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Your Mic Isn’t On: Overcoming 10 Common Remote Working Challenges

Remote working may sound like a breeze. After all, there’s no commute, you have more flexibility and it’s easier to achieve work-life balance. But the world of remote working is not without its challenges. 

These challenges often go undiscussed. Within the last year, many of us have shifted from office life to remote working at some point. In fact, in the UK 60% of the adult population is currently working from home. As such, it’s likely that you’ve experienced at least one of the challenges in this list.

Well stick around! Throughout this article, we’ll run down the top ten remote working challenges. We’ll also provide some practical solutions to help you improve your remote working setup. Let’s get started!

1. Unplugging At the End of the Day

If you’re working in the office, you leave and come home to your own space. But what do you do when they’re both the same space? Making the distinction clear in your mind can be quite difficult. 

If you have the option, then you should strive to create a separate remote workspace. Co-working spaces are on the rise. By 2024, the number of spaces is expected to exceed 40,000 worldwide. Coffee shops can provide a welcome work area. If the situation is right, you could even take your work outside with you and complete some reading in your garden or at the local park. 

A man standing with a plug in his hand connected to his glasses to represent being unplugged

Creating a distinct remote working environment helps to improve your work-life balance and is better for your wellbeing. What’s more, co-working spaces can be great for networking and reducing the feeling of isolation. 

If you can’t do that, then be sure to implement physical boundaries. Set yourself up a designated workspace and only utilise it whilst you’re working. It can be a room, or a section of a room, but ensure you keep it as your ‘9-5’ space only. 

Furthermore, set clear time-based boundaries. Ensure your colleagues are aware of what your reachable hours are. The pressure to reply to emails out of hours is ever-present. However, temporal boundaries are necessary to avoid burnout due to overworking. In a survey with over 1,500 respondents, a huge 75% of people said they had experienced workplace burnout at their current job. 

And if you are setting these boundaries, then you should ensure your teams do the same thing. Wherever possible, you should be respectful of your team’s time and commitments outside of work. 

Don’t push your colleagues to respond to emails or complete tasks outside of work hours. Whilst this may have short term benefits, it will be counterproductive in the long run. Statistics show that 60% of work absenteeism is attributed to stress-related burnout. This translates into a loss of anywhere from $150 to $350 billion annually for U.S. businesses.

2. Forgetting to Take Care of Yourself

Within the last year, mental health difficulties have risen exponentially. In fact, in a study conducted by events company Wildgoose, nearly half of survey respondents (46%), said that working from home had negatively impacted their mental health. 

Combining everyday life with your work and limited contact with the outside world can really take its toll on you. This can be further compounded by a lack of boundaries and the potential for overworking. As such, it’s clear there’s a major risk involved with remote working.

A recent survey revealed that 56% of respondents found it harder to switch off after work as a result of the move to remote working. But only a third (34% to be precise) of respondents had been offered support with their mental health by their employers. 

Given that it’s not always possible to rely on support from external sources, it’s important that you are willing to seek it out when necessary.

Luckily, there are things you can do at home to improve your mental and physical health. You might be tired of hearing it, but exercise is unquestionably beneficial for your overall wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just 20-30 minutes moving your body can improve your mood, protect your heart and help you sleep better!

3. Distractions At Home

Working from home means distractions from colleagues are no longer an issue. In an experiment that focused on a Chinese call center, it was found that groups working remotely were 13% more productive than those working from an office. This is due to fewer distractions, fewer breaks and less sick days.

However, distractions can occur in other forms. These include unexpected visits from friends, noisy neighbours, children, pets, deliveries and much more. When you’re not in an office environment, it’s easier to become distracted by everyday tasks. Do you answer that email, or do you put the laundry on?

To overcome the challenge of being easily lured away from work, we recommend that you and your teams compile a clear ‘To Do List’ and daily schedules. There’s a plethora of apps, programmes (Microsoft To Do is great) or good old-fashioned diaries to choose from. 

These are designed to help you plan your day by the hour and give you space to write all the tasks you want to complete. Something as simple as a daily schedule can improve productivity, boost confidence and make big tasks seem less daunting.

4. Work-Life Balance 

A pair of scales with work on one side and things to do with life on the other representing how hard it can be to balance both while remote working

You would think that moving to remote working would encourage a better work-life balance. And it often does! However, it may make maintaining the boundaries between work and your personal life harder. When trying to do both from the same space, it’s only natural that the lines will start to blur. 

