In 2020, office work came to our homes and it's going to stay indefinitely. As millions of workers around the world start working from home for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, few know what to expect. For some, remote work is wonderful. But it's not without its challenges. For many people, this means working remotely for the first time — and getting used to the challenges of working from home is going to be a bit of an adjustment.
With the effects of this crisis looming over the near future of work, big challenges that remain are: learning to trust those working remotely, dealing with a rapidly-shifting corporate culture, keeping up the morale of remote workers, and how to adapt critical processes to the technological limits we're currently working with. As remote working becomes the new normal, beware of these risks and challenges. The better you recognize them, the easier it is to mitigate them and succeed as a remote worker or manager.
Here are 10 of the biggest challenges of working from home during these uncertain times — and a few simple ideas on how to combat them.
Challenge 1: Managing schedule and time
Without structure, many at-home workers find themselves in big trouble. They sleep in, they procrastinate, and they tell themselves they'll knock it out later on. When you have set hours, you know when you're supposed to work and when you're free to pursue other interests or spend time with your family.
Set your workdays and hours and stick to them. In most cases, that either means maintaining regular business hours or basing your work hours on the schedule maintained by your spouse or kids. You can also:
· Use time tracking software such as TimeCamp;
· Create to-do lists;
· Use time mapping technique
Challenge 2: Distractions
Adjusting to a new workspace can be challenging — especially when that workspace involves kids, pets, TV, couches, snacks, or any combination of the above. Without the structured office environment to help you to feel like you're in “work mode”, it can be challenging to get in the zone. So it's pretty unsurprising that it's hard to be productive and focus on work right now.
· Set up a dedicated workspace. Learn more about how to create a productive workspace at home.
· If you're finding it hard to focus because of background noise constantly pulling your attention, don't underestimate the soothing potential of a set of headphones and some white noise.
· If possible, detach from your phone. Set a timer for how long you're going to spend catching up on any notifications.
Challenge 3: Communication
Communication can be complicated at the best of times, but when you're not in the same physical space, you have to consciously communicate things you probably never even considered before. Smooth team communication can be one of the biggest challenges.
Remove the ambiguity that so often surrounds workplace communication by having written guidelines that outline what kind of messages should be sent through which mediums, and how team members are expected to interact with each other.
Check out our blog for tips on remote communication and collaboration.
Challenge 4: Choosing the right tools
Technology is what makes virtual teams possible. But not everybody can adapt to a new process and software with the same ease. Not every tool is going to be a good fit for your team. All of these can lead to less productivity and mistakes.
Consider trial periods or task someone with researching all the options to determine which suits your needs best. Provide training for your staff on the tools you select to ensure everyone is using them consistently and to the fullest benefit. Here are a few options:
· Chat: Slack, Google Hangouts
· Web and video conferencing: Google Meet, Zoom, Cisco Webex
· Collaboration: Invision, Marvel, Adobe XD
· Scheduling: Calendly, Doodle
· Workflow automation: Zapier, Microsoft Flow, Monday
Challenge 5: Lack of productivity
Many businesses view home-based work as a threat to controlling their employees. It is no news to see some individuals not using time assertively when they are not under constant control. How can time management issues be resolved in remote working teams?
Project management tools like Trello, Jira, Asana allow tracking what the employees are doing at the moment, what tasks they have as well as deadlines. Team members, in turn, can see what everyone else is currently working on, what they got up to yesterday, any “blockers” that are getting in the way of completing tasks. This means no disruptions when people are working on something important.
Read our blog for tips on how to be productive while working from home.
Challenge 6: Lack of leadership
Inadequate leadership is one of the main problems virtual teams face, since many people may be great face-to-face leaders but do not have the required skills needed to exert remote leadership.
Frequent and consistent feedback: Good remote working team leaders give consistent and personal input at least once a week.
Face-to-face or verbal communication: Good project leaders conduct video-calls or at least phone calls with teammates whenever important subjects need discussion.
Outstanding communication skills: They listen, cast confidence, respect, and are personally concerned about their fellow teammates.
Check out our guide for managers handling remote teams.
Challenge 7: Overworking
Although remote work offers more flexibility, some people tend to spend much more time on work than is required. Rest deprivation, exhaustion, lack of private time are just a few of the adverse effects.
· Set appointments on your calendar for the end of the day
· Set up reminders to take breaks.
· Be clear with your team on when you're leaving
· Create physical boundaries between you and your workspace.
· Turn off notifications on your phone and computer so you're not pulled back into work after hours.
Challenge 8: Staying motivated
Staying motivated is vital for remote workers. Without the presence of supervisors and team members, there's less pressure to get things done, and one can also miss out on that group satisfaction of hitting targets as a team. It's important to feel like your work is meaningful. But truthfully, it's hard to focus on work right now.
· Set yourself tasks and milestones so you can remind yourself of what you've achieved each day, as well as what you're working towards in the long-term.
· See how your work contributes to the bigger picture
· Team leaders should ask team members if anything bothers them, offer help in solving the particular issue.
Challenge 9: Unclear performance metrics
When workers telecommute, managers can't see if they're physically at their desks. Managers and workers alike need to get crystal clear on precisely what constitutes success for every single team member. Mediocre managers often fail to track clear metrics for their team's performance. Without clear expectations and KPIs, neither you nor your employer can know how you perform.
· If you manage a team, think long and hard about how to measure each of your direct reports' performances.
· If you work for a company, ask your manager directly: “What metrics will you use to measure my performance, and what are your expectations?”
Challenge 10: Feeling isolated and depressed
Humans are social animals. They need interaction with other people. Sitting at home by yourself all day takes a toll. It can affect our headspace, more than we know. But while we are maintaining social distancing, there are still ways to stay connected.
Check-in with your teammates and see how they're doing
Video calls with friends and family or meeting privately with a friend or two.
Consider walks, exercise or other solo outdoor activities
Read our blog on Mental well-being during the COVID-19 crisis.
The challenges listed above will take time to resolve, and misunderstandings are to be expected. For this reason, we should be forgiving of one another during this experimentation period and focus on establishing effective work norms for our new normal. The point is to make sure to take the time while you're working remotely to socially connect with others. This is more important now than ever, with so many people alone, working from home.
Working from home is a new reality, and will be for the foreseeable future.