The Greatest Challenges of Working Remotely

Andrew Buck December 6, 2021

Remote work has its benefits both for the employee and the business.

However, it would be short-sighted to ignore the challenges that arise when you ditch the office environment.

These challenges of working remotely apply both to remote workers, and as well as businesses that have remote teams.

Overcoming these challenges is key when it comes to unlocking the powerful benefits that come with remote working.

Read on and we’ll share the biggest issues that people in the remote work space are likely to face, and some strategies to help overcome them.

Related Article: all you need to know about The Biggest Benefits of Remote Work, for both businesses and individuals.

The Biggest Challenges of Working From Home

Despite being one of the most sought-after employee benefits today, everyone’s likely to face some struggles when adapting to remote work.

Here are some common difficulties that are likely to come up for a remote team and the remote team members themselves.

Work/Life Separation

When managed right, working remotely can provide huge benefits in the form of a healthy work/life balance.

However, it’s also common for remote workers to struggle with this. When there’s no separation between your work life and personal life, as there is with a physical office, both facets tend to mesh together.

It can create a chronic state of stress, due to the person’s mind constantly being stuck on work. This almost always leads to burnout before long.

Loneliness

We often overlook the benefit of the social interaction we get from face-to-face time with co-workers.

We think that working remotely will be a glamorous life – perhaps you envision setting up your laptop by the beach and living the digital nomad life, fueled by coconuts and coffee.

Reality, however, can be much less glamorous. Working remotely often means working on your own for long periods of time, sitting in a coffee shop or co-working space.

The resulting loneliness ends up impacting the employee’s happiness, and often their satisfaction levels in the job, unless something is done about it.

Creating an Effective Workspace

Working from the beach is probably the worst example of an effective workspace, despite the image portrayed on travel blogs. 

Often, the perception is that remote work means that you can work from “anywhere”. 

And yes, it does provide more freedom in the sense that you can grab your laptop on your way to the coffee shop and get some stuff done while enjoying your latte. 

But if you don’t have a dedicated and effective workspace, it might be tough to perform at your best consistently over weeks and months. 

If you’re going to be working remotely long-term, it’s vital that you figure out a workspace that helps you be productive – whether that means setting up a home office, signing up for co-working spaces, or whatever works for you.

Dealing with Distractions at Home

Part of the struggle of creating an effective workspace at home is cutting out distractions.

Not that the office doesn’t have distractions as well. But there tends to be be more distractions at home – and they’re harder to ignore.

Noisy neighbors, roommates, family members, pets, the couch that looks so inviting, a 5-minute break that turns into an hour playing video games – the list of possible distractions is endless. 

As with the previous point, this is why it’s so important to set up a dedicated office space at home where you can be productive, away from any distractions that may take you off-track.

Motivation

Getting into, and staying in work mode can be hard for many remote workers.

As inefficient as commuting and going to the office is, it at least acts as a routine that gets us into the right headspace to work.

The office is also a collaborative environment, where team members help keep each other on track and thinking about work.

In comparison, when you’re the only person in your office, it presents a major challenge to staying in the right mindset to remain productive.

Timezone Differences 

Collaboration and managing a team is made all the more difficult when team members are located in different time zones.

If it’s a matter of someone in New York and another employee in San Diego, then it’s most likely not a big issue. 

But if you have someone in the USA, someone in Vienna, and other team members in the Philippines, then planning meetings will require more communication. It can also mean that you can’t get everyone on at the same time, unless someone takes one for the team and logs on after their regular working hours.

Employee Burnout

Employee burnout is usually a result of not having the previous few points in order. 

Poor separation of work life and home life, loneliness, an ineffective workspace and dwindling motivation can all lead to a big problem: burnout.

Burnout is a stress condition, that compounds on itself if not dealt with. It’s extremely common when people are overworked, under too much pressure, or have trouble living a fulfilled life outside of work.

Burnout is not limited to remote workers, but it is something that remote teams should take all the more seriously, because the warning signs often happen out of sight, where they can quickly get out of hand.

Further Reading: learn all about Employee Burnout, how to treat it and how to avoid it.

Technical Problems

Poor internet connections, your employee not having access to a robust computer, and a lack of proficiency in tools like Zoom, Slack, and Trello/Asana, are just a few examples of technical issues that can arise from remote work. 

It’s important that remote workers are given enough support, both in terms of training and being supplied with the necessary equipment, to be effective when working remotely.

Project Management and Collaboration

Difficulties collaborating and working together with other team members is a common problem for a remote team.

You can use a project management tool to overcome some of these difficulties, but it’s still important to have systems in place as well to encourage team members to work together.

Don’t just expect everything to work as it does in the office, without taking careful steps to coordinate everyone working together on a project.

Trust

For most businesses that are hesitant about allowing staff to work remotely, it’s because of one thing: trust.

Managers think that their staff are going to goof off if they’re out on their own, and nothing’s going to get done.

Then there are more sensitive issues, such as employees who may be handling important data or financials away from the workplace on a personal computer.

Any business that allows their team to work remotely need to do so with an element of trust. However, understand that this trust will often mean employees work harder and are more dedicated to the business as a result.