According to data from Nord Layer, the average work day has increased by two hours in the UK, Austria, Canada and the US. It’s also more difficult to step away from work. We’re always primed and ready to respond to an email, or any enquiries that need to be handled. Take this case detailed in a Forbes report, where employees were sending emails and completing work as late as 10pm.

It’s incredibly important that you take the time to embrace your hobbies, build and maintain new relationships and relax and unwind. Unfortunately, that often doesn’t happen. The Mental Health Foundation has found that a staggering 40% of people are neglecting life outside of work.

Plan activities for after work or on your lunch break. For example, a walk, a call with a friend or baking a new recipe. Remember that remote working allows for greater autonomy over your days, and a better work-life balance leads to more happiness and less stress.

You should also push this line of thought down through your teams. Encourage them to take time away from work to focus on themselves, their hobbies and relationships. Where necessary, make it clear that they do not need to respond to emails or complete tasks outside of work hours. 

Every little bit you can do helps to contribute to a better work-life balance for your remote workers.

5. Hard to Collaborate 

Five minute goes by… 30 minutes… 2 hours… and still no reply to your message. In an office, if you need to work on something with someone else, you can easily pop to your colleague’s desk and sort it out. But with remote working, you don’t know what that person’s up to. They could be in a meeting, on their lunch break or just extremely busy. 

A recent Buffer report showed that 17% of workers find collaborating with their team to be the biggest issue with remote working! Now more than ever, teams must find effective ways to work together to ensure that company standards don’t slip.

With productivity tools like Asana or Trello, your teams can add all their tasks and deadlines to a shared calendar. This sets clear responsibilities throughout your team. That way you know what your colleagues are up to and when they’ll be able to collaborate with you. These tools will help to keep you organised, so there’s no last minute hiccups or obstacles that need to be overcome.

Similarly, with the right learning technology, you can add all the objectives you have for that week to your profile. That way your manager knows what you’ll be working on and can delegate tasks depending on availability.

6. Feeling Disconnected

Working remotely means you’re at home and in most cases, your colleagues don’t live with you. Oftentimes, the only way that you can see each other is through a webcam. Hallway chats, watercooler moments and after work drinks are no more. 

Indeed, Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 67% of people said that the variety of their daily interactions have reduced. In other words, for many remote workers life has suddenly got a lot less interesting.

If you’re feeling disconnected or isolated from your colleagues then you’re not alone. In a 2020 survey, 20% of people reported feelings of loneliness while remote working. Short term loneliness doesn’t have a huge impact, but in the long term it can lead to a multitude of health problems

That’s why it’s important to tackle the feeling as soon as you can. You should ensure you stay in touch with friends and family. Luckily we live in a digital age and the majority of us are reachable by phone or desktop. Use technology to your advantage!

To support your colleagues from home, businesses can introduce new digital social spaces. Here at Growth Engineering, we have a ‘Zoom Bar’ every Friday to replicate the in-person events that we miss! It’s a great way to catch up with colleagues outside of the standard work environment and maintain relationships.

You can also introduce extra support by sharing mental health and wellbeing training content. We recommend using learning technology like The Academy LMS, so you can easily set up content, share it with the right people, incentivise completion and track progress. 

Simultaneously, line managers should make an effort to support their teams to ensure that employees have a point of call. Employees should feel comfortable enough to be able to reach out should things ever get to be too much. 

7. Having a Proper Routine

We’ve already mentioned the benefits of having a proper schedule. But it’s also possible to take things a step further. You should strive to set yourself a proper routine. After all, a lack of routine whilst remote working can lead to poor sleep, poor eating habits and a lack of productivity.

A woman stressed about her routine while remote working

Setting a clear routine can result in a bounty of benefits! Whilst the pandemic increased levels of uncertainty in our lives, setting a routine provides us with a comforting degree of predictability. This helps to decrease anxiety and stress levels. It also ensures you make time for what you care about everyday and leads to overall better health. 

Routines can also help you to turn positive behaviours into healthy habits and keep you progressing towards your goals. It takes an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to stick. So if you can stick to your routine for long enough it will gradually just become natural.

Take some time to evaluate your routine. Does it provide your life with a necessary structure? Is it helping you move towards your goals? If not, then consider drawing up an action plan to help make any necessary changes.

