Tips to stay productive when working remotely

Ideas to build structure and new ways to work

Many organizations are now working remotely, raising new challenges for employees, managers and leaders in how they work and collaborate. Chief among leaders’ concerns: maintaining productivity. According to our latest CFO survey, 42% of CFOs are worried about the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on employee productivity

Nearly a decade ago, PwC began offering remote work as an option for employees. With so much new tech—and connectivity—available, many found the daily commute simply wasn’t necessary. Along the way, we’ve learned valuable lessons on how to keep productivity high while working away from the office. Here is our list of starter tips.

What your company can provide

Leadership capabilities:
Guide leaders on everyday flexibility and how to adjust expectations for employee performance, engagement, and well-being.

Ways of working:
Model new ways of working to foster collaboration, empathy, inclusive behaviors, and working differently.

Tools for working remotely:
Address strains on existing information technology and provide virtual tools for collaboration and meetings, big or small.

Essential training:
From basic guides to more advanced training, expect a learning curve. Workers may need to protect data and information, learn new technology, or form new habits.

Tips for supervisors

Empathy is more important than ever. Start a routine so you can be present and understand what your teams are facing.

  • Lead with purpose: Demonstrate your organizational values and be intentional.
  • Communicate with empathy: Remote work can distance people and leave them feeling disconnected; try to see every interaction from the other person’s perspective.  
  • Model inclusive behaviors: Reach out and try to give everyone an opportunity to contribute. Consider targeted outreach to underrepresented voices.
  • Set mutual expectations for connectivity: Create a plan for the collaboration tools, methods, and frequency you’ll use to discuss individual and team projects and workloads. 
  • Encourage flexibility when possible: Work with your individual team members to accommodate their unique constraints (e.g., juggling responsibilities outside of work may require shifting work hours).
  • Find ways to build community: Encourage connectivity beyond work-related topics if appropriate.
  • Ask for help: Vulnerability builds trust and sets an example of openness to flexibility and collaboration.

Tips for everyone

Once you’re up and running, keep these tips in mind:

  • Over communicate: Remote work requires frequent, clear communication. Establish norms for pinging, chatting, and video calling to keep everyone aligned on how they need to be sharing and what they need to be doing. 
  • Set regular hours and stick to a schedule: Keep track of time worked and on what projects, and keep your team informed of your schedule. 
  • Stay deadline driven: Deadlines create a sense of structure in your day. If you’re concerned you won’t meet a deadline, communicate it early. 
  • Update your contact information: Update how you can be reached, including your mobile phone (if applicable).
  • Update auto-reply and voice messages: Briefly and professionally explain your availability so people know whether to expect a delayed reply.
  • Lay the groundwork: Help those around you keep interruptions to a minimum; explain that you’re working and discuss how they can support you.
  • Take breaks: Breaks are essential for both productivity and well-being. Schedule them and find a co-worker to help keep you honest about self-care.
  • Don’t get lost in the ether: Be responsive. Reply to emails, phone calls, and chats in a timely manner. Need time to focus on work without interruption? Mute notifications when you’re heads-down, but make sure to check in frequently so you don’t miss something urgent. 

Need more?

Below are some additional ideas that helped remote workers succeed:

  • Get ready for the workday as if you’re heading to the office.
  • Create a morning routine—even if it’s as simple as making coffee, checking your personal email, and fixing breakfast.
  • Stand up and move around your house, just as you would in the office. 
  • Unless you’re speaking, mute your microphone on conference calls to reduce audio feedback.
  • Turn your camera on if your remote technology has this option. Seeing the faces of those you are speaking to keeps you focused on the conversation at hand and gives you insight into your colleagues’ circumstances. Discuss and agree to norms under the circumstances (e.g., does “cameras-on” require business attire?). 
  • Invest in a good pair of headphones. You’ll likely be on frequent calls and video conferences. Headphones can help with clarity and eliminate background noise.  
  • Don’t allow work to consume your life. It’s easier said than done when working from home, but make sure you set limits for the amount of time you’ll work.
  • Define your space to separate work from home if possible. Have a room (or desk/table) dedicated to working. That way, you know consciously what you’re there to do. It changes the state of mind from “I’m at home” to “I’m at work.”
  • Embrace the positive. Sharing space with your children, pets, or family members? Schedule a break to spend quality time with them—similar to catching up with coworkers at the water cooler.

Remote work is an opportunity to assess where your organization is headed, become even more flexible, and further adapt to new ways of working.

Contact us

Carrie Duarte

Workforce of the Future Leader, PwC US

Bhushan Sethi

Principal, Joint Global Leader, People and Organization, PwC US

Elizabeth Greenberg

Director, Financial Services People & Organization, PwC US