Adam Grant: 4 Pro Tips to Stay Productive While Working From Home

April 2, 2020, Post by Elyse Maxwell

Tips from a seasoned pro on how you can be productive while working from home during social distancing.

With rapid changes in the workplace as a result of COVID-19 and social distancing, a vast number of organizations have made the rapid shift to a work from home (WFH) model. We’re all familiar with the challenges this can present (three people on the same internet? Nice try). So how do we make the most of it?

This week on Elevate Main Stage: Livestream,we sat down with one of the experts on the topic. Adam Grant is a leading organizational psychologist and a professor at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania. He hosts the WorkLife podcast with TED and is a New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take, Originals and Option B.

In an incredible 45 minute deep dive into the WFH landscape we were thrilled to learn that Adam thinks working from home can yield surprising results when you’re armed with the right attitude and approach.

Here are just a few of the unbelievably simple and useful tips that Adam shared with us to help you stay productive while working from home.

Tip #1: Dispel the ‘unproductive’ myth

Okay, so Adam didn’t refer to a myth exactly, but we all know it exists right?  ‘Work from home’ has always had a ‘wink-wink, nudge nudge’ connotation to it. Are people really working? Are they being productive? Did they even put pants on today?

According to Adam – yes! The National Bureau of Economics published a study wherein a group of call centre employees were randomly assigned to WFH. Over the next six months, productivity went up by 13%, and team members were half as likely to quit as before.

Adam has a few theories about why this might be:

  1. Improved trust: Managers weren’t monitoring and micromanaging their staff as much. The employees felt respected and autonomous, so they reciprocated by working harder.
  2. Flexibility: People do well in different environments. It may simply be a case of allowing people to do things in a way that works for them
  3. New connections: When working remotely, people don’t stick to the colleagues sitting around them. Instead, they branch out and connect with the ones who share their values, or who they can learn from.

Tip #2: Capitalize on “Burstiness”

Think back to your most productive meeting in the office. Ideas are flying back and forth. Some ideas are great, some belong in the nearest garbage can, but everyone is engaged.

To recreate this dynamic, Adam recommends harnessing something called “burstiness”, a term coined by organizational psychologist Anita Woolley.

“Burstiness” refers to the energy that people feel when others are present and available to respond real-time. Knowing that the ideas and work we’re producing matter to someone else creates a sense of momentum, and that energizes us.

Adam recommends finding a few hours a day for whole teams to be online at the same time, not to uphold accountability as so many offices do (we wouldn’t want to hurt that sense of trust we built up in tip #1!) but instead to create a nice, ‘bursty’ sense of purpose.

Tip #3: Manage Attention, Not Time.

According to Adam, time management isn’t part of the solution, it’s part of the problem.

Instead, he prefers the idea of managing attention by using a few simple tactics:

  1. Prioritize: Ask yourself; “What projects are (1) interesting to me and (2) meaningful to others?” Schedule those into your calendar.
  2. Sequester: Think carefully about where you work and where your attention can be focused without the possibility for distraction or disruption (BBC Dad, anyone?). Work in those places.
  3. Work with your brain: Figure out what type of work you need to do and when you’re most effective at that work. If you do your best thinking at 8 PM, save the creative brainstorming until then.

Tip #4: Establish High Quality Connections, Quickly.

As we’re all cooped while working from home, it’s harder to connect with people on a genuine level.

Adam recommends building ‘ rapid high quality connections’ while working from home, a concept created by University of Michigan professor Jane Dutton. Dutton recommends using three methods to break the ice:

  1. Self Disclosure: Share something personal about yourself without being directly asked.
  2. Show curiosity about someone’s personal life. Ask a question that goes deeper than “How was your weekend?”. Try “tell me about your best friend. What do you like about them?” or “what’s a passion you’d like to pursue in 5-10 years?”
  3. Identify Uncommon Commonalities. Find unique things that you can connect on.

As we all learn to stay productive while working from home, our effectiveness is sure to be influenced by the thoughtfulness and intentionality of our day-to-day and, most importantly, our mindset.

Whether that means taking the time out to create a new connection over a virtual coffee chat or rearranging your schedule to make the most of your attention, there are so many things that we can all do to make the idea of working from home far less daunting — dare we say, even enjoyable?

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