As an employer, you can empower your remote employees to take control of their productivity. Remote work is becoming increasingly popular. According to Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019, 42% of remote workers have plans to work remotely more often over the next five years than they do now. Not only that, but 43% of U.S. employers say they plan on offering more opportunities for remote work next year. There are a lot of benefits, but with them come some pitfalls – one being the possibility of extra distractions. As an employer, you can support their work-from-home productivity. Employees aren’t being directly managed, but you can help them be more productive and indistractable. 

1. Help remote employees eliminate their external triggers. 

External triggers can derail employees’ efforts to stay on task, even when they have the best intentions. Studies show that the mere presence of a smartphone can limit people’s attention capacity. Although you can’t monitor employees or enforce this, you can provide an informational guide with tips to optimize their devices, eliminating external distractions designed to pull them away. Even if they think they can just not respond to notifications, the best option is to disable them altogether. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found viewing a notification causes just as much harm and distraction as actually responding to it. Suggest this approach to employees to improve productivity.

The tips you give them can include notification settings instructions and ideas for rearranging their device, like moving distracting apps to a separate folder. Other tips could be about the optimal design for a home office environment. With problem apps hidden and notifications disabled, employees can take back control over their distractions. 

2. Follow up with remote employees regularly and encourage communication.

The remote work experience can be substantially different from one employee to the next. Some thrive on managing their own time, while some prefer the structure of going into work. Either way, remote employees benefit from follow ups and check-ins about remote working. This can help gauge their motivation and engagement to make sure everything’s going smoothly. One of the biggest concerns with remote working is isolation or loneliness. Keeping regular communication with employees and facilitating communication between employees can keep their remote working situation optimal. Make time for small talk in meetings to keep the normalcy of interactions. Use video as much as possible for more face-to-face communication. Employees who feel more connected are happier, and happier employees are more productive. 

3. “Hack back” email and group chat. 

“Hacking back” is a phrase from Nir Eyal’s Indistractable to describe taking back control of a system designed to control you. With some intervention as an employer, you can help employees hack back the biggest time stealers. Email is the biggest culprit for eating up time during the work day. It takes up an estimated three hours and 20 minutes a day. Harvard Business Review suggests a staggering number of workplace emails are unnecessary or inefficient – “an utter waste.” As an employer, cutting back on email clutter allows employees to take back that time and use it to be productive. Try to cut down on volume, as well. The more emails a person gets, the more likely they are to habitually check it. In that way, cutting down on email volume eliminates distractions not only in real time, but in the future, too.

 Work group chats work in the same way. Jason Fried says group chats are like “being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda.” It is, however, a tool that can make remote employees feel connected. So don’t get rid of it altogether. It only becomes a problem when the volume becomes distracting or increasingly irrelevant. Monitoring this and keeping it to a happy medium is an effective practice to not let it drag on all day.

Boundaries with employees’ time

Additionally, keep boundaries in place relating to employees’ time. One downside to working from home is the loss of work-life balance. Remote employees already have a hard time separating working hours from non-working hours. The lines are blurred, so sending late-night emails assuming they’ll get back the next morning might further mess with their schedule and balance. 

When done right, working remotely can boost productivity compared to working on-site. Remote workers have a greater sense of freedom and control. As an employer, help channel that freedom to taking control of their productivity and their distractions.