From the outside, working from home may seem ideal. But remote working comes with challenges that require a high level of adaptability. Understanding the true nature of the challenges your employees face when working from home can help you take steps to reduce their impact and remain an amazing workplace.
Below are five challenges of remote working and tips for how to overcome them:
In a recent survey, 27 percent of remote workers cited communication as their biggest challenge. When people can’t meet face-to-face and are rarely in the same room, it’s more difficult for them to connect. Geographical separation also means that employees who are working remotely can find it harder to develop meaningful work relationships and can quickly feel out of the loop with what’s going on in their organization.
While online channels encourage regular communication, it can be difficult to pick up on people’s reactions, and their overall emotional state, and correctly read their body language via a video link. The lack of connection in remote working can lead to misunderstandings, mistakes, low employee engagement, and poor performance.
What can you do to improve communication?
To break down communication barriers for remote workers you need to invest in communication tools that allow employees to communicate across a variety of channels. Effective video-calling and conferencing, instant messaging, dedicated group chats, message boards, forums, all these tools give remote workers a choice of communication avenues. It is important that not all of them are formal and pre-arranged. Communication should evolve to be as organic as it would be if everyone were just a desk away.
Encourage your team members to keep their messages short and to the point. To avoid confusion, address one topic at a time and utilize video and audio recording tools where they would be beneficial. Your communication strategy should aim to drive innovation and productivity while reducing information overload.
Remote work is becoming increasingly popular because it allows people to spend more time on their hobbies or with family and friends. But working from home also leads to distractions you would not be subject to in the office. It is easy to forget a Zoom meeting because you got caught up in other activities. The lack of a concrete boundary between work and home can lead to interruptions by the kids, or pets, or that nagging feeling that you should be doing the washing up.
Another issue is the noise produced by others. About 70 percent of remote workers have experienced noise-based distractions while working from home.
How can you reduce distractions?
While it is not possible to exclude interruptions and disturbances from your employees’ homes, you can educate them on how to set up their personal office space to reduce distractions and promote a quiet working environment that will allow them to focus.
Make sure to speak regularly with your remote team members and ask them for feedback on their experience working from home. Encourage open, honest communication so they will feel comfortable letting you know if they are struggling in their current circumstances.
Health and well-being
During the pandemic, people were forced to work from their closets, beds, couches, basements, and other makeshift workspaces. Nearly 30 percent of remote employees held video calls in their bedrooms. These types of workspaces can cause mental strain and anxiety. Impromptu workspaces can also lead to the development of physical issues over time which can cause employees to experience pain and discomfort while working.
Post-pandemic, a large number of remote employees still have less-than-ideal home office setups and limited workspaces. Additionally, poor ergonomics can lead to back pain, neck pain, and other aches and strains which affect productivity and overall health.
Work with your employees to set up an ideal remote office environment, so that they have everything they need to produce without stress.
How can you promote employee health and well-being?
Employers are not legally required to provide office equipment for their remote workers, but it’s in your best interest to do so.
Consider offering the following options:
- Provide the basics – such as a laptop or desktop computer
- Provide all necessary office equipment, including ergonomically sound desks and chairs
- Provide perks such as top-end headphones, houseplants, or leg massagers
- Offer equipment stipends so that employees can buy what they need from a catalog
Every business is different, make time to ask your employees what they need for remote work and then look to cover the basics. You may not have the budget to buy ergonomic workstations, but you can start small and encourage healthy workplaces in the home. By providing employees with the right home office equipment, you will demonstrate that you care about their well-being.
Loneliness and isolation
One of the biggest issues faced by remote workers is feeling lonely and isolated. Remote workers often feel cut off from the rest of the team and have difficulty communicating with their colleagues. Things are even harder for those who live alone, especially if they rarely leave the house during work hours. It’s an issue for organizations, too, because loneliness can affect employee engagement and productivity levels.
Over time, these factors can negatively impact employee morale, motivation, and performance. On top of that, remote workers may experience mental fatigue, stress, and a high psychological workload.
How can you combat loneliness?
To be successful, remote workers need to feel connected to the company and their colleagues. Encourage opportunities for face-to-face socializing when they arise. And if that’s not possible, use your imagination and the online communication tools available to fill the gap. Virtual coffee breaks, drinks, quizzes, chats, and sharing jokes and memes can all be a part of remote work. Daily check-ins and instant messaging can help replace water cooler conversations.
To keep employees engaged, schedule remote-team building activities. For example:
- Online cooking classes
- Multiplayer games
- Virtual happy hours
- Virtual break rooms
- Virtual birthday parties
- TED-style talks/inspirational speeches
- Online treasure hunts
- Escape rooms
- Friendly challenges
- Remote workshops
- Online group exercise sessions
Knowing when to stop – lack of boundaries
When an employee works remotely it can be difficult for them to know when to unplug, making work feel never-ending. Our homes are no longer just our homes. We have to live, work, sleep, eat, and relax in the same space. Plus, constant messages and emails on our phones mean it can be extremely hard to ignore the notification that pops up during an evening out. Many remote workers find themselves working longer hours at home than they ever did in the office.
What can you do to encourage healthy boundaries?
When an employee is ‘always on’ this can negatively impact their mental health and productivity levels, so you should work with your leadership teams to ensure they are clear about the number of hours an employee is expected to work. Employees also need to be strict with themselves about sticking to their schedules. Provide training or resources that explain what to look out for to avoid burnout when working remotely.
There are also several apps that encourage a healthy mindset that you could recommend. These include Headspace for Work, MoveSpring, Unmind, Virgin Pulse, and Wellable. These apps help reinforce healthy eating and exercise habits, develop work-life balance, and reduce anxiety.
When your employees feel you care and that their well-being is important, they will regard your company as an Amazing Workplace.