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. There’s another set of challenges that’s 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 you’re struggling to adjust, it can be challenging to work someplace that’s not an actual office.
We’ve been helping employees navigate the transition to remote work since long before Covid-19 hit, but the pandemic has only heightened the relevance of combatting work-from-home challenges. Here are five of the biggest ones we’ve encountered along with some strategies to help make working remotely more enjoyable, productive and headache-free.
Conquer Work From Home Challenges With These Top Strategies
Challenge #1: 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 any number of 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 own 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 get it done 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’re feeling zapped by 2 p.m., forcing yourself to slog it out for a couple more hours probably won’t produce very good work. If your job allows, get out of the house and go for a walk, take a 15-minute catnap or come back to your 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.
Related: How to Successfully Work Remotely
Challenge #2: 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 are lurking in your own 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.
To keep distractions to a minimum, set up a dedicated space for uninterrupted work. A room with a door is best, but a desk tucked away in a quiet corner works, too. If you’re someone who needs total silence to focus, invest in a good set of noise-cancelling 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 it’s digital distractions, like social media, that are pulling 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 are still having trouble focusing at home, your best bet may be working from a coffee shop or coworking space.
Challenge #3: 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 walk out of 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 actively take steps to protect your non-working hours. 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, it can be helpful to enlist your partner or friend to hold you accountable in your efforts to separate work and life. 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.
Challenge #4: You Miss Human Interaction
Many have been quick to tout the benefits of the new work-from-home wave, but what’s been less publicized are its downsides: namely, the meaningful void that’s 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 a sense of isolation when you work remotely.
To overcome this obstacle, make an effort to connect with your peers at work, even if it’s only via email or messaging app. 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 or Commerce, which can help fill the gap left by leaving the office.
Challenge #5: 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 with regard to performance. What’s worse, being out of sight often does mean 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 check-ins weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Use these as a chance to touch base on what you’re working on and make sure it’s aligned with what they want you to be doing. 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.