How to Stay Productive When You Work Remotely, According to HubSpot's Leadership Development Expert

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Rebecca Riserbato
Rebecca Riserbato


One of the best training sessions I've attended for my career was the PeopleFuel®️ program by The Energy Project at HubSpot.

Here, I learned that to be most productive at work, I needed to manage my energy, not my time.

The training was led by Nick Congelosi, HubSpot's Management and Leadership Development Head.

His team is responsible for overseeing global leadership development across HubSpot with workshops, certifications, and trainings like PeopleFuel®️.

When I left that workshop, I felt confident that I could revitalize my work day.

That's why I decided to grab a virtual coffee with Congelosi and learn all about his best tips for staying productive when you work from home.

Below, let's review Congelosi's remote work productivity tips, how to stay productive during remote meetings, and best practices for running a productive remote training session.

Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your  productivity at work.

1. Place a side table next to your desk.

Have you ever worked on a cluttered desk? I know I have, and that's how I know how distracting it can be.

To help you stay focused during your day, Congelosi recommends placing a side table next to your desk about an arm's length away.

You can place your notebook and to-do list on this table, so whatever you're working on is the only thing on your desk. If it's your computer, only have one tab open (or however many you actually need to get that one task done).

This should help limit distractions when you're working on a certain task.

However, if you're in a meeting, but need something to do with your hands, you can use a pen or pencil so you won't be distracted.

2. Create clear stopping points.

When you work in an office, there are usually organic stopping points throughout your day. However, when you work remotely, those breaks don't happen naturally.

"We hear all the time that people work more hours or their work bleeds into their evening, when they work remotely," Congelosi says.

To avoid this, you should designate clear stopping points. For instance, Congelosi has stopping points at 10:30 a.m., noon, 3:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m.

Unless you're working on something mission critical, be religious about taking these breaks. You can go for a five minute walk or just get up and stretch.

3. Keep short-term and long-term (STLT) benefits in mind.

When your motivation and energy is low, it can be hard to stay productive.

If this happens, Congelosi recommends thinking about the short and long-term benefits of the task at hand.

This can remind you why you're doing what you're doing, keep your motivation up, and increase productivity.

Congelosi personally calls out these benefits in his notebook.

"You need to zoom out so that we can be more specific about what we're zooming in on. As I zoom out, it's going to help me reprioritize. It's going to help me be more task focused," Congelosi says. "It's going to help me remember why I'm here and what I'm doing. So I think that that's a huge, huge element that happens when you identify those short term and long term outcomes."

While you don't need to do this for every task, it's important to do when you lose sight of what you're doing or feel scatterbrained.

4. Own your calendar.

To own your calendar, you should have your non-negotiables already booked. For instance, Congelosi blocks off his calendar on Friday's from 2-5 p.m. so he can wind down for the week.

"I recommend booking your lunch hour and breaks, recurring. Your calendar is what you have true autonomy over," Congelosi says.

Additionally, Congelosi recommends not scheduling back-to-back meetings. You can use Speedy Meetings in Google to help with this.

With Speedy Meetings, your calendar will default to book 25 and 50 minute meetings (instead of 30 minutes or an hour), so you have time between your meetings. You'll never have to rush to an online meeting again.

5. Use a notebook or to-do list app.

If you've ever felt scatterbrained, you know that it's important to have lists and keep track of everything you need to do.

One thing you can do is use a notebook. You can write out your to-do list or just brainstorm ideas.

To do this online, you can use a to-do list app. Congelosi recommends the Microsoft to-do app.

6. Take more breaks.

In HubSpot's Remote Work Report, we found that 45% of remote workers take less than an hour lunch break, and 25% work through lunch.

Additionally, 58% of remote HubSpotters take 1-2 breaks a day, with 29% taking 3-5, and 10% taking none.

When you don't take enough breaks throughout the day, you're actually sacrificing more than productivity.

While work culture has told us to ignore our body, Congelosi recommends taking more breaks throughout the day and listening to your physiology.

You can plan your break times around the hours that you're most productive.

If you do a time audit and/or know when you're most productive, you can ensure that you're working during that time, and taking breaks during unproductive times.

7. Don't forget about work life balance.

According to HubSpot's findings, communication with co-workers, feelings of loneliness, and overworking are challenges that remote workers face daily.

We know this is a problem, but how can you increase your emotional energy throughout the day?

Congelosi says companies need to focus more on work/life balance because those that still work on a "factory clock" don't have high retention rates.

To increase emotional energy throughout the day, try these tactics:

  • Reach out to your team.
  • Say good morning to coworkers on Slack.
  • Leaders should leave loudly. If you're a manager, message your team at the end of the day and let them know that you're signing off.
  • Exercise, even if it's just a 10 minute walk.
  • Find hobbies you enjoy. Congelosi says, "For people that are lonely, I'd be curious if their identity and self-worth is wrapped up in work. If it is, that's not right."
  • Appreciate people. Take a few minutes to write a note of appreciation twice a week. This brings about inclusion, connection, and belonging.

At the end of the day, Congelosi says "You get what you give."

8. Build lasting habits.

You might be thinking that a lot of these tips are based around building new habits. However, building a habit that will last isn't easy.

One of the best ways to build a new habit is to self-incentivize. For example, once you get a certain task done, you can reward yourself with a new book (or whatever it is that'll work for you).

If self-incentivizing isn't doable for you, you can try to build one habit that will enable other habits.

For instance, if you focus on building the habit of keeping autonomy over your calendar, that will enable other habits such as taking more breaks or exercising throughout the day.

Congelosi says, "Be kind to yourself and allow your habits to change. If they don't stick, they're not the right habit for you."