Building and Maintaining Company Culture

Company culture, camaraderie, and a team-first atmosphere is easier to maintain when everyone works in the same physical space.

In comparison, it’s common for remote workers to feel distant from each other, and this team culture is harder to build.

One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is overcoming this physical distance, and making each remote employee feel like they’re part of a tight-knit team.

Further Reading: What is a Hybrid Workplace: the A-Z of the flexible workplace model of the future.

Overcoming Remote Work Challenges

As a remote worker, or someone managing a team of remote workers, it’s important you understand these challenges exist.

By first understanding the common issues that come up when someone works remotely, you can take steps to overcome the challenges of remote work.

These steps are something a business can include in their work from home policy, while individuals can create their own set of guidelines to help them thrive in a remote work environment.

Set Clearly Defined Work Hours 

To avoid work creeping into personal life, remote workers should ensure they set and define clear hours in which they’re in work mode.

Without this, it’s too easy to be half-focused on work throughout the day, which results in low productivity, and less effective rest when you decide to stop work, as you haven’t created a clear separation.

Businesses with remote workers may choose to let each remote worker choose their own schedule, or define their schedule for them. It’s generally best to allow employees a bit of freedom and flexibility, although having people working during the same time may be better for communication, collaboration and togetherness.

Set Up a Dedicated Work Area

Along with the schedule, for many people, the biggest challenge of working from home is setting up a workspace.

This space is vital, as it helps remote workers create a mental separation between work and home. Without this, the two blend together, and you can end up in that half-state between productivity and rest.

Anyone who has worked remotely in the past has probably tried working from the sofa, or even lying in bed. This is great for comfort, not so for productivity.

For some, coffee shops or co-working hubs may work fine as a dedicated work area. But, generally, if you plan to work remotely long-term, setting up a home office is ideal.

If you’re managing a team of remote workers, it’s worth investing to provide the equipment your employees need to set up their workspace at home. Understand that not everyone has a good computer or faster internet, and it’s in your best interest to do what it takes to help every employee who works remotely be more productive.

Promote Communication and Socializing

We’ve discussed already how it’s easy for remote workers to feel isolated without the human interaction you get in the office.

Team members are going to be happier, more productive, and will collaborate better if they have this personal touch. Thus, businesses, and remote workers themselves, should be proactive in promoting communication and socializing.

Teams may want to consider arranging the following:

If you can gather everyone in the same place every now and then, that’s ideal. However, if your remote team is based around the world, this may be hard, so if that’s the case just do what you can to encourage team members to connect and interact virtually.

Check In With Staff

A lot of the problems that come about with remote work are not that serious at first. However, left to grow, these problems get bigger over time, eventually getting to the point where it may be hard to recover from.

It’s important for managers of remote teams to consistently check in with their remote workers to see how they’re feeling, and what, if anything, they are struggling with.

Efficient team communication like this is great at addressing problems before they become too serious. You can also limit the isolation factor of working from home at the same time by making regular quick calls or meetings.

Make Use of Software

Today, there are a ton of tools available to help remote work run more smoothly. You should take advantage of these tools to make it easier for your team.

There’s software out there to help remote teams collaborate, meet, communicate, assign tasks, and pay bills. 

Learn More: we run down the best and most effective Remote Work Tools to help remote teams and employees perform at their peak.

Communication – Tools like Slack can make a difference when it comes to smooth communication between team members and managers. 

You’ll have separate channels for communication between each employee and create group chats for specific purposes, projects, functions, etc. 

And these tools also integrate with other platforms like Google Drive, so it’s easy to share documents, spreadsheets, and files. 

Project management – You’ll need a system to assign tasks to employees, answer questions, provide updates, request input from staff external to the project, and a lot more. 

Trello, Asana, Monday.com are some of the best and most popular project management tools out there, but there are others as well.

Leave management – Tracking your team’s absence calendar is always a vital HR task to make sure that your employees are taking enough time off to promote wellbeing and optimal productivity. 

You also want to ensure that the workload is always well-balanced and that you don’t even end up short-staffed. 

Using Flamingo to manage your team’s time-off calendar will help avoid cases of burnout among employees working from home, by making it easy to request the time off they need to refresh and relax.

Invoicing – Depending on the number of employees, you may have a payroll department. In that case, they’ll handle employee payments as usual. 

But if you have a smaller team and maybe some are contractors, then you can use invoicing software like Paypal, Freshbooks, or Wave to pay your employees.

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The Biggest Remote Work Challenges: In Summary

In today’s virtual world, remote work is getting closer and closer to the norm.

While remote work offers some huge benefits and opportunities, there are also a number of challenges that exist for businesses that ditch the office.

Certain tasks and projects are easier when everyone is in the same office, or even just the same time zone, so you need to look for solutions when everyone spreads out across the world.

Team leaders and remote employees working from home can both take steps to make the process more effective. Consider using collaboration tools, as well as regularly attending meetings or conference calls to eliminate communication issues. Make use of instant messaging and file sharing tools as well.

At home, be sure to create boundaries, work on time management techniques, set a schedule and take lunch breaks as usual, and avoid bad habits like working from the sofa or in your pajamas.

Replace, where appropriate, the office routine with your own productive routine at home, and you’ll be on the way to making remote work work for you.

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