It’s easy to say that remote work is a piece of cake. After all, who doesn’t want to have the flexibility that comes with working from home? This is how most people who’ve never tried remote work think about it.
In reality, remote work comes with its challenges. As a person, who’s been working from home most of my life, I had to overcome them as well. Although, it was less stressful since I wasn’t forced to work remotely by the global pandemic.
The best thing you can do with any struggle is to face it; avoidance has never helped anybody. So, let’s face the nine most common remote work challenges together, and I will explain to you how to tackle them.
1. Time Management and Scheduling
When I first started working remotely, I felt excited, so I blindly took as many projects as possible to create a robust freelancer portfolio. But even as a full-time office employee starting their new job, you can experience the same sentiment: why not dive headfirst into work?
Soon, you start recognizing the problem. Every task seems like a top priority, and your workday becomes unmanageable. It’s your time management incompetence shining through, and most people experience the same when they start working remotely.
If you find yourself struggling with creating a daily work schedule, it’s time to fix the situation. Here are a few things that helped me get my daily work life on track:
- Learn how to prioritize. Create a list of tasks you need to do during the day. Then, prioritize the most urgent and important ones. Once you have all the high-priority tasks, identify the ones that should be completed immediately.
- Use a time tracker. If you have a super urgent task on the table, and you want to avoid distractions, set a stopwatch on your phone. It will get your brain into the hard work mode, with the strict time limit holding you accountable. But make sure you don’t hustle – it can negatively impact the quality of work.
- Employ scheduling tools. For instance, project management software can come in handy to help you prioritize the right tasks and organize your work in general. Besides, your manager will see your progress as well.
Don’t forget to include regular breaks in your work schedule, even if it seems that you don’t have that luxury. You’d be surprised, but you can’t rely on willpower alone – it’s an exhaustible resource and won’t last long.
It doesn’t matter how you spend your breaks. You can take a 15-minute nap, have a short walk, play a game of solitaire or do a few jumping jacks. Scrolling through cute pictures of kittens won’t hurt you, too. Japanese research has proven that kawaii (cute) pictures of animals promote careful behavior and narrow attentional focus. By doing these quick and relaxing activities, you’re able to press the mental refresh button so you concentrate better on your work.
2. Extended Work Hours
One more trap you can fall into when taking on too many projects on remote work is overtime. At this point, even setting a schedule won’t help if you have too many tasks on the line.
Many people who’ve worked from home for quite a while will agree with this statement. It is especially true for remote developers, digital marketers, and customer service representatives who monitor data around the clock.
What can working overtime daily do to you?
The same as an improper work schedule would, which is gradually draining your brain. You will feel fatigued, unmotivated, and struggle with focus. Pushing through this state won’t help – if you overwork your mind, it will start taking a toll on your body.
So, to make sure you don’t get trapped in this vicious circle, employ the following techniques right away:
- Set the number of work hours right away. If you’re a freelancer, fill in the resume template with the number of weekly work hours at the beginning of the project. You can also speak to your manager directly so that you both have realistic expectations.
- Analyze the situations where you had to work overtime. If you find one or two tasks that usually force you into working overtime, make them a shared responsibility with another colleague or speak with your manager.
- Delegate work to your colleagues or other freelancers. When possible, try outsourcing some of the tasks to those who can complete them faster.
Remote work can indeed be flexible, and the key to it is the work-life balance. If you find yourself working overtime, this is a sign that the balance has been distorted.
3. Lack of Direction
The transition to remote work at the start of the pandemic is still fresh in everyone’s memory. A lot of people experienced burnout, seemingly due to their inability to manage their time.
However, you can’t always blame all the problems with remote work on time management. Besides, Harvard’s research shows that burnout is more about the workplace organization, not about the people. And, in most cases, the lack of direction from leaders is to blame.
How do you create a sense of direction in a team that’s fully remote?
Communication is the key, and it doesn’t have to take much of your time. For instance, if you build remote work culture using video calls and make 15-minute daily syncs a regular thing in your company, it will help your team be more organized and better understand the purpose of their efforts.
What about freelancers?
If your work depends on you, it may seem like doing it isn’t taking you anywhere. Freelancers often struggle with finding a sense of direction, but this problem is fixable.
Try to choose the projects that will teach you a clear set of skills, both hard and transferable. Each project should be an upgrade from a previous one to show that you’re growing as a professional.
If you lose a sense of direction when working on a project, try to break it down into tangible milestones. This trick will help you track your progress better and make you feel more accomplished.
4. Procrastination and Distractions
There’s a lot of misconception on the internet about procrastination. However, procrastination is our brain’s natural reaction to continued stress and fatigue.
So what should you do if your brain jumps from one distraction to another?
It might sound silly or unusual, but forgive yourself for procrastinating first. A 2010 study has shown that students who forgave themselves for getting distracted while preparing for their first exam procrastinated less when studying for the next one.
Next, handle the distractions around you. It’s impossible to eliminate all the distractions, but you can minimize them using the following techniques:
- Declutter your workspace. Piles of documents, empty cups, journals, etc. – the more clutter you have on your table, the more it distracts you. So, first things first – organize your remote work by putting together a neat workspace.
- Use technology. When I found myself watching too many videos or scrolling through social media on my phone, I used the Forest app to stop myself from procrastinating. Besides, when using this app, you help its creators plant actual trees around the world.
- Take breaks religiously. As I already mentioned before, a 15-minute break can do wonders. After every hour of hard work, give yourself a short break to regroup and recharge your brain.
Procrastination is not a sign of laziness; it’s a sign of burnout. It’s the lack of energy to commit to one task. Once you recognize that, it will be easier for you to deal with distractions.
