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How to Overcome Remote Work Challenges

Woman falling asleep on her couch with her dog, while working from home next to her laptop computer.

Remote work may be far more common than it was a few years ago, and it comes with its share of perks: no stressful commute, no nosy coworkers peeking over the wall of your cubicle, and the option to wear pants with an elastic waistband pretty much whenever you want. Yet working remotely isn’t all sweatpants and stress-free mornings. Another set of challenges is unique to being in a physically different location than your coworkers. Whether you feel out of the loop because you’re one of just a handful of WFHers or your whole company has gone remote and struggling to adjust, working somewhere that’s not an office can be challenging.

We’ve been helping employees navigate the transition to remote work and conquer work-from-home challenges since long before Covid-19 hit. But with the ever-changing work environment, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the heavy hitters and know how to overcome the challenges. Here are seven of the biggest ones we’ve encountered and some strategies to help make working remotely more enjoyable, productive, and headache-free.

Conquer remote work challenges with these top strategies

You find it tough to stay motivated

It’s hard enough to stay engaged when you’re working in the same place as everyone else at your company. When you’re on an island of your own? Motivation can go out the window.

Motivation can lag for many reasons, from a night spent tossing and turning instead of catching up on Z’s to a critical disconnect between your company’s work and your passions. But whatever the culprit, you’ve got to overcome it if you want to stay gainfully employed.

To help yourself get up and at it, create a schedule for your day and stick to it. It can be tempting to wing it when you don’t have to show your face in the office by a certain time each morning, but having a consistent routine will help you switch into work mode more seamlessly.

Next, figure out your least desirable task for the day and finish it first thing in the morning (some people call this the ‘eat the frog’ method). Your motivation is typically highest at the start of the workday, making it the best time to tackle tedious or energy-intensive work.

On that same note, go easy on yourself as the day wears on. Motivation levels aren’t fixed; they ebb and flow throughout the day. If you feel zapped by 2 p.m., forcing yourself to slog it out for a few more hours probably won’t produce good work. If your job allows, leave the house and go for a walk, take a 15-minute catnap, or return to work later in the evening. You’ll often find that a little break is just what you need to give your motivation tank a refill.

Finally, be realistic with your schedule. Sitting in front of a screen for back-to-back video meetings can be incredibly draining, so do what you can to avoid overbooking.

Whether your work-from-home situation is temporary or you’re making the transition for good, check out this guide on how to successfully work remotely.

You’re easily distracted

You’d think not being in the office would be more peaceful–no ringing phones or chatty coworkers to take your focus off your work. But you’d be surprised how many distractions lurk in your home, from Netflix to the refrigerator. And if you have a spouse or housemate also working remotely, you’ve got to contend with whatever their work-from-home soundtrack sounds like.

Set up a dedicated space for uninterrupted work to minimize distractions. A room with a door is best, but a desk tucked away in a quiet corner works, too. If you need total silence to focus, invest in a good set of noise-canceling headphones and set boundaries with anyone who shares your space. Once the headphones are on, you’re in work mode and shouldn’t be interrupted unless it’s an emergency.

If digital distractions, like social media, pull you away from work, use a distraction-blocking browser extension, like Rescue Time. It’s a time-tracking app that blocks certain websites like Facebook after you’ve reached a predetermined time limit.

If you’ve tried all of the above and still have trouble focusing at home, your best bet may be working from a coffee shop or coworking space.

You’re burned out

One of the major benefits of working from home is that there’s more time left over for life outside of work–at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. But when you don’t physically leave the office at the end of each day, it can be hard to leave the emails and to-do lists behind. Lack of a healthy level of work-life balance is a major contributor to burnout.

To fight the always-online quandary, you’ll need to protect your non-working hours actively. When you log off for the day, actually log off and resist the temptation to check email on your phone until the next morning. If you find this challenging, turn off notifications or even use an app like Inbox Pause to prevent messages from coming in until you’re back online.

