4 Pitfalls of Remote Work (and How to Overcome Them)
About 10 years ago, working from home (or anywhere away from the office) was virtually unheard of.
As the internet became more ubiquitous and the knowledge-based economy started becoming mainstream, however, it became possible to work from anywhere in the world, and professionals started embracing the concept of working remotely.
Still, a lot of people did not believe in this model of working. Since the adoption of remote work was chiefly driven by millennials, it was treated as another “annoying” millennial fad that would quickly fade away.
Today, however, working remotely has become the future of work, giving millennials another chance to prove critics wrong.
According to a Global State of Remote Work report by Owl Labs, which polled over 3000 workers from all over the world, 18% of employees work from home full time, 52% work remotely at least once per week, and 68% work remotely at least once per month.
The same survey also reports that 16% of global companies are fully remote (no offices or headquarters.
Everyone works from wherever they choose), while 40% of global companies use a hybrid model where employees have the choice of working either remotely or within the office.
According to another worldwide remote workers survey by PGI, 50% of employees who work remotely part-time reported that they wanted to increase the number of hours they work remotely.
In addition, 60% of employees who work remotely part-time said that they would leave their current positions for another job at the same pay rate if the new job allowed them to work remotely full time.
Yet another survey by Stack Overflow found that 53% of developers reported that the ability to work remotely was a top priority for them when considering a new job.
Below are some more statistics about remote work:
All the above statistics show that remote work is fast becoming the preferred mode of working, and we can expect the number of people who work remotely to continue growing.
But why is remote working becoming so popular?
There are a number of reasons, which include:
LESS TIME SPENT COMMUTING
Let’s face it.
Commuting to and from work wastes a lot of time.
In the UK, the average person spends about 60 – 80 minutes every day on the commute to and from work.
Since this is just the average, there are people who spend up to two hours in traffic to and from work every single day.
Not only does this waste time, it is also bad for the environment (increased carbon footprint) and may even lead to stress.
According to a report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health, over 50% of workers experience stress that can be directly attributed to long commute times.
Working from home saves workers from these long commutes, which translates into less time wasted (increased productivity), less environmental impact on the environment, and reduced levels of stress.
Working remotely, especially for those who work remotely full time, means that you have the freedom to schedule your day as you wish.
For instance, if you work as a content creator or a web developer, you have the freedom to do your work at whatever time suits you best, provided you don’t miss your deadlines.
If you prefer working at night, you can do it without having to worry about the office being closed.
Even for those who have to work remotely within the constraints of a normal work day, you still have the freedom to take breaks you wouldn’t be able to take at the office, and what’s more, you can use these breaks in ways you wouldn’t be able to at the office.
For instance, if you are feeling strung after an hour of intense concentration on a project, you can take a 15 minute break to either take a refreshing power nap, do some yoga, or anything else that helps you to rejuvenate yourself effectively.
At the office, the most you can do is to go through your social media or take a bathroom/smoking break.
This might come as a surprise, but working from home (or the nearby coffee shop) can also make you more productive.
According to a survey conducted by Vodafone, 83% of respondents claimed that the flexibility that comes with working remotely makes them more productive.
Another study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom over a period of two years also found that employees who worked remotely were more productive compared to their colleagues who worked from the office.
There are a number of reasons why working from home makes one more productive.
First, since remote workers don’t have to waste their time in traffic, they actually work more hours than those who have to commute to the office.
Second, remote workers can work without distractions from their colleagues.
Video conferencing meetings also tend to take less time compared to in-person meetings, which leaves remote workers with more time to work.
Finally, the flexibility of working from home makes employees happier and increases their enjoyment of work, which in turn leads to a boost in motivation and productivity.
IT SAVES YOU MONEY
Once you start working from home, you will notice a huge difference in how much money you spend every month.
The most obvious source of savings is the money you would have spent on bus fare or gas in order to get to the office.
However, there are several other opportunities for saving that come with working remotely.
Since you are working from home, you will make your own food, which will save you from having to spend on the expensive lunches at that fancy café next to your office block.
No buying coffees on your way to work in the morning.
You also won’t need to purchase two sets of clothes, one for the office and one for everyday life.
At home, you can even work in your pajamas if you so wish.
THE PITFALLS OF REMOTE WORK
While working remotely certainly has a lot of advantages, this is not to say that it is not without its challenges.