5. Communication Issues
In remote work, communication can be a problem, especially for those who just started working from home. It will take you a while to find the right person to connect with. Besides, some people are just slow to respond.
So, if you’re at the beginning of your path as a remote worker, expect communication to be a problem. But it’s definitely not a challenge impossible to overcome.
First, if you manage a remote team, switch to a communication tool that will make instant communication possible. Nifty is a great option in this case – it’s a perfect tool to bring all those email conversations and attachments under one roof and keep your team and client collaborations organized.
Next, prioritize communication in your company culture. Virtual water cooler conversations are a great solution to help your team spend more time together.
On that note, why not implement some fun team-building ideas to strengthen the relationships between team members as well? For instance, you can organize a movie night or a virtual museum tour to help your team connect better.
6. Security Issues
If you’re working from home, it might seem like a safe space, but not from the point of cybersecurity. According to statistics, hackers attack every 39 seconds, and you’re under threat regardless of whether you’re in the office or in the comfort of your own home.
Here are a few more tips I use to improve my cybersecurity when working from home:
- Keep up with the updates. Cybersecurity software, the antivirus – everything you use should be up-to-date. Why? Software updates frequently contain security improvements that help protect your device and the information stored on it.
- Use VPN. To protect your connection, the fastest VPN is the best solution, but cybersecurity is not the only thing it provides. For instance, ExpressVPN has over 3,000 servers in different countries, opening access to information that otherwise might not be accessible in your location.
- Level up your password game. It might sound like a broken record but try to create passwords using upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Enable two-factor authentication wherever you can. Two-factor authentication (verification), also called multi-factor authentication, ties your phone number to your online accounts. To log in, you will have to confirm that it’s you and not the hacker with an SMS code or a call. This way, you add an extra layer of protection for improved cybersecurity.
In general, try to follow widely accepted cybersecurity rules when working from home – don’t share private information with suspicious websites or individuals, avoid clicking on unknown links and fake virus warnings in private messages or emails, and protect your identity and private information in all possible ways.
7. Limited Access to Work Resources
One major issue I had to face when I started working remotely is the limited access to resources I needed for work. And, as research proves, the same problem pertains to remote workers today as well – 58% of Flexjobs survey participants say they regularly experience technical or software issues.
If your company transfers you to the home office, you should communicate your needs to your team leader right away. Mention the resources you usually have access to at work and ask whether they will still be available to you while working remotely.
Which resources will you need to do your job from home?
The list of remote work tools is quite extensive and usually includes a project management solution and a few communication tools to keep up with your co-workers. However, this list will vary depending on the nature of your job.
What if you’re an independent contractor?
I have bad news for you – most likely, you will have to purchase all the tools yourself. However, it never hurts to ask your project manager whether they can share access to some resources with you.
8. Lack of Motivation
Let’s face it – your remote work planning and management is on you, and it can be quite hard to keep up with. That’s why a lot of work-from-home newbies may feel a lack of motivation because there’s also a lack of guidance.
While creating the sense of direction is your leaders’ responsibility, you still can include some self-motivators in your day to make yourself more productive. Here are a few remote work strategies that worked for me:
- Work in small blocks of time. This is a good strategy if you have a lot on your plate. Break down your workday into small blocks of intense work changed by brief breaks.
- Ask your team leader for feedback. If you feel stuck on a certain task, you can talk to your team manager and ask for support and feedback. Their input can motivate you to move forward with the task.
- Reward yourself. Have you completed a difficult task that took you quite a while, but no one recognized your effort? Don’t wait for someone else to praise you and reward yourself for putting energy into a task. It’s a great self-motivation technique.
Unfortunately, employee motivation depends a lot on the company and its leaders, who sometimes don’t pay the much-needed attention to it. Remote work can negatively impact employee motivation, so make sure you raise this issue with your team leaders to avoid burnout.
9. No Time for Professional and Personal Development
Lastly, the most upsetting remote work challenge you might face is the lack of time for yourself. When you consciously step into remote work, you expect it to give you the extra time you need for professional and personal development. In reality, it rarely works that way unless you make some sacrifices.
As I mentioned, work-life balance is crucial to the employee’s success, regardless of whether they work from their home or the office. But sometimes, outside factors can obstruct your efforts to dedicate time to professional and personal development.
Fortunately, you always have options. For instance, if you’re unable to leave your house, you can opt for online courses and learn your skill from the comfort of your own home. Besides, you’ll also be studying at your own pace. To make the process of studying even more comfortable and efficient, you can use such a tool as a screen recording program so that you can record a lesson or a webinar. It might be helpful if you want to analyze this lesson or webinar later or if you need to refresh some of the information from this course in the future
Additionally, talk to your team leader about professional development opportunities. Describe how a certain course or workshop will benefit your performance and ask for extra time off to complete your studies.
Don’t Let the Challenges Bring You Down
Working remotely is not a fairy tale. It takes quite some time to adjust to its caveats, not to mention the problems you’ll have to tackle along the way. Let’s quickly recap these challenges and the solutions to them:
- Time management and scheduling—learn how to prioritize, use a time tracker and employ scheduling tools.
- Extended work hours – detect the tasks that lead to overtime and share or delegate them to other co-workers.
- Lack of direction – implement 15-minute daily calls with the team to better understand the purpose of your work.
- Procrastination and distractions – declutter your workspace, use technology to minimize distractions, and take regular breaks to help your mind rest.
- Communication issues – switch to all-in-one communication tools and prioritize communication-first culture in your company.
- Security issues – level up your password game, use VPN, and keep all your software updated.
- Limited access to work resources – speak to your project manager and highlight the importance of the tools you need to complete your work tasks.
- Lack of motivation – work in small blocks of time, ask your team leader for support and feedback and reward yourself for hard work.
- No time for professional and personal development – prioritize work-life balance.