There’ll be no soul-crushing commute when it comes to working from home. There will be no supervisors or coworkers looking over your shoulder. Nobody is snatching your food from the workplace refrigerator. Working from home is fantastic. However, it is not without its difficulties.
Anyone who works remotely as a telecommuter or from home operating their own business will tell you that it’s not all rainbows and roses. According to a study by the United Nations International Labour Organisation, while employees are more productive when they work outside of the traditional office, they are also more subject to working longer hours, a faster work tempo, work-home interference, and, in some situations, more stress.
Over four dozen remote employees were asked to explain their toughest challenges—and how they overcame them. Whether you’re considering working remotely or are already doing so, you’ll be happier and more productive if you face these issues straight on.
1. Being Overworked
One of the reasons many managers oppose remote work is that they believe employees would slack off without actual, in-person supervision. In actuality, however, the opposite is true: distant employees are more prone to overworking. It’s more difficult to shut off when your personal life and job life are both housed under the same roof.
“When does the workday begin? End? It’s difficult to draw a clear boundary between work and home, “says author and coach Jeff Gothelf. And if you work for yourself, he warns that you may be in constant sales mode, which may be taxing.
We are a completely remote organisation at Zapier. Several members of our team admit that they struggle with remembering to take breaks, stopping work at a suitable time, and even knowing when to stop. As someone who has worked from home for over 15 years, I still feel compelled to return to my laptop once the day is done to check one email or accomplish one minor task—which ends up spinning into an unintentional all-night session.
“Work is unlimited,” says Conrado Lamas, marketing director of Signaturit. “There is always something that has to be solved—and when you have an office routine, it’s simpler to leave what you do at work.” When you work from home, your office is also your residence. As a result, I’m continually completing little outstanding jobs late at night before going to bed or early in the morning, when I’d rather be reading the news.
How to Avoid Being Overworked
You may need to fool yourself into taking breaks and establishing defined start and finish timings. You risk burnout if you don’t. Here are a few suggestions:
- Schedule appointments towards the end of the day to get you out of your home office. Perhaps it’s an “appointment” to go to the gym, food shop, or even go around the block. Perhaps it’s a commitment to read the next chapter of the book you’re currently reading.
- Set up reminders to take breaks in the same way. One of our team members’ recurrent daily to-do list items is going for a walk. I configured the clock on my Mac to announce the time every hour to remind me to stretch and refill my water glass. A similar hourly reminder may be set up on Windows using the Task Scheduler. Using the Pomodoro technique to time your day might also assist.
- Make it obvious to your colleagues when you’ll be departing, for example, by making a brief statement on Slack and then shutting off your computer. (I have a nasty tendency of saying “goodbye” and then staying for an hour.)
- Set up physical barriers between yourself and your workstation. The ideal option is to have a separate office area where you can close the door—or even lock it, like Cody Jones, Director of Partnerships at Zapier, does. We’re sorry, but we’re closed. If you don’t have a separate office, simply placing your laptop out of sight after work might help you avoid the temptation to log back in. You might also try partitioning off a portion of a room for work so that it feels like a distinct location.
- Turn off alerts on your phone and computer to avoid being drawn back into work after hours.
Because we don’t have people continually watching over our work or controlling our time, remote employees must be self-motivated time management gurus. While it may be tough for any worker to stick to a plan and manage their to-do list, it is more difficult for remote employees who have more flexible, free-form days, as well as supervisors in various parts of the world.
Managing your own work is difficult enough. Then there’s the continual temptation to watch one episode of your favourite programme during your work break, clean up the kitchen while stalling on a job, or take your dog for a walk because of its begging expression. It’s suddenly nighttime, and you have nothing to show for your efforts throughout the day.
How to Ensure You Complete the Most Important Tasks
- Eat the frog. Business expert and coach Brian Tracy explains: “Mark Twain famously said that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the comfort of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.” Your “frog” is your most critical assignment, the one you’re most likely to delay on if you do nothing. Eat the frog first thing in the morning when you go to work.
- Limit the number of chores you intend to do each day. Use the Eisenhower matrix to avoid time-wasting chores and to determine which things to complete next. Or follow the 1-3-5 approach and do one major item, three medium things, and five minor things every day.
- Install distraction-reducing software, to help you stay focused at work.
- Manage your energy rather than your time. “You grow by pushing your practice, not yourself when you’re low on energy,” advises Gregory Ciotti on the I Done This Blog. Your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day, so prioritise tasks based on how much of your bandwidth they will need and how much you will be able to focus at various points during the day.
3. Isolation and a Lack of Interpersonal Connection
Your coworkers are, to some extent, your social circle. It might be difficult to explain to outsiders that all of your pals are online. _Cody Jones
If you don’t have family members at home with you while you work, you may have the opposite problem: loneliness. Even if you have internet connectivity and tools like Slack, you may suffer from “cabin fever” from staying in the same spot for too long on your own. It’s all too easy to slip into the habit of working from home all day, says Kean Graham, CEO of ad tech startup MonetizeMore, “and then remaining in your house for the rest of that day and perhaps for consecutive days.”
Perhaps remote work employment should come with a warning: you might become a hermit. “Finding the courage to go out into an unforgiving world and talk to potentially scary human beings may become a new task,” editor Michael Crider says.
People who work in shared workplaces have unplanned “watercooler” interactions and may even share meals or after-work beverages. Working from home? We frequently work asynchronously with our peers and may just have our houseplants to chat with.
