Challenges of remote working
The idea of working from home has divided the population. Some people want to work from home forever. Others are grateful to finally return to the sanctuary of the office. And in the middle, you can find workers who prefer a hybrid approach to working that allows for fantastic flexibility, or the best of both worlds.
Whether you’re a working-from-home enthusiast or manage a remote team, there’s no hiding the fact that this style of working has its challenges. Supporters of the work-from-home lifestyle are quick to shout about its benefits (of which there are many), but it’s important that we consider the very real consequences of this huge shake-up to the way we engage with work.
For a huge proportion of the workforce, the option of working from home has led to improvements to their mental health, their productivity, and their bank balance, with less money going on the cost of commuting or pricey store-bought lunches. That’s all brilliant news. Yet on the flip side, many workers are facing challenges such as feelings of isolation and an inability to ‘switch off.’
If you’re struggling to work remotely, but want to stick with it for the flexibility it provides, read on to find out more about the challenges of working from home and what we can do to solve them.
Prior to 2020, working a typical office job meant spending Monday to Friday in an office building surrounded by colleagues. It was a shock to the system for many when everyone found themselves suddenly having to work alone, or alongside partners and housemates, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hours spent tapping away at your laptop at your kitchen table is a stark contrast to the bustling office environment many were used to.
Some welcomed the solitude. However, the benefits of engaging in social interaction at work, including spending time with work friends or doing team-building activities, cannot be overstated. It’s no surprise that a survey found that 81% of US and UK workers aged between 18 and 34 expressed concerns about loneliness when working from home.
For workers that find themselves harking back to the days of watercooler chats and coffee breaks, a hybrid routine may be a better option than working from home full-time. Even heading into the office once a week could provide the social interaction you’ve been craving. Alternatively, co-working spaces are becoming an increasingly popular option, with flexible spaces opening up in most cities.
If you find yourself struggling with your mental health as a result, it may be worth considering what social activities you can take advantage of outside work. For example, making the most of the time gained back that used to be spent commuting to socialize with friends and family, or attending events in your local area.
Lack of boundaries
When WFH can just as easily become WFB (working from bed), boundaries can quickly begin to break down between work and home time. A 2020 study found that a huge 72% of Americans admitted to working from their bed during the pandemic. This is an issue that affects the younger generation more significantly, as they’re less likely than their older colleagues to have spare rooms or offices at home.
When we don’t have clear boundaries in place, it can be difficult to draw a line between work and play, with one survey suggesting 32% of remote workers find it harder to switch off from work. That can result in employees working longer unpaid hours, higher levels of anxiety and stress, and issues with sleep.
The first step is to, if possible, ensure that your bed does not become your desk. While it’s cozy, working from bed can cause insomnia and issues with poor posture.
It can also help to begin practicing start-of-work and end-of-work routines that clearly bookmark your working day. That can be as simple as making yourself a cup of coffee and sitting down at your desk to read a newsletter to mark the start of your work day and closing your laptop lid and taking a moment to decompress to help you transition into your free time once the clock hits five.
It’s also important to take a proper lunch break (three in 10 US-based employees don’t) and avoid checking your email after hours.
Lack of motivation
With less accountability when working from home, it can be easy to lose motivation. Workers are often left to self-motivate, and without coworkers and managers around to galvanize us, the stretch to 5pm can start to look a little… exhausting. Procrastination or an inability to concentrate can begin to wreak havoc on your productivity.
The best way to boost your motivation is with clear goals. Take the time to write down what you want to achieve professionally in the next year, and arrange a 1-to-1 with your manager to discuss your plans. Part of their role is to support your development and together you can create a plan of action. Having something to work towards, or even simply talking about how you feel, should give you the boost you need.
Loads of laundry, pets who want attention, that new game that you’ve been desperate to play…. Home holds countless distractions. As mentioned, not everyone has the option of creating a dedicated workspace at home, with many people working in their bedrooms or communal living spaces. While there are distractions in the office (think ringing phones, colleagues telling you about their weekends, the coffee machine), there are many more interesting things to draw your attention away from work in your home environment. However, this can severely impact your productivity and potentially cause issues later along the line when it comes to performance.
When 5-minute breaks start becoming three-hour Netflix sessions, it’s time to make a change. If you have the space to do so, find a quiet corner of your home and make that your dedicated place to work. That way, when you sit down to begin your day, you can quickly get in the zone. If that’s not possible, consider investing in a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
In terms of productivity, using a time management system such as the Pomodoro Technique can encourage you to work more efficiently while also building in regular breaks.
Breakdowns in communication
Everyone knows that a creative workshop held over Zoom is not the same as an in-person event. The magic of in-person collaboration simply doesn’t translate when recreated online. This is a significant issue for creative teams, including those in agencies.
Plus, when projects are managed via Slack or email, there are greater opportunities for miscommunication. Mistakes such as forgetting to CC a colleague can also lead to individuals simply being left out of the loop. While these errors may not be the end of the world, they can slow down progress and may even lead to more significant mistakes in the future.
Regular team meetings, such as daily stand-ups, can provide colleagues with an opportunity to touch base and raise any potential issues. This can also help stop projects from being managed on Slack channels; many workers find incessant messaging overwhelming and distracting, not to mention it encourages context-switching habits.
Implementing a project management tool can also be useful for teams that need to share information on a regular basis. This prevents details from being lost in email or instant messaging chains and limits the risk of miscommunication.
Lack of visibility
Potentially one of the most significant disadvantages of working from home for employers is the lack of visibility. Previously, it was pretty easy to see for employers to see who was and wasn’t doing their job properly based on their behavior in the workplace. That level of visibility is slightly trickier to achieve nowadays. Though software that allows employers to monitor their employees’ activity on their laptops does exist, this is largely considered to be unethical.
Yet, understanding what your employees are doing is critical to better resource management and planning for the future. Plus, if one team member is putting in extra hours to overcompensate for the underperformance of others, that is important for you to know.
Transparency is key to healthy teamwork. This could be achieved through the visibility that comes from clear task management or through the use of Time tracking, both of which can be achieved through the Forecast platform. This data can be pulled into reports via your dashboard to help you better manage project budgets, keep an eye on workload and give you confidence about your team's workload.
Understanding utilization rate, level of performance, and productivity are all important when managing a team that is working remotely from home. This not only increases visibility but can also help motivate the team to make the most of their workday.
Try Forecast out for yourself and overcome the challenges of remote working by signing up for a free trial below.