There are many benefits to remote work, including a better work-life balance, improved productivity and a reduction in workplace stress. But, for those who do work remotely, there are also unique challenges that must be addressed.
Understanding the challenges of remote work and how to navigate them can help employees reap the benefits of telecommuting—which in turn ensures your team members are meeting their goals successfully.
Let’s explore five of the most common challenges remote workers face, and how they can best handle them.
1. Feelings of Isolation
Probably the biggest challenge faced by employees working remotely is feeling isolated from their team. Remote work can be lonely. The beauty of going into an office is that there are people there to work alongside, chat with and bond with.
Another aspect an employee can lose when they work remotely is the easy availability of having someone to bounce ideas off. Remote work can also make it more difficult for managers to effectively build a bonded team. Meetings, lunches and coffee breaks are all part of team building.
To avoid feelings of isolation, remote workers along with management, need to find ways to stay connected with their teams, whether that’s going into the office at least once a week, or using video conferencing for all meetings—a little face-to-face time can help break up the monotony, and loneliness, of remote work.
2. Digital Miscommunication
Remote work requires an emphasis on clear communication. Most likely, remote workers are communicating with team members, superiors and clients via email, which can easily complicate ongoing conversation—with emails being misplaced or going unread.
Miscommunication is easy when you’re talking via text. It’s easy for people to misconstrue tone, urgency and even the seriousness of a request. Clear communication is a vital part of all business interactions, but never more so then when speaking digitally.
Company’s with remote workers need to outline distinct protocol for online communication, such as:
- Implementing team collaboration software such as Slack, which allows teams to have ongoing conversations via instant message. These types of software allow for private direct messaging between individuals, plus group/team channels and company-wide channels.
- Video conferencing—when having team meetings, one way to maintain clear communication is to get everyone on camera, including those in-office and those working remotely.
- Provide clear guidelines for online communication, how to escalate issues if need be, and the best way to reach contacts.
And, when all else fails, it’s important to remember, sometimes, you just have to do it old school and jump on the phone.
3. Technology Mishaps
Oh technology, how do you confound us? In many—many—ways. Technology is great, no one here is arguing against it. Without improved technology telecommuting wouldn’t be as much of a possibility for most employees. Technology has improved our lives in countless ways. That being said, it can also drive us completely mad when it stops working the way we need it to.
Internet outages, computer connectivity issues, frozen screens, slow operations are only a few of the common problems we face with common workplace technology. When you work in an office, these issues can be fairly easy to fix, after all, you most likely have an I.T. contact on hand to help. But for remote workers, these issues can be more difficult to handle.
Businesses need to consider two things when enabling employees to work remotely:
- Employees must be provided with reliable, up-to-date technology.
- Employees must have an easy way to connect with I.T. support when issues arise.
Access to I.T. professionals can help mitigate technology problems that arise quickly and efficiently, ensuring employees can get their work done effectively and on time.
4. Staying On-Task
There have been several studies that show remote workers are often more productive than their in-office counterparts. Most of the research suggests this is down to having fewer distractions—such as coworkers to talk to, grab extended lunches with and to take coffee breaks with. And while this is definitely true, these studies fail to consider the difficulties telecommuters face with at-home distractions such as TV, the radio, and even mundane household tasks such as laundry, prepping dinner, taking care of a pet, etc.
The comfort of home can be alluring. And it can easily knock dedicated team members off balance. To help employees stay motivated and focused, encourage remote workers to create a dedicated work space that includes a desk, monitor and limited distractions (i.e. TV!). Also, remind them it's okay to take to breaks, go for a walk, run out to grab a coffee—whatever they need to do to boost their energy and maintain focus.
According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work survey, the biggest challenge remote workers face is unplugging from work. With their work phone and computer at home with them, remote workers find themselves falling into the trap of constantly checking their email—it is, after all, easy for them to access.
Along with this, many employees who work remotely fear that because they are working remotely, they must prove they’re actually working. For many, this means staying connecting for longer hours, lest anyone should think they’re not focused, not being productive, and worst of all, simply presenting as working.
Remote workers need to have clearly defined hours that both management and their team members recognize. Like with any position, there will be times when overtime is required. But a recognized end-time for regular workdays must be acknowledged. Using online tools such as Slack, can help with this as they enable users to indicate when they are and are not available.
Remote Work is Here to Stay
Remote work is not a fad. It’s a part of the modern-day workplace, and businesses should expect to see more calls for remote work opportunities from employees. Because of this, it’s important business leaders understand the benefits and challenges telecommuting presents to employees. Clear and effective communication between management and employees can ensure these common challenges we’ve listed are handled successfully.