If you ask anyone who routinely works from home, they will tell you that it’s not all rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns.
After numerous conversations with people who work remotely (I being one of them), I have noticed that there are four pitfalls of remote work that stand out. Below are the four pitfalls, and how to overcome them.
1. Working Too Much
A lot of managers are reluctant about having their employees work remotely because they think that the lack of physical, in-person supervision means that the employees will slack off. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
If anything, the opposite is what happens – employees working remotely tend to work more than they normally do at the office.
Under the traditional model of working, leaving the office means that you have switched off work. People calling your office telephone won’t be able to reach you till the next morning.
Similarly, work emails will go unchecked until you get to the office the next morning.
When your work and your personal life take place within the same environment, however, it becomes harder to set boundaries between work and personal life.
If you work from home, colleagues, bosses, and clients can easily reach you through your cell phone or home telephone, regardless of the time of day.
Unlike at the office where you might want to leave early to catch the train or beat the evening traffic, you don’t have to worry about such things when working from home, which might lead to the temptation to work on that exciting project for longer than you would have done at the office.
If you work from the office, anything you remember while after leaving the office will have to wait till you get to the office the next morning.
When everything you need to work is right there with you, however, you are more likely to give in to the temptation to do one little thing just before bed, and before you know it, you are still working past midnight.
When working from home, the lines between work and personal time blur and work becomes never-ending, something that can even lead to exhaustion and burnout.
How to Avoid Working Too Much
If you feel like you are working too much when working from home, below are some tips that will help you avoid exhaustion and burnout from too much work.
- Set appointments at the end of the work day: At the office, there will be always be something to remind you that the work day is over – other colleagues leaving the office, need to catch the bus or beat traffic, and so on. At home, without such things to remind you that the work day is over, it is easy to find yourself working past your normal work hours. A good way to prevent this is to have something scheduled for the end of the work day that forces you to stop working. This could be a daily evening walk, a daily trip to the gym, a book-reading appointment, and so on. Basically, have something that you need to do after work.
- Set up reminders for breaks: When working at home, it is also quite easy to forget about taking breaks. This is because you don’t have to walk around to consult colleagues, get to meetings and so on. To deal with this, you need to set up reminders to take short breaks every couple of hours. A good way is to schedule your day using the Pomodoro technique.
- Let your colleagues know when your day is done, then shut down your computer: One of the things that keeps remote workers working beyond the normal working day is requests from colleagues. A colleague who is working late will figure that, since you are working from home, you can handle a quick request from them, even if it is past working hours. After all, you are still “in the office.” To avoid this, make it clear to your colleagues that your working hours are over. Follow this with shutting down your computer, or at least logging off Slack, or whatever tool your organization uses to communicate. If you claim that your working hours are over but then stick around on Slack for an extra hour, someone is bound to ask you to do something for them.
- Have a physical boundary for your workspace: The best way of separating your work from personal time when working at home is to have a dedicated home office. This way, once you are done working, you can walk out of the office like everyone else. If you don’t have a dedicated home office, the next best thing to do is to put your laptop away so that you don’t end up being tempted to continue working.
2. Lack of Community
If you are an introvert who’s happiest when you are enjoying your own company, you would probably give anything for the opportunity to work from home.
Most of us, however, are not introverts. We thrive in situations that allow us to have interactions with fellow humans.
Working within an office environment provides you with the perfect opportunity to interact with other people.
You can talk to your colleagues when asking about a project, have moments of interaction at the water cooler, and perhaps even have lunch or after work drinks with them. Your colleagues form a social circle around you that keeps you going.
Working from home, on the other hand, deprives you of this opportunity to interact with colleagues. There are no colleagues to talk to. There is no colleague to go for lunch or after work drinks with.
During your short trip to the water cooler, the only thing living thing you will encounter is your cat – if you have one that is.
If you live alone, you might even go for days without an in-person interaction with another human being.
This can lead to a life of loneliness, or a hermit like existence where you even become scared of going out in public and interacting with other people. In extreme situations, it can even lead to depression.
Granted, even as a remote worker, you can’t escape communicating with other people.
You will have to write emails to clients, interact with your colleagues through phone calls and communication applications like Slack, attend the occasional video meeting, and so on.
However, these interactions with other people through a computer screen do not create the sense of community and connection that comes with interacting with other people in person.
