I recently came across an article on Fast Company that discusses why working in the office is misguided. The article discusses Jason Fried's rationale for why offices are not always productive environments. Unlike many arguments for remote work, Fried acknowledges that there is value in face-to-face communication, and he provides some guidelines for how to make the office more productive—for the times when people are there.
Related to the quality of the work environment, but connected to many other issues, is whether you are working effectively. Jordan Bates at The Creativity Post offers twenty-two tips to work smarter, not harder. "Smarter, not harder" has become a much abused cliche, but it isn't a crazy idea.
The advice Bates offers may seem familiar, but it is worth a review, if only to reassure yourself that you have covered the obvious things.
Even if you have come to terms with where you work and you are working efficiently, it can be hard to be productive all the time. HBR blogger Heidi Grant Halvorson offers some advice on how to get past procrastination and work when you don't want do.
The strategies Grant suggests include reframing your work as something that will improve something, understanding that much of what might be obstacles are really ephemeral, and focusing on where you will be, using "if-then planning."
No discussion about working effectively in the face of too many demands would be complete without a discussion of the cost of multitasking. Johanna Rothman explains the costs of multitasking to a project and how multitasking only gives the illusion of increased productivity. In another article, Rothman gives advice on how to avoid the problem in your projects.
There is no one ideal set of criteria for a productive work environment, but there are some common themes that team members and managers can keep in mind. On an agile team, the issues of office space, remote working, and multitasking are great topics to discuss at an iteration retrospective.
There may be as many variations to identifying environments that enable productive work as there are people on a team, so in the end it's important to listen to people. The good news is that if you are a manager, you don't need to have all the answers. Listen to the team, either in one-on-ones or in retrospectives, and learn what answers your team members have.
Do people on your work team work remotely from time to time? Do you feel that working outside the office can be productive?
Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and ScrumMaster at Fitbit in Boston, MA. He is the author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, and has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT.