The pandemic and the life-changing effects of 2020 led to a global revolution in job markets and tremendous growth in the world of remote work. No managers or colleagues are distracting you. No one is stealing your apples from the office fridge. No one controls your computer’s screen or working hours. Several studies have found remote employees are more productive, healthier, and enjoy a more positive work-life balance; it looks like the perfect balance between flexibility and productivity! But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
Like any other kind of work, remote work brings several challenges that employees should learn to manage to keep their professional and personal lives in peaceful coexistence. While employees’ work-life balance improves when working from home, their vulnerability to overdo rises. They perform for longer and more intense hours and, in some cases, with significant stress. So, what challenges can show up while working remotely?
What Are The Top Challenges of Working From Home?
1. Unplugging after work
It seems you just can’t stop working. You can check your email while you watch the news, take your pet for a walk during your lunch break, or plan your next presentation when you go to bed.
A report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions found out that due to the high vulnerability remote employees experience, their self-motivation at time management becomes harder to control because no others are constantly overseeing it. Many workers find it hard to follow a schedule and manage their to-dos, even more so in a flexible environment like their home.
Never-ending email chains and distracting alerts still take up space in most people’s workdays. Tim Ferriss, an American entrepreneur, investor, author, and lifestyle guru, believes every day should be like a mini-vacation if you followed the 4-hour workweek. In his inspirational book, he proposes that if you pursue your passion, delegate and automate your tasks, and cultivate a sense of selective ignorance, you’ll become a new rich (as the author refers to the people that have four-hour workweeks). As he says:
“What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Tim Ferris
Create a not-to-do list, set boundaries, don’t accept what doesn’t fit in your schedule, turn your cell phone’s volume all the way down, and don’t email late at night. Create a list of productive habits and tactics that will replace your not-to-dos. Manage your energy, not your time. Your productivity varies during the day, so organize your tasks according to your mood and the focus they’ll require. Try to complete more challenging tasks during the morning; you’ll always be more tired later.
2. Unavoidable Interruptions
Most remote employees choose to work from their homes. So, a variety of distractions might occur during working hours. The dishes, the laundry, the delivery man – even your Instagram notifications – everything looks more attractive than concentrating. And sorry to tell you, but there’s no way you’ll be able to avoid all interruptions when working from home.
I suggest you set up a signal to let people at home know when you cannot be interrupted (like a red sock hanging from the door). Keep productive and make the best out of the time you have. If Slack or WhatsApp makes you lose focus, let everyone know that you need time to work on some things, and you’ll be off for an hour or two.
Stephen Covey created an effective time management strategy, Big Rocks, to inspire generations of successful entrepreneurs and executives to reprioritize tasks and eliminate distractions. You only need to set the assignments, projects, or goals you accomplish; they are your mission-critical objectives. People tend to run into problems when they think about their priorities. As he says:
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Stephen Covey
Isolation can become a real challenge when working from home, especially if you don’t have family members living with you. Facebook claimed that half of its employees would work from home by 2030, but half “really want to get to the office as soon as possible,” said Mark Zuckerberg to the Wall Street Journal in 2020.
Even with internet access and a veritable plethora of communication tools, you can feel lonely, being in the same environment for too long and all by yourself.
It’s easier to get stuck on tasks when working from home, so prevailing over this challenge will take significant effort, and you are the only one who can create the balance. Include social breaks in your schedule; try to go out, meet some friends for lunch, then go back to work; it’ll help you continue with your afternoon tasks. Remember, we are all in this pandemic context together!
Click HERE to learn more about why Psychological Health for Remote Workers must be a Priority.
4. Lack of Communication
Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most crucial life skills to learn. Based on transferring information to produce greater understanding, communication is essential to allow others and yourself to understand more details accurately. Communication is of prime importance in remote teams, and it should always be precise to avoid misunderstandings.
“Small misunderstandings that could have been overcome with the wink of an eye or a certain tone of voice can quickly snowball into drama,” comment Jason Fried and David Heinemeier, Basecamp founders, in their book REMOTE: Office Not Required.
Create comfortable virtual encounters, consider the channels you use (video, instant messaging, or email connectivity), and allow unstructured meetings to generate unregulated moments, creating non-business-related conversations. Have fun together, have a drink some Friday afternoon, and get to know who each team member is. It’ll improve your work relationship as well.
Communicate as much as you can and need; you’ll never be overdoing yourself. Don’t let assumptions get in your way, ask clarifying questions, and always encourage those who pretend to communicate more. And last but not least, never forget to empathize; it’s one of the most important skills you can have when working remotely.
