The whir of a copier. The clattering of fingers on keyboards. The chatter of coworkers gathered in the breakroom. What once seemed like a cacophony of distracting audible clutter now feels like the melody of a bygone era. If you’re yearning for a simpler time, when work days meant spending eight hours in a cubicle, checking off your to-do list, you’re not alone. While remote work is a dream for many, the sudden shift to working from home at the onset of the pandemic was certainly jarring. For some, maintaining productivity and finding accountability (while working in PJs from the kitchen table) became an ongoing struggle.
But it doesn’t have to be. Focusmate, a new service designed to connect you with other remote employees for coworking sessions, promises to boost your productivity and keep you motivated to complete tasks. We thought we’d give it a try and find out if (and how) it works.
What Exactly is Focusmate?
Focusmate is a free service that pairs you with other remote workers around the world for 50 minute blocks of focused, quiet work time. The process is super simple and, once you sign up, you can get matched with a partner and logged into your video session in no time. Here are steps to get started on Focusmate:
Sign up for a free account, and create your profile.
Go to your calendar view and select a work window. Time slots begin every 15 minutes, and you can see other Focusmates who are waiting in your chosen time to be matched with a partner.
Pick your partner, or pick your time, and Focusmate will pair you with someone.
When it’s time for your session to begin, make sure your camera and microphone are connected, and start the video.
Exchange hellos with your partner, and briefly outline what you hope to accomplish in your 50 minute work session.
From this point on, focus on work. No chatting, no distractions; just dedicated working time with another human being.
If you complete your task, note it in the video chat, and list your next task.
When the 50 minutes is up, share with your partner what you completed. Be sure to offer them kudos and encouragement for meeting their own work goals.
Set up your next session!
Is this actually a thing?
It is. Coworking has played an integral role for remote workers and digital nomads for a long time now. Workers without a local network or community have been finding ways to connect with other professionals to leverage the many benefits of coworking. Focusmate simply makes it easier to find that network in a post-COVID world, by offering a fully remote platform accessible from anywhere.
But… like… why?
Why? Science! Despite the noise and bustle of a crowded office space, many employees find that’s where they’re most productive. The abrupt change to remote work left many feeling at sea, lost without the anchor their co-workers and familiar office environment provided.
So why are so many people more productive in the office? Focusmate outlines five behavioral triggers that put workers into an ultra-productive flow state –the same triggers they’ve worked to replicate on their platform. Those triggers are:
Pre-commitment: At the end of each work day, you knew you were expected to show up the next morning, ready to get back to business. That’s pre-commitment. By scheduling a work window in advance, Focusmate encourages the pre-commitment that will make you more likely to follow through.
Implementation Intentions: These are the specific, tangible plans you make in order to see your commitment through. Focusmate is in itself an implementation intention. Because you schedule a time, add it to your calendar, and get a reminder, you’ve set up the steps you need to follow through on your intent to work.
Social Pressure: Ever heard of mirror neurons? They cause us to mimic the behavior of those around us to create a more comfortable environment. That, along with a healthy sense of competition, means that social pressure is a highly effective tool in boosting productivity.
Accountability: When you know that your actions impact another person, you’re more likely to meet your goals. Knowing your work partner is waiting for you at a scheduled time creates a reason for you to show up, and knowing that you’ll have to list your accomplishments at the end of the session keeps you moving forward. Plus, if you stand up your partners, leave early, or goof off during a session, your ratings will be lowered, making it harder for you to get a match.
Specificity in Task Definition: The more specific the task, the more likely you are to complete it. Speaking that task out loud to your partner, and knowing you’ll need to check in once it’s completed, keeps you focused on the end goal.
And if you need a little more science to persuade you, Focusmate has a detailed breakdown of how the service affects your brain chemistry, spurring production of those feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. You can check out what they have to say about how the chemistry works, and read up on their list of resources for more information.
Isn’t this… awkward?
The first time, youbetcha. Like any new experience, it can feel weird and forced. In fact, it might take a few sessions to get into the swing of it and feel more at ease. But once you get past the initial strangeness of video chatting with a complete stranger, you’ll realize they’re like you in many ways: a professional remote worker looking for an accountability and productivity partner. To help you. Here are some best practices to help you prepare for a session:
Keep chit-chat to a minimum. This is not social media, and you aren’t here to build long-term relationships. Be polite and supportive, but refrain from casual conversation. Keep your initial greeting and goal-sharing to around :30-:60 seconds.
Keep the camera on. Focusmate requires that your camera is on the entire session. You’ll experience the biggest benefits when you can see another person working alongside you, even if they aren’t sharing your space.
Keep the audio on. If you’re going to listen to music or take a phone call, you should mute yourself, but otherwise, the background noise of another person working can be soothing and encourage productivity – just like working in a shared office.
Limit distractions. Put your cell phone away or place it on silent. Eliminate noise like TVs, and make sure pets and kids know this is your work time. Protect this time to make it work for you.
Don’t overshare. For your safety, refrain from giving any personal information such as age, last name or location. Remember, it’s not Facebook, and it’s NOT a dating site.
Report misconduct. If your partner disappears from the screen, leaves early, speaks inappropriately or otherwise behaves in a way that makes you uncomfortable, exit the session and report the user to the admins. They are pros at weeding out those who would abuse the site, and they have zero tolerance for abuse of their community standards.
What if I don’t like talking to strangers on the internet?
You’re not alone! Introverts and skeptics may find that the awkwardness wears off quickly when matched with a random partner, but for those who just aren’t feeling it, Focusmate is working on another option. Right now, they’re testing a pilot program that will allow premium paid users to create groups, so they can invite coworkers, friends or team members to private work sessions. Remember, the rules still apply here, so it isn’t meant to be social hour or a gossip session. The time is still meant to be used for quiet, distraction-free cowork.
What Makes Us Say "Yay"
The science is legit. Working alongside another human, even remotely, does seem to improve productivity. Anecdotally, users in the Focusmate Facebook group frequently share stories of goals met and projects completed by booking frequent or even back-to-back work sessions. And the pilot program, which allows for private groups and sessions with people you know, has us excited by the possibilities.
What Makes Us Say "Nay"
Getting started with Focusmate feels weird. You won’t always be matched with a compatible partner, and you might feel discouraged. Also, safety and security are a legitimate concern, just like Zoom in the early days of the pandemic. And like any internet-based video platform, it can be misused and abused. While the setup process is super easy, that's also a detractor, because there's no real screening for users. We'd like to see that someday, to hopefully weed out those who would use it inappropriately. If you do use Focusmate and have an experience that makes you uncomfortable, report it right away, so swift action can be taken..
The accountability of having another person working alongside you is a powerful tool in increasing productivity, and you may just find yourself getting down to business and checking off more to-dos on your list than ever before. So, should you give Focusmate a try? That's for you to decide. For us at First Page, we're going to take a pass on work sessions with strangers, but we're excited to test out the pilot program to work with our all-remote team in a whole new way!
If you’re still looking for ways to connect and build community in the work-from-home era, our #RemoteWork blog is packed with information. And if you try Focusmate, we’d love to hear your experience! Share your stories with us and let us know how it went!