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No soul-crushing commute. No managers or co-workers hanging over your shoulder. No one stealing your lunch from the office fridge. Remote work is wonderful. But it's not without its challenges.
Ask anyone who works remotely as a telecommuter or from home running their own business: It's not all rainbows and unicorns. A report from the United Nations International Labour Organization found that while employees are more productive when they work outside of the conventional office, they're also more vulnerable to working longer hours, a more intense work pace, work-home interference, and, in some cases, greater stress.
I asked over four dozen remote workers to share their biggest challenges—and how to overcome them. Whether you're thinking about working remotely or are currently a remote worker, you'll be happier and more productive when you meet these challenges head on.
One of the reasons many managers don't approve of remote work is they fear employees will slack off without that physical, in-person oversight. But, in fact, the opposite tends to be the reality: remote workers are more likely to overwork. When your personal life and your work are both under the same roof, it's harder to switch off.
"When does the work day start? End? Creating a hard line between work/home is tough," says author and coach Jeff Gothelf. And if you work for yourself, he adds that you might be in never-ending sales mode, which can be exhausting.
Several members of any home working team confess they have a hard time remembering to take breaks, stopping work at a reasonable time, and even knowing when is a reasonable time to stop.
"Work is infinite," Conrado Lamas, head of marketing at Signaturit, says. "There is always something to be solved—and when you have an office routine, it's easier to leave what you do at the workplace. When you work from home, your office is where you live. So I'm constantly closing small pending tasks late at night before I go to bed or early in the morning, when I really wanted to be reading the news."
One of the biggest challenges of remote work is the temptation to work long hours. When working in an office, there is typically a clear distinction between work and personal time.
However, remote employees often struggle with unplugging after work, leading to an imbalance in work-life balance. Additionally, working with team members across different time zones can create potential issues, as well as differences in cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs.
But remote work also has many benefits, including the ability to recruit top talent from around the world and the opportunity for team members to work in a preferred environment. To overcome the common challenges associated with remote work, it's essential to have the right tools and promote open communication.
Team leaders should encourage dialogue and tolerance, promote understanding across all topics, and make team members feel less isolated. Regular check-ins with a technical team to check your system and talking about non-work issues like outside work can help achieve a better work-life balance.
With the right approach, remote working sounds like the business revolution of 2021 that can benefit both employer and employee.
Avoiding overworking is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance in a remote team. It's essential to set boundaries with your company and team members and communicate expectations around working hours.
Additionally, understanding cultural differences can help avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. To minimize video call fatigue, HR statistics show that meetings should be kept short and limited to essential topics. When managing a remote team, it's important to prioritize security and regularly check your system for potential technical issues.
To make remote working work, it's essential to create a productive and comfortable working environment that allows you to get away from your desk regularly. Effective communication across time zones and cultural backgrounds is key to promoting tolerance and understanding. Regular check-ins and open dialogue can make team members feel less isolated and achieve a better work-life balance.
You might need to trick yourself to take breaks and set clear start and end times. Otherwise, you risk burnout. A few things that can help:
Prioritizing work and achieving productivity is a common challenge for remote workers. Recruitment for remote positions often requires a certain level of self-motivation and discipline, and it can be easy to get distracted or fall into a routine of not working effectively.
To overcome this challenge, team managers should set clear goals and deadlines, and regularly check in with team members to ensure they have the resources and support they need to work effectively. It's also important to communicate openly and encourage dialogue across time zones and cultural backgrounds to avoid potential misunderstandings.
Frequent system checks and effective remote communication tools can make team members feel less isolated and more productive, ultimately helping them achieve a better work-life balance.
Remote workers need to be self-motivated experts at time management because we don't have others constantly overlooking our work or managing our time for us. While every worker might find it difficult to stick to a schedule and manage their to-dos, it's especially challenging for remote workers who have more flexible, free-form days as well as managers in a different part of the world.
Managing your own work is hard enough. Then there's the constant temptation to watch one episode of your favorite show during your work break, tidy up the kitchen when you're procrastinating on a project, or take your dog for a walk because of their pleading look. All of a sudden, it's evening and you have nothing to show for the day.
