A return to the office is on the horizon for many workers. And if you’re already feeling pressured by time, you may feel a little anxious about the change. It can take extra time to get ready in the morning, commute into the office, and do all the other activities related to working outside the home.
But as a time management coach, I believe that for many people, returning to the office will make them feel like they’re working less, not more, and help them to maximize their time overall. A working paper from the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago confirms that thought. The paper analyzed 10,000 skilled professionals before and during the work-from-home period in the last year. They found that although the total hours worked increased by about 30%, there was no significant change in the average output. So that meant even though the amount of work produced was the same, working from home decreased individuals’ productivity by about 20% every hour. A loss of one-fifth of total productivity is a significant amount.
In response to this, here are five ways that I believe returning to the office will help many workers maximize their time.
Earlier sleep schedule
In talking with my clients and hearing their stories from around the world, I’ve found that many people ended up having a much later sleep schedule in the last year because the time constraints of having to catch a train or appear in the office by a certain time are gone. That led to late-night Netflix binges, social media consumption, and other mindless activities.
If you became nocturnal, returning to the office will reinsert that pressure to get to bed earlier so you can get up earlier. This earlier sleep schedule reduces the amount of time spent on screen activities, increases the amount of time during the day reserved for work and personal activities, and can lead to a greater overall satisfaction with how you spend your time.
Clear start and end times
When your start time only depends on you—and you stayed up late the night before and are not feeling particularly motivated—beginning work can feel like a lot of effort. Some individuals have seen their start times slide to 9 a.m., 10 a.m., or perhaps even later for those sneaky snooze-button late risers who log in to meetings from bed.
Alternatively, when you need to show up at an office and it’s just awkward to arrive 30 minutes or an hour later than everyone else, starting on time is much easier.
One benefit of starting on time is that it allows you to end on time, often guilt-free. Some of my clients, who let their start time slip, found themselves working until past their usual end time—sometime much later than expected—because they felt like they needed to make up for “lost time.”
Another benefit of having clear start and end times in the office is that they make it easier to set boundaries. Therefore, you can more easily say, “I can’t get this done today, but I’ll take care of it when I’m back in the office tomorrow.”
Much shorter breaks
Working from home is nice in that it gives you flexibility, but it can also be terrible since it gives you so much flexibility. Because no one is watching, you might do errands, take a nap, or watch an hour of YouTube videos without concern that anyone will notice you’re off-task. These breaks can add up to two to three more hours spent “working” during the day.
On one hand, this can feel relaxing. But on the other hand, it can end up making you feel stressed. It doesn’t feel good if you can’t get all of your work done or you end up having to work until bedtime because your long breaks made your work stretch out over the entire day.
Shorter breaks help you maximize your work time during the day and give you free time in the evenings or weekends for yourself.
Working from the office can have its share of distractions, like impromptu meetings or loud phone chatter, but when you work from home, especially if there are others in your household, it can be even more distracting. Whether it’s a roommate watching TV, kids with questions, or a dog that wants to play, there can be a lot of individuals directly competing for your attention. Additionally, when you’re not feeling motivated to work, all of the sudden washing the dishes, doing laundry, or ordering groceries can feel like an activity that must get done immediately.
When you’re at the office, these distractions are out of sight (and generally out of mind) because they are someone else’s responsibility while you are gone. You can focus on work without feeling tension that you should do personal activities at the same time.
Positive peer pressure
In addition to making it easier to start on time and take shorter breaks, having other people around you creates positive peer pressure to get stuff done. It’s a similar effect to going to the law library in college to study where everyone looks very serious and you can hear a pin drop. In a nutshell, when you’re around a bunch of people doing work, you feel like you should get work done, too.
Plus it would be a little embarrassing if someone walks in while you’re online shopping instead of completing their report which is due tomorrow. Further, when you have a face-to-face meeting scheduled to discuss your work progress, it’s much more motivating than an email or even a phone call. The camaraderie and accountability of being with a team of people heading in the same direction makes productivity easier.
Will going into the office take more time? Yes. But can it also have many benefits for those who to do go into the office at least a few days a week? Absolutely. Even if we may have lost touch with in-person work during the last year, working on-site can help workers manage their time better.