We all know remote work is a part of our business culture. Depending on your industry, you, yourself may work remotely. If not, chances are you know someone who works remotely. Many organizations have gone to fully remote or hybrid models. At Surf Office, we are a fully remote team - so we acutely understand all of the benefits as well as the challenges that come with working in a remote or distributed team. In this post, we are going to shine some light on the very real struggles that come with working remotely - and what you can do about them.
The new reality of working remotely
Attitudes toward remote work are shifting. What have we learned so far about switching to remote work?
If there is one thing we know for sure, it’s that people are embracing remote work and want even more of it. McKinsey conducted their third American Opportunity Survey, which produces research on how flexible work arrangements apply to today’s workers, and shared this data:
- 58% of people reported that they can work from home one day per week or more.
- 35% of workers say they have the ability to work from home five days per week.
- Notably, respondents work in all kinds of jobs, in every part of the country and sector of the economy, including traditionally labeled “blue collar” jobs that might be expected to demand on-site labor as well as “white collar” professions.
- When given the chance to work remotely at least part of the time, at least 87% of people take it.
- At every income level, younger workers were more likely than older workers to report having work-from-home opportunities.
- Job seekers highly value having autonomy over where and when they work - in some industries (such as areas of rapid technological innovation), new employees demand this arrangement.
Based on this and the other plethora of data available, one thing is clear: remote working is the reality for many people. It’s something we all need to adapt to and shape our working world around. However, that doesn’t mean the arrangement is perfect. There are certain struggles that are unique to remote work. Let’s dive into some of those specific challenges.
The challenges of working remotely
While remote work offers numerous benefits such as flexibility and increased autonomy, it also presents a unique set of hurdles to overcome. Here, we will explore ten different challenges that individuals often face when working remotely, including increased anxiety, feelings of isolation, and more.
One of the most significant challenges faced by remote workers is the feeling of isolation. Unlike traditional office settings, remote workers lack the daily interactions and social connections that come with working alongside colleagues. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and affect an individual's mental well-being.
It’s important to make a real effort to connect with other workers. You can try regular video calls, virtual team meetings, online “happy hours” or other gatherings. Furthermore, it’s important that organizations be proactive about getting everyone together. Things like regular team building activities at least twice a year can help colleagues stay connected and in tune. Remember that virtual events can supplement relationships but not replace them - getting together in person once in a while is key for bonding and building relationships.
People should also seek opportunities to connect with other like-minded individuals. Look for online forums or communities based on industry or professional interests, or sign up for occasional training or other development opportunities.
2. Lack of work-life balance
While remote work allows for increased flexibility, it can also blur the boundaries between work and personal life. Without the physical separation of an office, it becomes challenging to establish clear boundaries, leading to longer work hours and difficulty disconnecting from work-related tasks. People who haven’t worked remotely may have the impression that remote workers do less, but that is far from the truth. In reality, studies show that 55% of employees put in more hours when working remotely than in the office.
Encourage co-workers to establish a designated workspace and set boundaries around work activity. Create a routine that includes real breaks and carve out time for personal activity that is important to you. It’s up to each individual to develop their own work-life balance - stick to the boundaries that you create, or no one else will.
3. Communication hurdles
Effective communication is vital for any work environment. However, remote work often introduces communication hurdles such as varying time zones, technological issues, and misinterpretation of written messages. These challenges can hinder collaboration and lead to misunderstandings among team members.
To combat these issues, start by ensuring you’re using the right tools. There are a variety of communication tools designed to make collaborating across platforms easier. Platforms like video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management tools can support effective and timely communication. Clarify expectations, encourage transparency, and utilize visual aids to minimize misunderstandings. Again, forging real bonds with colleagues will help to establish relationships and limit the communication mishaps that can happen.
4. Increased anxiety
Working remotely can often exacerbate anxiety levels. Factors such as increased pressure to prove productivity, isolation from colleagues, and the lack of immediate feedback can contribute to heightened anxiety and stress levels for remote workers. According to an analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute, fully remote or hybrid work arrangements are associated with a higher degree of anxiety.
One way to improve your odds for anxiety is to practice self-care techniques like exercise, mindfulness, and setting realistic goals. Companies should look for ways to support these efforts on behalf of employees. Look at a variety of wellness programs or perks, and plan regular outings that are just for fun. Company sponsored games, events, or team-building meetings can all increase mental and physical well-being.
5. Self-discipline and motivation
Without the structure of a traditional office environment, remote workers must rely on their self-discipline and motivation to stay productive. However, maintaining focus and motivation can be difficult when surrounded by distractions at home or other remote locations.
