“We focus on two things when hiring. First, we find
the best people you can in the world. And second,
let them do their work. Just get out of their way.”
The remote workforce has exhibited enormous growth in the past several years. Many employees began working from home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move away from the office appears to have become a permanent aspect of the business world.
While it’s nice to attend staff meetings in sweatpants while playing with our cats, there can be some problems with working from home. Addressing the challenges of working from home is essential if this new work paradigm is to succeed.
This article discusses the major challenges and solutions of working from home (WFH) based on recent research to help you remain happy and productive in your new work surroundings.
Principal Work From Home Challenges and Solutions
Working from home provides many benefits to employees, employers, and society at large. In addition to minimizing the spread of COVID-19, the advantages of remote work are substantial. They include cost savings, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and more family time.
The benefits make it worth dealing with the problems of working from home. Let’s look at some specific WFH challenges and how they can be addressed effectively.
1. Separating work and home life
One of the most common work-from-home issues is the sometimes blurred line between an individual’s personal and professional life. It can be extremely hard to unplug at the end of the workday and transition to your personal life. There is no commute home from the office or change of physical location to signify that the workday has ended. An employee can end up being mentally engaged with work when they should be attending to personal matters.
The difficulty of unplugging after work can result in overwork and burnout. It can seem as though individuals are never off work. The impulse to check work email or get a few things done can end up severely disrupting your work/life balance. The ability to office from home, which should be a benefit of remote work, can be a liability if not handled correctly. Employees may feel they can never relax when they essentially live in the office.
- • Create a division between your personal and work life. You can do this by establishing a dedicated workspace in your home. Another option is to take your laptop to a coffee shop or a coworker’s house so you can mentally separate work time from personal time.
- • Being organized and productive can help draw the line between your workday and personal time. Setting realistic goals for daily productivity and unplugging when they have been reached can help minimize this work-from-home struggle.
- • Getting the most out of their employees is one of the big challenges of working from home for employers. Providing workers with realistic expectations, advocating taking breaks to mentally recharge, and supporting them with reliable technology can help improve their work/life balance.
Your work and personal life will both benefit by clearly separating them.
2. Feeling isolated
When asked what is the most challenging part of working from home, many employees point to a feeling of loneliness and isolation. The typical social interactions that occur in an office setting are absent in the remote work environment. This contradicts our inherently social nature and can lead to an employee feeling isolated from their colleagues.
In addition to the possible negative mental health aspects of extended feelings of isolation, team productivity can also suffer. Employees may lack the motivation to perform their roles, dragging down the whole team. Zoom meetings are nice, but they do not fully replace in-person interaction.
- • Companies should deploy tools such as Slack that enable employees to freely communicate. Employees can form groups to remain in contact and reduce the feeling of isolation that can accompany at-home work. Team-building initiatives and gamification can help develop employee bonds that make workers feel less alone.
- • Workers should find ways to interact socially outside the workplace. Of course, one of the challenges of working from home during COVID-19 is remaining safe in these situations. Once again, occasionally bringing your laptop or tablet to the coffee shop may give you the socialization you need.
3. Difficulty focusing when working from home
Another one of the pain points of remote work is dealing with interruptions that impact productivity. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate distractions at home, no matter how well-organized you are.
There is always the temptation to take a few minutes to attend to something around the house. This short break can inadvertently turn into an hour that should have been spent working on a project. If you have pets, their needs can get in the way of productive work time. Add some other family members or roommates and you can see how hard it might be to concentrate on your job.
Another form of distraction can be found in the tools we need to communicate with colleagues, family, and friends. Hearing that special ringtone signaling a message from your significant other will probably get your attention and distract you from the task at hand. Having your Internet connection crash can ruin a perfectly good workday.
- • Create a dedicated workspace where you can minimize the potential for distractions. You should be able to close the door of your home workplace and should ask anyone else on the premises to leave you alone unless it’s an emergency. Get some noise-canceling headphones for better listening and to cut down on distractions. Consider bringing some items from the office to give the workplace a familiar feel and don’t use it for non-work-related activities.
- • Reduce digital interruptions and distractions by planning and discipline. Turn off your personal devices when in work mode. Reduce the amount of social media activity you engage in during the day. Try to only keep apps running that are necessary for you to do your job.
- • Invest in the right tools for your home office to help maximize productivity. This includes having furniture that allows you to comfortably perform your duties throughout the day. Ergonomically designed office equipment can make it easier to concentrate and not fall victim to distractions. Employers should take the lead on this issue and provide financial assistance for office equipment and reliable Internet service.
4. Maintaining motivation and long-term vision
Never leaving the house can dim the spirits of the most motivated employee. Many people thrive on interaction with colleagues and can lose sight of their long-term goals when isolated at home. The fun of working together and getting things done as a team can be hard to replicate in a remote work setting.
Since you may be working at home because of COVID-19, there is additional stress that can impact staying motivated about your job. Without clear-cut goals or a well-defined schedule, employees can quickly lose their motivation to perform well.