Because your mental health is such an important factor in your relationships, enlisting your partner or friend to hold you accountable in your efforts to separate work and life can be helpful. Ask them to gently remind you to put down the phone if they notice you’ve gone down an inbox rabbit hole, and make concrete plans outside of work hours so you’re forced to disconnect and be present.

You miss human interaction

Many have been quick to tout the benefits of the new work-from-home wave, but its downsides have been less publicized: the meaningful void left when you’re no longer getting daily face time with your professional acquaintances. If you’re missing human interaction, you’re not weird or lonely–it’s normal to feel isolated when you work remotely.

To overcome this obstacle, try to connect with your peers at work, even if it’s only via email or messaging apps. If your company has an office nearby, consider dropping in every once in a while to attend important meetings or take part in social gatherings like the office potluck. Also, don’t forget about in-person groups outside of your own workplace, like your area’s young professionals group or events held by the Chamber of Commerce, which can help fill the gap left by leaving the office.

You lack direction

If you hate being micromanaged, working remotely can be a dream come true. But on the flip side, the lack of interaction with your boss can make it hard to know where you stand about performance. Worse, being out of sight often means being out of mind, which means you can get left out of interesting projects or passed up for opportunities that would advance your career simply because you’re less visible than your non-remote peers.

To avoid feeling like a ship adrift at sea, ask your manager for regularly scheduled weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly check-ins. Use these as a chance to touch base on what you’re working on and ensure it’s aligned with what they want you to do. It’s also a good time to report to them on your accomplishments, which can help keep you top-of-mind for promotions and other opportunities.

You feel overworked

Feeling overworked and overwhelmed is a common remote work challenge. When you can’t see your coworkers or have regular discussions with your boss, you may feel like you’re taking on a larger workload than others or more than you can manage. It’s important to be transparent with your manager. Explain the roadblocks you are most commonly facing that increase your work. Managers are responsible for helping you achieve your goals, and sometimes that involves removing some of the obstacles you face.

Ask for help when you feel behind. Especially if there have been recent process changes or personnel shifts, it’s important that the leadership understands that the changes may be adding work in certain places or causing others to fall behind. 

Another way to help overcome this remote work challenge is to take some time off. If you have a collection of paid time off that you haven’t taken in a while, talk to your manager about stepping away for a long weekend to unplug and clear your mind. Stress and frustration can sometimes cause a normal workload to feel overwhelming, and it’s good to take a step back and rest your brain.

You don’t manage your time well

Time management skills can be improved with some simple tactics. Create a schedule for yourself. Block some focus times for emails and specific work tasks where you avoid distractions and check things off your list. It’s also good to make a daily and weekly to-do list and check in with it often. Choose some of the most difficult tasks and get them done earlier in the day. 

Communicate with your coworkers ahead of time as well. Set some boundaries with Slack, Skype, or other office messaging systems. If you need some uninterrupted time to complete some projects, just let the team know that you are muting notifications for a designated amount of time and that you’ll be available by phone if there’s an emergency. 

Technology allows us to be constantly connected, but it’s important to take the time you need to get your job done without being interrupted over non-important questions or team chats. Remove the distractions and allow yourself space and time to think and work on your top priorities. 

Increase your productivity with these tips on how to improve your organizational skills at work.

FAQs

What are the most common challenges of remote work?

Some major remote work challenges include time management, distractions, separation of work and home life, and missing human interaction. Great tools and resources are available to help, but working with your manager on solutions is always important. 

How do people successfully balance life and work while working remotely?

The best way to overcome the remote work challenge of balancing home and work is to create some separation. Have a specific space for your work items and a routine that starts and ends your work day. Some people light a candle to signify the end or take a walk. Just break it up and help your brain adjust to the transition.

What are the best tools to overcome common remote work challenges?

Common remote work challenges are often involving distractions and a lack of motivation. Try using schedules and timers to help keep you on track during the day. Turn off distracting notifications and avoid using phones and TVs while working. Utilize “do not disturb” during the day to get through your top priorities.