How to Avoid a Sense of Isolation While Working from Home
You may need to fool yourself into taking breaks and establishing defined start and finish timings. You risk burnout if you donu2019t. Here are a few suggestions:
Schedule appointments towards the end of the day
Set up reminders to take breaks
Make it obvious to your colleagues when youu2019ll be departing
Set up physical barriers between yourself and your workstation
Turn off alerts
This one will require some effort, especially if one of the reasons you love working remotely is to avoid being near too many people. It’s all about finding a happy medium.
- Including social breaks in your schedule, if possible, by working a few hours, then spending an hour or two doing something social outside of your house, such as lunch with friends, before returning to work, Kean recommends. Going out for a snack and chatting with the counter person might be invigorating.
- Try working at co-working spaces or coffee shops to feel like you’re still a part of society. You could make friends with the folks who work at and go to the coffee shop, as Conrado Lamas did. Consider it your second workplace.
- Make a concerted effort to join local groups or organizations. Find a Meetup, go to a networking conference, or enrol in lessons at your local recreation centre.
4. Communication Problems and Being Left Out of the Loop
In their book, Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier explain why communication is critical for a remote team—and why it’s so difficult in their book, “REMOTE: Office Not Required.“
When the majority of your contact is done by email and the like, it doesn’t take long for bad blood to form unless everyone is working hard to avoid it. A small misunderstanding that could have been avoided with the blink of an eye or a different tone of speech may easily escalate into drama.
Bryan Rehbein, a programmer, adds, “As an introvert, it might be difficult to interact with your colleagues.” “Remote jobs necessitate more communication.”
If a portion of your team works in an office but you do not, the communication problem is exacerbated. According to Peter Smith, you miss all of the overheard conversations and cubicle wall meetings. You could suspect that people are holding meetings and making decisions without you, and you’d be correct. You may be out of sight and out of mind unless your organisation has created a culture of inclusion for remote workers.
The only true remedy is to communicate as much as possible, clear up any potential misunderstandings, and be proactive in speaking out.
To alleviate communication gaps, some organisations use messaging networks like Slack, where everyone—remote and in-office—can speak in real time about issues as they arise, or use cloud platforms for documents, allowing everyone to interact. Video calls are also an excellent strategy—just remember to have your camera on since bosses prefer to see your face. “We’ve utilised Zoom and Skype merely to see each other on occasion,” says Kenneth Johnson, an East Coast Executives diversity recruiter and career counsellor. “It’s far away, yet after such discussions, you feel connected.”
5. Differences between time zones
Those dreadful time zones are related to being or feeling out of the loop. You may wake up just as your buddy is about to head to bed. That means you can’t always count on a teammate to be present to answer a pressing issue or meet an urgent requirement.
What is the solution? Fried and Heinemeier propose that teams overlap by four hours:
Working remotely, if effective, generally necessitates some overlap with the hours your coworkers are putting in… We’ve discovered that a good four hours of overlap is required to prevent cooperation delays and feel like a team.
That isn’t an issue if you’re in Los Angeles and working with someone in New York, but it becomes more difficult if you’re in Chicago and dealing with someone in Copenhagen. There was no simple way out; we had to make do with what we had. We achieved it by having Copenhagen work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (local time) and Chicago work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.—just enough time for the critical four hours of intersection.
When working with people in different time zones, remote employees must be adaptable. My coworker Matthew added, “You have to think a little more about when to send messages to others—and learn not to check your phone for notifications when you don’t plan to work.” That’s also a plus; you can shift your work around as required, and you may delegate work to others who can finish it throughout the day and return it to you.
6. When Technology Goes Wrong
Office technology is often of the highest quality and speed. However, your remote internet connection (or mobile reception) may be unreliable, which might be an issue.
Check that you have the necessary equipment to facilitate connectivity, such as a high-performance router. “It may seem like a minor issue, but many remote employees have struggled and failed while attempting to work from regions where phone coverage and internet speeds are inadequate to satisfy the requirements of the job,” says Ron Humes, a remote worker with marketing agency Post Modern Marketing. Before settling on a distant location, make sure to review your service providers and even do any necessary testing.
Similarly, if your team works on projects or papers, make sure you have access to a file storage service so that everyone can work on items without worrying about version conflicts. You should have access to the same technology as the rest of your team. And what if your team lacks collaborative tools? Make a case to your supervisor for them! After all, it is the twenty-first century.
7. You’re Literally Invisible
Sure, you get to wear whatever you slept in to work, but you’re also not on your boss’ visual radar every day. This might result in being passed over for lucrative projects or even promotions. At a prior job, my supervisor was unfamiliar with managing a remote team, recalls Becca Borawski Jenkins, who works remotely from Cortez, Colorado for financial site FinanceBuzz. His underlying premise was that distant workers didn’t conduct any work. It was difficult to continuously explain, verify, and justify what I was doing when I was, in fact, quite productive.
Get out of the house to increase face time. If commuting in is an option, try to attend conferences and work from the office on occasion. Attend team functions even if you aren’t expected to, such as going away parties, monthly status meetings, or the odd lunch with coworkers or your supervisor.
Despite the difficulties listed above, remote work may be quite rewarding—as long as you know what you’re getting into and can deal with the frequent concerns. If you stick with it, you’ll get freedom, autonomy, the opportunity to work in your ideal setting, increased productivity—and maybe more time for a life outside of work as well.
- You may need to fool yourself into taking breaks and establishing defined start and finish timings. You risk burnout if you don’t. Here are a few suggestions:
- Schedule appointments towards the end of the day
- Set up reminders to take breaks
- Make it obvious to your colleagues when you’ll be departing
- Set up physical barriers between yourself and your workstation
- Turn off alerts