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This Popular Remote Work Advice Is Wrong (And You’re Probably Following It)

publishedabout 1 month ago
5 min read

"Set up a specific, separate place to do your work at home." This is typically the first piece of advice newcomers receive when they start to work remotely, yet it's all wrong. You do not need to work from one desk to have an effective remote work experience. In fact, following this advice may make your work worse.
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Different people working from different places
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While the one workspace advice comes from a good place, it's just another example of us attempting to replicate in-office work at home. It wasn't effective in the office, and it causes even more issues now.

The goal of most office spaces was not to create the most effective place for their workers to do their job but to fit as many workers into one space. One desk, one person. This is why the horrendous open office floor plan became so ubiquitous.

But if we shift from a purely corporate budget focus to an effectiveness focus, you'll see that working from one desk works against us for two main reasons.

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1. It Doesn't Optimize for Different Types of Work

Most knowledge workers have multiple modes of work like:

  • Deep work
  • Brainstorming
  • Syncing
  • Tasks

A work environment made for one of these modes directly works against you if you're in another mode. So, for example, a desk optimized for sync mode would have multiple screens, lighting, video tech, and be in a quiet space with a formal background.

While this space is excellent for meetings, the extra screens and tech will be utterly distracting for my deep work mode. Plus, the quiet room with a formal background wouldn't provide the inspiration needed for brainstorming mode.

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2. It Doesn't Optimize for Your Personal Mode

We aren't robots. Flipping a switch doesn't instantly put us into work mode. It's up to us to utilize personalization to work with us whether we have too little sleep, are feeling distracted, or any other normal human mode.

For example, if you're feeling unproductive, it might be helpful to add some peer pressure accountability by working from a coffee shop, library, or coworking with a friend. But if you're feeling productive, these same areas might work against you.

Molding your workspace to how you're feeling and what you're trying to accomplish can increase the quality of your work while decreasing the effort required to make it happen.

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Real-Life Example

Let's go meta and use my writing this article as an example. In the initial stages of brainstorming mode, I'm usually chatting with others. So my environment is optimized for interacting virtually with lots of screens/lighting/video tech in a space I feel comfortable sharing with othersβ€” basically, a standard home office.

When I switch into deep work writing mode, I'm now in a quiet, cozy environment (typically my bed or the couch) where screens are away, and I get all my ideas out on paper.

I jump to one screen with no distractions around me in editing mode, so I'm focused on the task. I like to be in a different place than where I was writing because it helps me create space and feel less tied to the initial draft. This is typically me using a laptop from the dining room or a small table in the loft.

Finally, for distribution mode, I'm all over the place. At one point, I'm at my multi-screen desk copying content across accounts. Then I'm on my phone sharing on socials. Then I'm working from my laptop on the couch while watching my favorite show (because some distribution tasks are necessary but mindless and tedious).

If I can't get myself to do these things, I'm using the peer pressure trick we discussed above. If I'm feeling stuck, bored, or uninspired at any point in the process, I'm immediately changing up to a fresh location.

At one point, I experimented by doing all these modes from one desk. It ended up taking double the amount of time to finish an article, and I was left feeling completely drained. I had to apply so much willpower to force focus and inspiration that I was left completely zapped. Imagine if I followed the one workspace advice every day. When coaching clients experiencing frequent burnout, I always check whether their workspace is working against them.

Even if your work doesn't involve writing, it still most likely has multiple modes of work that require different levels of thinking. By using your environment to inject inspiration and maximize utility, you allow your work to be effortless.

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Adapt This to You

Notice that my example didn't require excess money or more unused rooms. If you prefer applying this solution outside the home, you still have lots of free options. For example, you could write in a beautiful park when you're looking for inspiration, work from a coffee shop when you're looking for some extra accountability, or do your deep work at the library.

If coworking is your thing, you don't need an expensive membership. Instead, you can invite others to the places above or even work from a friend's house.

You've been working in one way for a long time, so the one workspace method is convenient. But convenience is not the same as effective. Working from one desk was a measure put in place to save the company money, not to help you do your best work. If it works for you, great. But this should not be the first piece of advice we give to those new to remote work. It sets them up to replicate office policies without questioning the relevance and leads to a poor, unoptimized remote work experience.

Physical boundaries were necessary for the age of physical reminders of work and in-person coworkers. But when it comes to most remote workers, our work is all done virtually. We work through our minds and our computers, and physical boundaries don't function in the same way for us. So virtual boundaries are way more critical in our line of work. Which leaves the question, why are we still overemphasizing the importance of physical boundaries for virtual work? And how is it holding us back?

So the next time you're feeling your mind wonder at your desk, ask yourself: Is my environment optimized for the current work I'm doing? Then experiment with new settings to see how it affects your work. You might be surprised to find the time and energy you save when your workspace isn't working against you.

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TLDR

Working from one desk was a measure to save the company money, not to help you do your best work.

Instead, use your environment to inject inspiration and maximize utility to allow your work to be effortless.

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Quote of the Week

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"The strategies that made you successful in the past will, at some point, reach their limit.

Don't let your previous choices set your future ceiling. The willingness to try new ideas allows you to keep advancing.

- James Clear​
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In Other News

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We have a new Work Styles profile I'm excited for you to see coming next week!

What did you think of this issue? What do you hope you'll see in the next one? Feel free to reply to this message or DM me on Twitter @mar15sa.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!

Marissa

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