5. Maximizing Productivity and Motivation
Underperforming at work is one of the most challenging challenges remote employees can face. The longer you take to complete your tasks, the worst it gets. Your ineffectiveness is notable, and you fear you will lose your role in the team.
There is no shame in feeling unmotivated. Stick this in your mind and allow yourself to talk about motivation with colleagues and team leaders. While some might experience naturally high levels of motivation, others will have to work it out. Avoid multitasking; it’s better to set a single goal for each day than to focus on everything simultaneously. And remember, find what motivates you, not your workmates.
6. Technology Drives You Crazy
Nothing seems more challenging when you work from home than your computer breaking down or an internet connection that you can swear to God is powered by (lazy!) hamsters. Both are remote work difficulties you should learn to surpass.
Office technology is usually high-grade and quick, but your home internet access may not be as reliable. Try to check your service providers and run the necessary tests before settling on your work-from-home location. Always have a backup plan for the worst-case scenario – it may be a hotspot device or a cell phone plan that will allow you to connect when your internet goes out.
7. Different Locations and Time Zones
If lack of communication can make you feel out of the loop, imagine how bad it is to throw various time zones into the mix. You might be having breakfast when your colleague is going to bed.
Fried and Heinemeier suggest a four-hour overlap:
“Working remotely, if it is to be successful, usually requires some overlap with the hours your coworkers are putting in…we’ve found that we need a good four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays and feel like a team.”Freid and Heinemeier
Don’t panic; you get to keep your flexibility. Set a few guidelines for each team member, and create the perfect balance between your productivity and freedom. If you get your tasks done in time, there won’t be any trouble.
8. Dealing with Cultural and Language Differences
Remote teams tend to be from all around the world. Expect a great mix of languages and cultural backgrounds coming together on projects. Some cultural differences can impact the way your team works together and lead to misunderstandings, offenses, or disagreements.
The key to surpassing this challenge is to have a cultural understanding of the people on your team, recognize which aspects present challenges for certain members, and help them defeat them. If a colleague approaches you because a project seems discriminatory towards his culture, help him find the author and develop the balance to satisfy the whole team.
Realize that people’s levels of openness and comfort vary around the world, and patience should be your top priority. Speak clear and straightforward English; your colleagues who are non-native speakers will be grateful.
9. Managing Projects
As innovative as remote worldwide teams are, they also present challenges in project management. When your team is spread worldwide and lacks physical presence, communication becomes more arduous, trying to keep on the loop for every campaign. Fail to manage it in complex projects and large teams, and you’ll be in trouble!
Thankfully, there are a million tools to help you beat this challenge. You’re going to need project management software to assign tasks to every team member, and keep track of their progress. There are many great productivity tools for remote teams that will allow you to manage projects efficiently.
10. Building and Maintaining Trust
How can I be sure he is working when he should? How can I trust my colleague will do the task I gave him on time? The need to build trusting bonds in a remote team is indispensable, and all team members need to contribute.
It can turn challenging to trust people you’ve never met face-to-face. If you cannot physically see what your teammates are doing, any unconscious effect on trust can arise. You can start messaging a colleague like crazy on Slack when he doesn’t show up at a virtual meeting in time.
As disappointing as it seems, you won’t be 100% sure your colleagues are trustworthy on every project you plan together. But you can apply some methods to know your team better. Bond with them, know more than what they do for a living, and test if you can rely on them. If you align with your team towards the same goal, everything will flow as smoothly as possible.
Always be yourself; authenticity is one of the keys to become an honest companion. Promote transparency; there is no better colleague than the one who has nothing to hide and establishes a credible relationship. And be responsive and reliable; trust will remain high if you prove to complete your tasks on time. You’ll realize attitudes can say much more than words.
Remote Work Is Challenging… And Definitely Worth It!
Remote working has its own expectation vs reality scenario, and despite all the challenges, remote work is very gratifying. Studies show that employees are happier, more productive than they were at the office, and their stress levels have decreased. If you learn how to focus, you’ll enjoy flexibility, higher productivity, and autonomy in your environment. While avoiding those wasted minutes on your colleagues’ visits through your desk every five minutes, you’ll be able to administrate your day the way you want.
Plus, you can work in your pajamas, have your homemade sausages with extra mustard for lunch, and drop all the crumbs on your trousers because your wife will do the laundry in the afternoon. Once you meet these pleasures, you won’t be able to escape.
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