Teleworking is a Team Sport: How to Stay in the Game
Ways to increase efficiency and productivity through peer accountability.
Posted Mar 22, 2020
If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home, you are no doubt aware that it requires both discipline and diligence. In the same way that many students find it easier to study in the library than at home, home-bound professionals can replicate the sense of community, virtually. Welcome to the world of teleworking.
Many people who have been working from home for years describe the biggest challenge as maintaining concentration. Interestingly, and perhaps even counterintuitively, many people find this easier to do with others, rather than alone. Online peers can function as professional accountability partners, provided that you engage in virtual teleworking from the right place. In the same way that a remote study plan might not work for a student living in a fraternity house, neither will it work for you unless you can create a quiet space at home to connect with your virtual colleagues.
And then there are the perils of distraction. With so many other things you could be doing, from matching your socks to re-ordering your pantry items according to expiration dates, staying on task can be a challenge.
Many of these hurdles can be overcome by participating in an online working group.
Remote Control: The Security of Structure
As Olivia Judson writes in a piece in the New York Times entitled “Working at Home? Self-Isolation Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely,” working together virtually can be an effective way to decrease feelings of isolation while boosting productivity. [i]
Judson shares that she pays a fee to belong to her virtual working group, which follows a set structure—something many people need to prompt them to participate. The leader of her group begins each session by asking everyone what they are going to work on, how they plan to minimize distractions, and similar questions. At the end of the session they each recap what they have accomplished.
Unlike the set hours of a brick and mortar workplace, virtual workgroups take place around the clock, allowing people to join one that involves a time block that works for their schedule. For Judson, who lives in Europe, the sessions she joins occur near the end of her workday. You might be most productive in the morning before your family gets up, at night after putting your children to bed, or in the late afternoon when you would otherwise be hitting a wall concentration-wise. By selecting the time block that works best for you, you are likely to find that flexibility boosts productivity.
Bonding Through Joint Attention
Ideally, you want to create a sense of connection with your virtual peers. Research has explored this issue offline, seeking to discover exactly how social bonding occurs.
In the real world, coordinated movements cause people to feel closer to each other socially. Wouter Wolf et al. in “Joint Attention, Shared Goals, and Social Bonding” (2016) studied this phenomenon, examining two behaviors involved in social coordination that might impact the relationship between joint activity and social bonding: shared goals and joint attention. [ii]
In their study, participants sat next to each other while performing the same reaction time task. Study results included, among other findings, that focusing on the same side of a computer screen in response to task instructions produced elevated ratings on a “composite social bonding index directed towards a partner,” while shared goals did not impact ratings of one’s partner. They found that joint attention was enough to encourage social closeness, which they note suggests that activities that direct focus to “the same point in space could have some influence on how connected co-actors feel about one another.”
To capitalize on these findings, employees who already use virtual platforms for meetings, although not seated in physical proximity, might consider how to increase the collaborative experience through joint attention, such as through screen sharing in order to create group focus on the same data.
Teleworking as Teambuilding
Virtual meetings throughout the day for teleworking employees can provide both structure and accountability by forcing them to behave as if they were in the office. Deadlines prompt preparedness, particularly when all teleworking employees are scheduled to give a report.
In addition, unwilling to risk reputational damage by showing up in pajamas, teleworkers dress professionally for virtual meetings (at least from the waist up), as if they were physically in the office. Knowing they are going to be literally “facing” their peers and superiors, they are motivated to look their best.
By incorporating incentive, structure, and accountability into the virtual workday, employees can perform efficiently “on the clock” from the comfort of home—at least for now.
[ii] Wolf, Wouter, Jacques Launay, and Robin I. M. Dunbar. 2016. “Joint Attention, Shared Goals, and Social Bonding.” British Journal of Psychology 107 (2): 322–37. doi:10.1111/bjop.12144.