- • Employees can document long-term goals in both their personal and work life. Review them regularly to remind yourself of their importance. Ensure your boss knows your career goals so they can help keep you on track to attain them.
- • Begin the day positively with some exercise or meditation. Have a healthy breakfast and engage in one enjoyable activity before embarking on your work day. Some people find it helpful to listen to motivational audiobooks as a way to get the day started.
- • Employers can improve motivation by introducing gamification to the workplace. Fostering an environment of friendly competition can help employees maintain motivation and lessen their feelings of isolation. People always enjoy having fun, and it can go a long way toward improving the outlook of remote workers.
5. Working across time zones
A remote workforce enables an employer to attract individuals from anywhere in the world. In some cases, this lets a company provide geo-located coverage across all time zones. This can make coordinating with geo-distributed colleagues a challenge.
As if multiple time zones did not pose enough of a problem, the flexible work schedules associated with remote employment further complicate things. Some employees may choose to work at odd hours when teammates are not available for communication or collaboration. Trying to get the team together for a meeting presents a scheduling nightmare that may have no successful outcome.
- • Employers should provide access to collaborative tools so team members can share files, messages, and schedules. Working from a shared schedule makes everyone’s availability visible to the team and facilitates setting up meetings. Deadlines should be posted so everyone understands the expectations for the team members.
- • Synchronous communication should only be used for emergencies or to facilitate team meetings. No one wants to be awakened to be asked a question that could have waited until later.
- • Asynchronous communication should be encouraged for all non-essential interactions between team members. Standards should be set to define realistic response times for this type of communication.
- • If possible, key team members should work a regular schedule. This enables other employees to know when to get in touch with them and plan business activities around their availability. These important employees should keep their schedules updated when varying from regular hours.
6. Maintaining high levels of productivity
When employers are asked what are the biggest challenges of working remotely, they often point to the difficulty of maximizing productivity. Employees who lack motivation, feel isolated, or have problems focusing can let these issues negatively affect their productivity. The lack of productivity will force the employee into working more which will make things even worse. Managers may not have the necessary visibility into their remote employees’ work lives to effectively address degraded productivity.
- • Businesses should implement tools like Slack or Jira that foster communication and collaboration. Staying in touch with team members can help increase motivation and, therefore, productivity.
- • Avoid multitasking and concentrate on one task at a time. Set daily goals and focus on achieving them.
- • Remove all distractions from your workplace. This may be difficult to do at first, but you can live without checking your feed every few minutes.
- • Increase your focus by working for shorter, more intense periods. Get something out of the way and then sit back and relax for a minute.
7. Issues with teamwork and collaboration
Collaboration and communication are two big pain points of remote work. Between employees in diverse time zones and flexible schedules, collaboration with WFH teams can be extremely difficult. Team collaboration and communication issues often plague remote workforces, making them less effective and hurting productivity.
Communication and collaboration difficulties can take a variety of forms. The inability to quickly get a question answered by an office mate may result in the question never being asked at all. This can lead to misinformation and missed opportunities for the business. Communication and coordination challenges impact everything from simply scheduling meetings to keeping complex projects moving ahead on time.
Employers need to address the difficulty with communication in a remote workplace by implementing the proper tools and methods. Decision-makers should work with their employees to identify the techniques that work best for the team.
- • Employers should standardize the tools and utilities used to implement remote communication. More than one tool will usually be necessary to perform the various functions of communication within a remote team. All employees need to have access to the tool and get the necessary training to use the platform effectively.
- • Managers and supervisors should plan weekly virtual meetings with team leaders and other important employees. These meetings should evaluate previously stated goals and set new objectives for the team and individual members. Team members should fully understand their role in meeting these objectives.
- • Stress clarity in online communication with colleagues. Check your messages to be sure your intent is clear. Sometimes it is better to use too many words and make sure you are fully understood. You may have to opt for a phone call rather than engage in a lengthy session of typing back and forth.
8. Career advancement and growth
Some remote workers discover challenges in advancing their careers and growing professionally. It can appear to be hard to climb the corporate ladder from the isolation of a home office. In some cases, remote workers can feel distanced from their employers and become concerned about their value to the organization. This can result in talented employees leaving for new and more appealing opportunities.
- • Employers are responsible for solving this problem. They need to develop programs that reward remote employees to the same degree as those working in a traditional office. Goals and objectives should be clearly communicated along with the potential benefits to the employee of successfully meeting them.
Additional Challenges of Working From Home
The major challenges described above are not the only causes of concern to organizations supporting a remote workforce. While some of the following items may seem minor, they can dramatically affect the success of at-home workers. Here are more issues employees highlighted when asked to answer the question of what is the most challenging aspect of working from home.