To have more intrinsic motivation, it’s key to establish a daily routine, set specific goals, and use productivity tools to stay focused. As mentioned, create a designated workspace that is free from distractions and separate from your personal working space. Consider setting rewards for achieving milestones, and as a manager, you should look for small ways to reward great performance. You might be surprised at how many innovative ways there are to reward employees!
6. Limited career advancement opportunities
Remote workers may face limited career advancement opportunities compared to their office-bound counterparts. The truth is that remote work often lacks the same level of visibility and networking opportunities, potentially hindering professional growth and advancement. This is especially true in work environments that are not fully remote, where only some people work from home and others go into an office. Naturally, the people who are in the proximity of company leaders tend to get more exposure.
This is another area where individuals can take action, but the onus is on the employer to make sure that everyone is visible and has equal access to opportunities. It’s more important than ever to get everyone together and collaborate at least a few times a year. Managers should make the time to establish relationships with all of their reports, and share equitable responsibilities so that people have similar chances of impressing higher-ups. Maintain teams with a mixture of employees, with some in-office and some at-home, each using their individual strengths. Give everyone a chance to shine!
The individual action we mentioned is equally important. Seek out virtual networking opportunities, join professional groups, and participate in industry communities or panels. Attend webinars or other conferences related to your role, and ask about professional development that can help you to be better at your job. Make it a point to reach out to your boss regularly and update them on your work, and if they’re open to it, send a status report at the end of each week clarifying what your biggest accomplishments were and where you stand with other important projects.
7. Technological challenges
Reliance on technology is a cornerstone of remote work, but it also presents its own challenges. Issues such as unstable internet connections, software glitches, or hardware malfunctions can disrupt workflow and cause frustration for remote workers.
Reliable technology is key. Some of the tech you use is likely provided by your company, but it’s on you to make sure you have a reliable internet connection and the other hardware to work properly. Make sure you have a backup plan for any failures. For example, if your power goes out and your internet goes down, is there a place nearby where you can work? If not, who can help with immediate needs? It’s always a good idea to have a hotspot and access to other hardware like printers. Stay updated on the latest technology and participate in training where you can learn to troubleshoot technical issues before they become bigger problems.
8. Time management
While remote work offers flexibility, it also requires exceptional time management skills. Without the structure of a traditional office environment, remote workers must establish effective routines and prioritize tasks to ensure deadlines are met and productivity is maintained.
Consider using proven time management techniques like the Eisenhower Matrix, or stepping up your to-do list with an app. You should be able to create accurate to do lists, prioritize tasks, and set and communicate realistic deadlines. Don’t be afraid to try different techniques and tools to help you maintain focus. Eventually you’ll find what works for you, but remember: consistency is key.
9. Collaborative difficulties
Collaborative projects can become more challenging when team members are dispersed geographically. Remote workers may face difficulties in coordinating efforts, sharing information, and maintaining a strong sense of teamwork, ultimately affecting the quality of collaborative projects.
Collaboration tools like various project management software can really help with this. Look for various PM platforms, use shared documents, and video conference regularly to facilitate teamwork and improve information sharing. Establish clear communication channels and make sure everyone understands the need for collaboration. It will be easier if everyone is on board with a shared goal. This is another reason why in-person events are key: when you have a natural relationship with someone, it becomes easier to take the time to collaborate, even if it involves an extra step or two. It will be much easier to overcome teamwork challenges when you already have a bond with people.
10. Lack of professional development opportunities
Remote workers may find it more challenging to access professional development opportunities compared to their office-based counterparts. Remote employees may miss out on in-person training sessions, workshops, or networking events that could enhance their skills and knowledge.
That being said, there is no shortage of professional development opportunities if you look for them. Various online training programs, workshops, webinars, and conferences related to your field are good options. Consider requesting more opportunities for professional development directly from your employer. Ask your manager what things you should focus on and how you can find more engagement in those areas. Some companies cover the cost and time of training or courses: ask around about various certifications or other classes that could improve the skills related to your job.
In-person retreats: Your job as a leader
Most of these challenges require a mix of effort on behalf of the individual and the company as a whole. There are lots of ways that you can be more proactive and intentional when avoiding the pitfalls of working remotely. However, if you are a business leader, you also have an important role to play.
It’s essential to facilitate team-building and cooperation in whatever ways you can when managing a virtual team. Virtual team-building activities have become more popular and they are a great start. Who doesn’t love an online happy hour? But virtual icebreakers and webinar training can only take you so far.
In-person events like team retreats are key for maintaining work culture with a remote team - and it’s your job to facilitate these occurrences whenever possible. You don’t have to do it alone: Surf Office can help. We can plan proven, cost-effective company retreats that save your team time and let you focus on the fun.