You should also consider how your teams’ routines affect their wellbeing and productivity. If a team-member is struggling then you could encourage them to evaluate their routine and make some beneficial changes.

8. Lack of Motivation 

Moving to remote working can be a big shift in mindset. Having to juggle your home life with your work life and the anxiety surrounding the future can lead to a dip in motivation. It’s a normal challenge that employees around the world are struggling with.

Motivation starts by having clearly defined goals that all parties are bought into. Start by shaping objectives that matter. Ensure you understand what’s required, when it needs to be delivered and what the outcome will be. If all these elements are in place, then motivation will often follow. 

Here at Growth Engineering, we’re big believers in the theory of self determination. This theory has helped to identify the three key ingredients necessary for intrinsic human motivation. 

If you can provide your remote workers with a way to build their competence, an autonomous work environment and a way for them to relate to each other, then you will find yourself on the pathway to success!

There are also a number of practical things you can do to fuel motivation. Firstly, start the day off with a few small tasks. The boost from getting a few things ticked off your list will give you a drive to keep it up for the rest of the day! It also increases dopamine levels and positivity about your work, leading to higher productivity.

And don’t forget to celebrate the small wins! Just wrapped up a project? Don’t forget to share the details with your team. And be sure to offer your praise as other team members make progress towards their goals and objectives.

9. Issues with Communication

Having to communicate without the benefit of face-to-face interactions can be frustrating for remote workers. Whether it’s through email, Slack, Teams or Zoom, a lot of companies have experienced a breakdown in communication whilst working outside of the office. 

In the Buffer report previously cited, 20% of survey respondents noted that difficulties with communication was their biggest challenge. Oftentimes, remote working setups result in a glut or dearth or meetings and brainstorming sessions. It’s difficult to get the balance right.

To tackle this, video calls are advised. They’re the closest thing to being able to meet with people in person. What’s more, it’s easier to get your ideas across through video calls than through messages alone. It’s also a good idea to check in with your employees or team just to see how they’re getting on.

Remember everybody has their own communication preferences. Where possible you should attempt to cater to these inclinations. This will improve team spirit and help people to feel like you are meeting them on their terms. 

You should also be considerate of any technical issues that team members have whilst working from home. It’s always awkward when somebody’s connection drops out whilst they are on a call, but it can’t be helped!

Set aside time to check in with your team members to see how they are getting on. Offer support where necessary. Encourage open lines of communication, but don’t over communicate or cross the line over into micromanagement.

10. Technical Difficulties

A milk carton with missing 404 error on it

When you’re working at home, you’re responsible for all technology and it’s operation. Power outage and you have a deadline? You’re on the clock to get it fixed and deliver the results. Issues with technology increase levels of stress, especially if you’re working on a team project and can’t submit your contribution.

Luckily there’s so much information available online to help you troubleshoot issues you might encounter. If there’s an IT, engineering or technical team at your place of work, you should take the time to familiarise yourself with them and their processes. 

That way you can quickly work with them to resolve any issues and receive support. It’s also a great idea to check your WiFi capabilities. Nobody wants to be the one glitching in the Zoom call.

On that note, you should also familiarise yourself with all the functionality of your tech! For example, knowing how to share your screen and work your microphone on video calls will save you a few awkward moments.

You should also ask yourself the following question: do you also have all the equipment you need? If you’re lacking the items you need to be fully productive then you should reach out to the right people within your organisation to try and rectify the situation. 

Likewise, you should make it clear to your team-members what options are available to them should they need additional equipment or technical support.

Final Words

We can all agree that the shift to remote working is often hectic and difficult. It comes with a series of benefits and its own challenges. But it’s important to remember that that’s normal. 

The ten challenges listed here are very common. Luckily, they are not unassailable. If you are willing to put in the time and the effort, you can create an amazing remote working environment. 

There’s a sea of information out there that can help you to overcome these challenges. There are also a variety of technology solutions that will help you to make this important change a success for your organisation. After all, L&D can help you to fight against stress and other challenges.

Learning technology like The Academy LMS or The Knowledge Arcade can help your team to build their knowledge remotely, track their progress, communicate with one another and create a remote learning culture. 

You can also use these environments to share wellbeing training content and ensure your teams are properly supported. Want to learn more? Head here for further information!

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