9. Unreliable Internet connectivity
Working from home demands reliable Wi-Fi or other means of providing an Internet connection. Failing to network successfully leaves an employee feeling truly isolated in their home office. While a bad Internet connection might be expected when working from the local coffee shop, it should not be one of the problems of working from home.
Overcoming this challenge requires an employer’s cooperation. They should ensure that all members of their remote teams have all the tools necessary to succeed from home. This includes a fast and reliable Internet connection and updated software. Companies should strongly consider reimbursing employees so they can upgrade their connectivity options.
10. Remotely resolving technical challenges
Technical challenges can be difficult to resolve for remote workers. The technical experts who can fix their problem are not available as they would be in a traditional office. Workers may have difficulty in setting up their systems that impact productivity. Even after getting everything configured correctly, a problem can arise that makes it impossible for a remote worker to do their job.
Companies can address this problem by having a technical team verify remote workers’ setups. This can be done in person or through a video call. Provide a list of hardware and software settings that team members should implement. There should be a security procedure in place to guide employees in the event of a data breach.
11. An increased cybersecurity risk
A remote workforce poses additional security risks compared to a typical office. The nature of remote work necessitates the transfer of information over the network. Unsecured Internet connections expose sensitive company data to unauthorized users. A data breach can have financial and public relations repercussions that put a company out of business.
Employers can take several steps to improve the security of remote workers. Updated antivirus software should be installed on all remote computers. Insist on a VPN being used anytime an employee connects to company IT resources.
All employees should have cybersecurity training to help them identify risks such as phishing emails. Strong password policies need to be adopted and enforced to protect valuable company data. Some organizations may want to provide employees with work computers rather than have them use personal devices to perform their jobs.
12. Inefficient time management
While managing your own schedule sounds appealing, it can be much more challenging than you think. It requires a high degree of prioritizing and project management by each remote employee to optimize how they use their time. Discipline is needed to avoid wasting time by getting distracted by non-work-related activities.
The flexibility of remote work can lead to a disorganized schedule. It’s best to decide which hours in the day you want to work and stick to a set routine. You’ll find you are mentally and physically more alert during those pre-determined work hours.
Making a written list of daily and weekly tasks can help with time management. You’ll obtain a feeling of accomplishment every time you can cross an item off your list.
13. Falling into bad habits
It’s easy to fall into bad habits when working from home. Before you know it you’re spending the day eating potato chips, failing to exercise, and in general, taking bad care of yourself.
Here’s how to overcome WFH challenges that lead to unhealthy habits. Set alerts on your phone or laptop to remind you to exercise. Make a conscious decision to eat more healthily and on a regular schedule. Get into good habits like walking, yoga, meditation, or working out to nourish your body and mind.
14. Dress for success
The temptation is great to lounge around all day in pajamas while working remotely. You should try your best to avoid this practice as it is can affect your mindset and how other perceive you. It demonstrates a lack of effort on your part to never get changed for work.
You don’t need to go as far as wearing a suit and tie in your home office. But you should consider your work-at-home time an extended form of casual Friday and dress accordingly. Develop a work uniform that suits your style and lets others know that you care about how you present yourself to the world.
15. Visibility in the organization
In a traditional workplace, the emphasis is put on visibly verifying that an employee is doing their job. A remote workforce demands new techniques to gauge an employee’s productivity. Monitoring employees at their desks to ensure they are working is impossible. Working remotely can make it seem like you are not doing your share of the work. Feeling that other people don’t really think you are working can be frustrating.
Evaluating employee performance in the virtualized environment of a remote workplace requires the combination of several complementary methods. One technique is to deploy time-tracking tools that provide information regarding each employee and what they are doing. If possible, employers should schedule short daily or weekly meetings to touch base and evaluate employee progress. Implement a streamlined reporting tool that’s easy to use for both managers and employees.
It might take a little more effort, but workers can be tracked effectively in a remote workforce. The emphasis should be the amount and quality of work done. Don’t simply focus on the number of hours an employee worked.
16. Creating a comfortable home office
Putting up with physical discomfort in a home office can impact productivity and result in employees taking more time off. Back injuries from bad posture or sitting in inferior chairs all day can linger and cause long-term health problems. Remote workers may have to get by with the furniture they already own which might not be appropriate for extended use.
Educating the workforce about the potential issues related to an uncomfortable work environment is a positive step to take. Issues such as screen placement and proper lighting can help make the workspace more comfortable. Employers should consider financial assistance to provide remote workers with the desk, chairs, and other items they need to thrive when working from home.
A Final Word
Like it or not, remote work has become a part of the modern business world. Many employees prefer working from home and are reluctant to return to a traditional office setting. Returning to the ways of the past is not a viable option for corporate decision-makers. The door to the remote office has been opened and will be virtually impossible to close going forward.
Like all major changes, it will take some time to fully adjust to the new reality of remote work. Employees need to embrace the change and enjoy the funny moments when working from home that would never happen in a traditional office. Successfully dealing with the challenges we have discussed will enable both employers and employees to flourish in this new work environment.