9. Give your employees resources.

As a manager, you need to give your employees the resources they need to be productive.

Congelosi says, "You have to, have to, have to have a resource that you're actually giving employees."

For example, when you give an assignment, you should tell your employee what the goal is and then give them examples of what it should look like.

Additionally, another resource you can use is public boards to increase collaboration among your team.

Congelosi says, "Be clear about the goal, but flexible about how to get there."

Now that we're ready to take on the day as productive remote employees, you might be wondering, "How does this apply to meetings?"

Below, let's review a few tips on how to stay productive during a remote meeting.

How to Stay Productive in Remote Meetings

1. Have an agenda.

Of course, the obvious way to remain productive during a remote meeting is to make sure you have an agenda. Before you go into any meeting, you should be clear about what you're talking about.

Having an agenda will help you stay on track so you don't forget anything.

2. Add structure.

An agenda will help you add structure to your meetings. For example, you should actually write down when there's going to be five minutes of random catch-up conversations.

This will help people on your team self-regulate, so you don't have to go through the awkwardness of transitioning from chit-chat to business.

3. Keep balance of power in mind.

As a remote employee, it can be awkward when a few coworkers are in the office and you're the only remote person involved in the meeting.

If you're going to have a mix of remote and in-office employees, Congelosi says it might be better to just have everyone dial in remotely. This will level the playing field for your team and make your meeting run more smoothly.

4. Use the seconds counter on your computer clock.

When you're running a gigantic meeting, it's important to keep track of time. One thing that Congelosi does is use the seconds counter on his computer clock.

"We find ourselves often at moments like, ‘Shoot, it's 12:59', but it's really 12:59 and 59 seconds which is no time," he adds.

Using the seconds counter will help you keep track of how much time you actually have left on a certain topic in your agenda.

5. Be intentional about psychological safety among your team.

With remote meetings, you might've felt that watercooler awkwardness when two people are catching up on something, but everyone else is quiet. Or perhaps multiple people have responded to someone at once, causing confusion.

While these issues often get misconstrued as a remote problem, Congelosi says they're actually an inclusion problem.

He adds, "Nothing on camera is subtle. That spotlight effect is really, really hard to deal with."

That's why it's important for managers to focus on the psychological safety of their team.

"The option to be included is paramountly critical," Congelosi says.

To improve psychological safety in your remote meetings, try these tactics:

  • Round-robin conversation. When you ask a question or you're doing an ice breaker, go round-robin so everyone has a chance to speak.
  • Extrapolate other questions when a conversation is excluding people. For example, if people are talking about something that not everyone knows about (the latest music, sports, TV shows), managers can ask something like, "It sounds like that team certainly has put in a lot of effort. Where else have you seen that?" This helps the discussion become about the bigger picture, and not the "thing" that's excluding people.
  • Use a ‘Working With Me' document. These documents are helpful for managers to use so everyone knows how everyone works. It's also a great way to get to know people. Additionally, this helps employees build trust and psychological safety with their manager and team. Congelosi says, "We spend so much of our lives trying to glean through magic who you are as a person. There's a lot of cognitive effort you spend trying to read people. Let's just talk about it."
  • Talk about norms. It's important for teams to establish norms with each other. For example, if someone is comfortable sitting quietly before a meeting, but someone else on your team wants to be engaged, it's important for a manager to know that and set norms so the expectation isn't uncertain.
  • Do a ‘This or That' activity. This is a great low risk activity that can help build psychological safety. With ‘This or That,' you just go around and ask your team this or that questions.
  • Go through a ‘I am...but I am not' activity. With this activity, people on your team will go around and say "I am…but I am not" statements. For example, a low risk statement I can say is "I am from Orange County, but I've never seen Laguna Beach." This activity is high risk, but it's great for building psychological safety. Congelosi says, "Managers need to assess the risk level of an activity and think about it in sequence. Start low risk and move up from there."

Now that we know how to stay productive during our work day and remote meetings, you might be thinking, "What else is there?"

Well, if you've had to run training sessions or onboarding remotely, you might be wondering how to do it productively. Below, let's review a few of Congelosi's top remote training productivity tips.

Remote Training Productivity Tips

1. Get a producer.

If you've had to run a training session with more than 20 people, you should consider getting a producer. This person will monitor the chat, answer questions, and send links to resources that are discussed in the session.

For example, if the trainer references a book, the producer will send a link to the book in the chat.

2. Know what the best user experience is.

While Congelosi generally recommends leaning away from slides, if you have to use them, make sure you know how to ensure the best user experience for your audience.

For example, if you're on Zoom, you should take time at the beginning of your training to make sure everyone has a side-by-side view set up.

3. Annotate your slides.

Don't be afraid to annotate your slides. When you're conducting remote training, going through slides can be difficult to get through.

The annotation feature will help you run a more agile training.

4. Use the whiteboard feature.

When I asked Congelosi about trying new things in remote meetings, he told me a story about Larry King.

He said King's first words on the radio were, "I don't know what I'm doing, but I want to do it well."

Running a remote training session can be like that. If you haven't used the whiteboard feature before, you might be scared to try it because it's new.

However, Congelosi says to take advantage of the fact that we're in an unprecedented time.

"Take the risk. If you're a virtual trainer, moderator, interviewer...take the risk with Zoom, and use the whiteboard.," he says.

5. Set expectations.

People expect what you tell them to expect. If you've never done something before, you can be honest and authentic about that.

While there's a balance between self-confidence and self-awareness, being vulnerable in an appropriate way is encouraged.

Being remote isn't always easy for managers or employees. Staying productive can even seem like an elusive goal at times. However, forming small habits every day can help you achieve success when you're working remotely.

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Topics: Remote Working

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