favorite social media destination or watch YouTube, but we are still sitting at the same desk, staring at the same screen, and sitting on our same backside.
Here are some tips for keeping your energy level high:
- Take a break. For every forty to sixty minutes of uninterrupted work, you should take ten minutes to get up, stretch, walk around the house, get something done, look out the window, and then get back to work.
- Eat healthier. The fact that you’re at home should make this easier. Avoid sugars and heavy starches (especially if you’re not going to take breaks), and once your morning coffee has been consumed, avoid caffeine-heavy drinks.
- Get physical. Use some of that time you aren’t working to get some physical activity. Exercise doesn’t have to mean getting on a bike and SoulCycling yourself into a coma unless that’s your idea of fun. Simply go for a walk with the dog or a friend, park farther from the store, or go to the gym. Play with your children. Even household chores can get the blood going. Anything that isn’t sitting and staring at a screen will help.
Getting (the Right) Stuff Done
We suggest you ask yourself these four questions when you are snowed under with work, or staring at your task list, convinced that you’ll never make a dent. We call them “pivot questions,” because when you get the answers, they can help you change direction and make real progress.
The four pivot questions are:
- Where is your focus right now?
- What is the best use of your time?
- How can you influence others to maximize your productivity?
- What habits impact your productivity and results?
- Where Is Your Focus Right Now?
In a perfect world, we choose a task, work on it until it’s done, and then move on to the next job. In the real world, it doesn’t often happen that way. You begin building that presentation, and you get an incoming email. It might be important, so you stop, read it, answer it, and then get back to your work only to get a panicky instant message from a teammate. We convince ourselves that we are being productive because we are multitasking, trying to do many jobs at once.
Whatever the reason, if distractions are stopping you from accomplishing what’s important, there are some steps you can take:
- Identify and remove the distraction. If you are constantly reaching for your cell phone, place it out of your line of sight, and preferably out of reach so it takes effort to look at it.
- Structure your time to allow full concentration. While we recommend turning off your email and other notifications, that might not be possible in your role. And even when it is possible, people have often told us how stressful it is to ignore the messages that they “know” are piling up.
- Beware of shiny objects. The hard truth is that most of what pulls our attention, whatever the new thing is, is likely more interesting than what we’re working on. Depending on the day, it might be something you find more fun to do, a chance to connect with a teammate, or just responding to anything your manager asks you to do. Before jumping at it, ask yourself, Is this where I should be focused right now?
What Is the Best Use of Your Time?
It might seem like a blessing to be left alone to decide what you should be working on and when. But sometimes your brain begins to second-guess yourself: Are you balancing all the work (including stuff beyond what is on your immediate task list)? Which of the four things your manager asked you to do is the top priority now? Is this important to you but will it negatively impact someone else’s job?
Here are some guidelines for setting your priorities:
- Think big picture. When you stare at a to-do list, it’s easy to take each task at face value and treat them all equally. This is especially true the more panicked and frustrated you are. Take a deep breath and ask yourself where this particular task fits into the bigger picture of the organization and your team’s needs.
- Be realistic about “important” versus “” When you’re looking at a growing task list, it is tempting to tackle the easy things—the jobs you can check off the list fastest—first. That means you are busy, but are you accomplishing anything important? While there is some satisfaction to crossing something off, those items often aren’t what need to be done the most.
- Break the elephant into bite-sized pieces. There’s an old riddle that goes, “How do you eat a whole elephant? One bite at a time.” (Nobody said it was funny, just true.) Sometimes you look at a task or project and it is overwhelming. Why start, when you know you will have only twenty minutes or so before the next interruption? Sometimes the answer is to look at that elephant and break it into manageable chunks. You might not get that report written, but you can get your research organized. Maybe you can’t solve that customer problem entirely, but you can alert the other stakeholders and schedule that meeting. Nobody says you have to do it all at once, and most projects can be handled as a series of small, easily managed pieces.
How Can You Influence Others to Maximize Your Productivity?
Here’s a paradox central to being a great remote teammate. How can you support your team and be a resource, while at the same time getting your work done and taking care of your own to-do list?
If you have the time, and you can help, do it. That said, here are some simple things you can do that (over time) will help you develop a helpful, equitable relationship with your teammates and help everyone get their work done:
- Clarify expectations with others. If you aren’t clear about how quickly you must respond or feel you have no control over your time choices, you aren’t alone. Many teams don’t have explicit conversations about what is a reasonable response time to an email request (usually end of day or within twenty-four hours) or an instant message (usually faster, because it says INSTANT in the name), and so everyone is left to make their own assumptions about what’s “reasonable” or “fast.”
- Read the request carefully. Not every question or request requires an immediate response. Is there a stated time frame for a response? If Charlie doesn’t need an answer until the end of the day, there’s no need to stop what you’re doing and answer him right then. You can help your peers by letting them know when you need answers to a problem or a time to talk. Simple directions like “no rush” or “by Friday” will help lower everyone’s blood pressure and make your request far clearer. Don’t panic if you don’t need to. If you don’t know when they need it, ask in a way that provides clarity, not a way that raises their defensiveness.
- Respond with an explanation. If the issue sounds urgent, or you know you can help, just not right now, don’t be afraid to defer the answer with a brief explanation: “I am in the middle of something but can get it to you tomorrow morning; will that work?” Usually the person will understand and wait for you (in which case you’re still helping) or go find help elsewhere (so they aren’t waiting for something that isn’t coming). Silence is far more damaging to relationships than honesty. Remember—assuming serves no one.
What Habits Help or Hinder Your Productivity?
We are creatures of habit, and what is a boon to one person (maybe you work well with music blasting) may be a barrier to someone else. We won’t get into specific habits here, but we do need to take a look at how we reinforce those habits and behaviors that help us get work done and eliminate those that get in the way.
There are some proven approaches to break or change a habit. If you have identified something you know gets in the way of your productivity, here are some ways to alter it:
- Replace one behavior with another. This can be as easy as remembering to close your home office door when you start work so you don’t get sucked into family drama. Maybe get in the habit of cleaning out the coffee pot before you sit at the keyboard so your brain doesn’t become obsessed with the dirty pot when you need to focus on your work. Creating rituals and repeating behavior helps change our habits over time.
- Set reminders and make notes to yourself. Since you know you need to take breaks and eat properly, build those activities into your day. Don’t rely on your brain or your stomach. Set timers for breaks, and block lunch on your calendar.
- Reward your successful change. Changing some behaviors is incredibly difficult, and there can be short-term pain or discomfort associated with it. If you’ve ever suffered caffeine or nicotine withdrawal, you know what we’re talking about. People change habits when they avoid pain or receive pleasure from the change in what they do. Reward yourself in little ways for doing things right. Engage the pleasure centers of your brain. This can be as simple as allowing yourself to knock off ten minutes early on days when you achieve your goals or having something especially yummy for lunch. Just tie these little rewards to the successfully changed behavior.