Remote work can be challenging when it comes to prioritizing important tasks. To make sure you get the most important work done, it's important to stay organized and manage your time effectively.
One way to do this is to create a to-do list and prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. This can help you stay on track and ensure that you are completing the most important tasks first. Additionally, regular check-ins with your manager or team members can help ensure that you are focusing on the right priorities and that everyone is aligned on goals and expectations. Effective communication, tolerance, and understanding across cultural backgrounds and time zones can also help create a productive and supportive work environment.
Working from home can come with unexpected interruptions, whether it's a family member, a pet, or a doorbell ringing. These disruptions can hinder productivity and make it challenging to focus on work. One way to address this challenge is to establish boundaries and communicate them clearly with family members or others who share your living space. Setting up a designated workspace that is separate from high-traffic areas can also help minimize interruptions. A
dditionally, making a schedule that accounts for potential interruptions and taking breaks when needed can help increase productivity and maintain a work-life balance. By implementing these strategies, you can overcome this common challenge and stay focused on your work.
The good news is, when you work from home, you avoid co-workers dropping by your desk and other office interruptions (it's someone's birthday! Let's have cake in the breakroom!).
The bad news is you'll likely have to deal with other kinds of interruptions and distractions, whether it's the UPS delivery person needing your signature or in-laws dropping by unannounced.
It's especially hard if you have very young kids, who don't understand that they can see you but you're not available to play. Repeatedly saying, "no, I don't have time now" is painful. "Finding a good place to take conference calls so that family doesn't interrupt and so that I don't wake a napping baby" can also be an issue.
There's no way to avoid all interruptions from your family, pets, delivery people, and neighbors. And sometimes they should interrupt you—like if your dog really needs to be let outside or your kid just got hurt. It's important to be clear, though, about the kinds of interruptions that are okay and which ones can wait. Additionally:
If you don't have family members home with you when you're working, you might have the opposite problem: isolation. Even with internet access and tools like Slack, you might still develop "cabin fever" from being in the same place for too long all by yourself. "It is too easy to get the habit of working from home all day, and then remain in your home for the remainder of that day and sometimes for subsequent days."
Perhaps remote work jobs should come with a Warning: you might become a hermit label. "Finding the courage to go out into an unforgiving world and talk to potentially scary human beings" can become a new challenge.
People who work in shared offices experience impromptu "watercooler" moments of interaction and maybe even share meals together or after-work drinks. Remote workers? We often work asynchronously with our teammates and perhaps have only our houseplants to talk to.
This one's going to take effort, especially if one of the reasons you enjoy working remotely is to get away from being around too many people. It's about striking a balance.
Nothing makes a remote worker shake in fear as much as an internet outage. Or, perhaps, when your computer breaks. Both are your problems to solve.
Many public Wi-Fi hotspots can also be spotty. And even with a decent internet connection, video conferencing apps aren't always reliable, so virtual meetings can be an exercise in frustration.
For peace of mind–and to avoid delays in your work—have a backup plan. A mobile hotspot device or a cell phone plan that allows tethering can save you when your internet goes out. A backup computer–or maybe even a tablet–can get you through the day until you can get your computer fixed.
Knowledge work tends to be sedentary work—no matter where your office is. However, when you're at home, it's easier to slip into bad habits.
For one thing, there's the fridge. With the refrigerator only steps away from home office, you can easily eat too much. Or you might have the opposite problem: without common lunch breaks, forget to eat.
Exercise might also fall by the wayside when you're overworking, and you might forget to go outside enough. (Fellow remote workers: are you getting enough vitamin D?)
There's no magic pill for this one either. You just have to be more mindful when working from home about your health habits.
You can set reminders for yourself in your calendar or to-do app to eat a salad or do some yoga. And you can get a portable standing desk converter to shift between setting and standing throughout your working day.
Despite the challenges above, remote work is very rewarding—as long as you know what you're getting into and can handle these common issues. If you persevere, you'll enjoy flexibility, autonomy, the chance to work in your best environment, higher productivity—and perhaps also more time for a life outside of work as well.