How to Avoid a Life of Loneliness as a Remote Worker
If you are the introverted type, working in solitude might not be a huge challenge for you.
If you thrive from social interactions, however, you need to take some action to avoid falling into a reclusive life.
Below are some tips on how to avoid a life of loneliness as a remote worker:
- Make social breaks a part of your schedule: Include activities that require you to spend some time outside your home into your daily or weekly schedule. For instance, you could schedule lunch or drinks with friends about two or three days a week. Even something as simple as going to the gym every evening can provide that connection to other people.
- Don’t work from home every day: The beauty of remote work is that it can be done from anywhere. Instead of working all alone at home, why not carry your laptop to the library, a nearby coffee shop, or even a co-working space near you? Working from such spaces allows you to socialize with other people while still giving you the freedom that comes with working remotely.
- Find opportunities for socializing: Join a local group or organization with regular activities, take some dance classes, join a book club, or basically anything else that gives you a chance to interact with other people.
As a remote worker, majority of your communication with clients, colleagues, and bosses is done online – email, communication tools, project management tools, text message and other instant messaging apps, and so on.
With so many platforms through which communication can be made, it is very easy to miss some messages.
In addition, communication through written text is not the most effective mode of communication.
When talking to someone in person, the message is conveyed not only through what is said, but through non-verbal aspects of communication, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, and so on.
When communicating through email or Slack, these non-verbal cues are not there, which makes messages prone to misinterpretations, leading to miscommunication and misunderstandings.
If you work remotely while some of your colleagues work in the office, it is inevitable that there will be things that will be said informally that won’t make it to you.
In such cases, it is very easy to assume that your colleagues are sidelining you and making decisions without your input.
All these issues can break down the communication process and even lead to bad blood between you and your colleagues.
How to Avoid Breakdown of Communication
Preventing the breakdown of communication boils down to two things. First, you and your organization should decide on one chief mode of communication.
For instance, if you decide that Slack is the main mode of communication, all communication should be made through Slack.
This way, people will be less likely to miss messages sent on another platform. Second, you should get in the habit of seeking and providing clarification for anything that could be potentially misinterpreted.
In addition, if there are some colleagues that work in the office while you work remotely, you should have someone in the office to update you on anything important that might have been said informally.
4. Loss of Productivity Due to Distractions
I mentioned earlier that working remotely helps increase productivity by reducing distractions from colleagues.
Sometimes, however, working from home might also have its own share of distractions that you wouldn’t encounter at the office.
A neighbor might be playing excessively loud music, there might a very interesting program on the TV, a friend might drop by unannounced, or if you don’t live alone, family members might make it hard for you to concentrate on your work.
This is especially true when you have small kids in the house. Small kids might not understand that you have to work and are not available for play.
They will keep interrupting you and make it almost impossible for you to get anything done.
How to Deal With Distractions at Home
While it is impossible to avoid all distractions, there are some strategies that you can still use to minimize distractions while working from home. These include:
- Set up a home office: This is the best way to minimize distractions. If you work from the couch or the kitchen, it can be quite a challenge keeping your family members from disturbing you while you work. If you have a home office, however, they will understand that you are in work mode and are not to be disturbed. You can even lock the door to ensure kids do not come barging in and distracting you.
- Have a signal to let others know you are in work mode: If you do not have a dedicated home office space and have to work from a shared space, have a signal that let’s your family members know that you are busy and are not to be disturbed. This could be something like putting on your headphones, placing a “do not disturb” sign on the kitchen/bedroom door, and so on.
- Get childcare: If you have very young kids, it is essential for you to get someone to care for the child, because it will be impossible for you to work when the child needs your attention.
- Explain to your family members that you need to concentrate: If your kids are older or if you have your spouse in the house with you, let them know that it is absolutely important for you to concentrate and that they should not disturb you. Have them find something to occupy themselves with while you are working.
- Find somewhere else to work: If it becomes utterly impossible for you to avoid distractions while working from home, find a place with less distractions to work from, such as the library or a co-working space.
While the trend of working remotely is increasingly becoming very popular, it is not without its challenges.
The four major challenges experienced by those working remotely are working too much, lack of community and social interaction, breakdown of communication and loss of productivity because of distractions.
Despite these pitfalls, working remotely can be very rewarding, and the good thing is, we have already shown you how to overcome them.
All you need to do now is to follow the tips shared above to enjoy the awesome benefits of working remotely.
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