Fact: When you’re not working, your brain is still engaged in thought. So it can actually be productive—even essential—for workers to occasionally stop everything and do a little zoning out.

But is it ever OK for teleworkers to be unproductive at work with companies’ demands of them for non-stop presence and productivity?

Do You Have a Double Standard for Productivity?

One of the biggest misconceptions about flex workers is that they are far less productive than workers in the office. As a result, most experts and studies focus on proving the productivity of telecommuting.

Likewise, flex workers themselves combat this stigma by toiling away even harder than their in-office counterparts, all while being monitored and judged by their online presence and computer activity. For the teleworker, there is no option but to be busy at work—constantly.

But just like in-office workers, teleworkers have off days, sleepless nights, bad moods, and other personal stressors that create inopportune times to reply to emails or make big decisions. Sometimes, the most productive activity an employee can do doesn’t have anything to do with work.

Work Isn’t Synonymous With Productivity

Typically, companies consider any non-work task unproductive: cyberloafing, taking breaks, napping, online shopping, using social media, etc. However, research shows that these flights of fancy can benefit productivity at work.

And when you look at top employers, non-work activities are a daily part of their innovative work cultures. There’s table tennis in the office, a soccer league at lunch, and a nap pod by the break room.

Plus, as flex workers know very well, time is no longer a predictor of productivity and output. Knowledge workers and creative teams increasingly enjoy longer weekends, results-oriented work, and other alternative schedules that focus less on traditional work hours and more on outcomes.

Although the office of the future supports this work-life integration, the home office seems to be excluded, when in fact, this is the whole point of letting employees work from home. Why shouldn’t teleworkers enjoy the same freedoms at work?

When not Working Benefits Your Company Mission

Employees need freedom and choices around how to spend their time to truly increase productivity. Employees who think like a boss take charge, make their own decisions, and cut down on time-wasting exchanges.

Non-work activities also allow new perspectives and solutions to bloom for better problem-solving, long-term decision-making, and prioritizing.

And “unproductive” breaks provide the flexibility for better energy management. When you’re too tired to plow through routine tasks, let your mind wander to inspiration for creative projects. Too distracted to execute a more complex task? Knock down simpler assignments.

On the flip side, think about what happens when you deprive yourself of time for “unproductivity.” You stare at your computer monitor, you procrastinate, you do less than your best, and you spin your wheels accomplishing nothing.

Share Smarter Ways to Be Unproductive

Like many other aspects of flex work, a culture shift is necessary to realize the full potential of telecommuting for both employees and companies. It’s up to senior-level executives, managers, and team leaders to cultivate a work environment with room for “unproductivity.”

Let them know that instead of opening solitaire or doing busy work to keep their online presence active, it’s OK for them to stare out the window to think. Encourage work-from-homers to create a separate space for idleness: a meditation corner, a place to sit outside, a treadmill or yoga mat or a couch that’s not for work.

This doesn’t mean it’s OK to hit the snooze button every day or to “check out.” Motivate employees to spend downtime on non-work activities that are fun, energizing, relaxing, and meaningful. Share industry articles or inspiring TED Talks with them, or hold an impromptu online meeting with a teammate.

At the PGi blog, we’re talking all about how to strategically slack off at work this holiday season. Follow PGi on Twitter for productively “unproductive” tips to get you through the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

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