Working remotely can be great. You don’t have to spend hours each week commuting or deal with annoying coworkers who won’t stop talking, and you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas (although we’d recommend it).
You’re in full control of your work environment––meaning you’re able to set up a home office that makes you most productive.
But working outside the conventional office isn’t entirely beneficial. Remote teams experience unique challenges that can hurt their productivity too.
Luckily, these hurdles aren’t impossible to overcome––they just require a bit of extra attention. Let’s look at some of the biggest obstacles a remote worker faces and what you can do to overcome them:
- Home interruptions
- Communication challenges
- Prioritization struggles
1. Home interruptions
Interruptions are going to happen—wherever you’re working. In the office, chatty colleagues and noisy printers can hurt your focus. But at home, interruptions can seem even more powerful.
If you have kids who are at home during the day, they can be a big distraction from your work. Even if you have a babysitter, spouse, or other help in caring for the kids while you’re working, they can be noisy (or want to bust into your home office at the most inconvenient moment).
Let’s not forget that viral video of the children interrupting an expert on BBC News…
Even if you don’t have kids, there can still be potential interruptions. From unexpected guests to your cat crawling across your keyboard, knowing how to work from home productively means finding a way to get away from it all.
How to overcome home interruptions
Unless you work and live in a secluded cabin in the middle of the woods by yourself, you probably won’t be able to eliminate interruptions entirely. But here are some things you can do to get the space you need to focus:
- Find some alone space. Set up a desk in a secluded area of your home. This could be in a spare bedroom, a designated home office, or even just a corner of your kitchen or living room––just somewhere you can go that’s free from interruptions.
- Set up a busy signal. If there are other people home while you’re working, establish some kind of signal that lets them know you’re busy and not to be interrupted. This could be anything from closing your door or wearing your headphones.
- Establish working hours. If the busy signal won’t do the trick, establish specific working hours that your family should leave you alone so that you can work. Keep these same working hours for people outside your home, like family or friends who might call in the middle of the day to chat. You can always get back to them when your working hours are done.
- Get out of the house. If your home becomes too full of interruptions, it’s time to check out another space. Look into your local library, a coworking space, or even just the coffee shop down the street.
2. Communication challenges
If you’re working in an office and you need something from someone, you can just walk over to their desk and ask for it. With a remote team, that isn’t really possible—that’s why you need processes and apps to stay in communication with your team.
And when coworkers are scattered across time zones, connecting after the fact isn’t as easy as just pulling someone aside for more explanation. It’s always better to ask questions as they come up and think ahead about what you might need from a teammate.
How to overcome communication challenges
Communication problems typically arise when teams don’t have the right tools or processes for getting in touch. Here’s how you can avoid communication problems when working remotely:
- Provide different team communication options. Every conversation will have different needs and limitations. From quick chats to video calls, there’s a place for a range of communication channels when you’re working remotely. Don’t try to force your employees down just one path––email (definitely) isn’t always the best answer.
For example, RingCentral’s team messaging app also has HD video calls and traditional phone calls––making it easy for teams to connect in a variety of ways. You can even share documents and make comments directly on them, then share them with your team:
You can even manage tasks for each team member so that you’re sure everyone will walk away from each meeting knowing what to do next.
A tool like this is essential for companies like PipelineDeals to run smoothly. “We’re a distributed staff, and about half of the company is remote,” says Paige Thomas, PipelineDeals’ Customer Care Manager.
“For example, I’m based in Philadelphia, and most of my staff is in Seattle. Maintaining a cohesive team like that can be difficult, but communicating together using RingCentral makes it a lot easier, makes it feel like we’re a real team. And it lets everyone stay connected and get their work done even if they’re not at their desks.”
- Schedule “intersection hours.” When half your team is in Asia and the other is on the East Coast, finding time to connect can feel impossible. You’ll have to require some overlapping hours across time zones in order to help your teammates connect that’s convenient for the most number of people.
If teams are too dispersed (say, Singapore and San Francisco), finding a time that overlaps can be challenging. Rather than requiring intersecting hours every day, try just having an all-hands or team meeting once or twice a week.
- Keep communication in one place. When your team relies on their digital communication to get work done, you don’t want them wasting time digging through old emails or text messages trying to find their next steps. Keeping communication integrated in one place makes it easy for team members to find just what they’re looking for right when they need it. Again, this is where having a communication tool comes in handy:
RingCentral puts everything in one app so that you can access conversations and files from any device—you can find what you’re looking for whether you’re working from your home office or a coffee shop.
Many managers and business owners are worried that letting their teams work from home means nothing will ever get done. But working from home can actually make employees more productive:
In fact, knowing when to step away from work can be a problem for many remote workers.
Unlike in an office setting, you never really leave your desk. When your workstation is still lurking in the corner of your living room, not jumping back on to check emails or just do one last thing can be difficult.
Overworked employees can be stressed, struggle with work-life balance, and overall feel unhappy with their jobs.
How to overcome overworking
Setting boundaries that prevent you from overworking is crucial for long-term happiness in a remote job. Here are some ways you can stop yourself from working too hard or too long:
- Schedule your breaks. Put time on your calendar for taking a break from your desk. Maybe use this time to get a quick workout in, throw in a load of laundry, or just tidy up while listening to a favorite podcast. When the scheduled break is up, get back to work feeling refreshed.
The Pomodoro Technique or 90-minute focus sessions are both great ways to make the most of your productivity and ensure you’re taking sufficient breaks.
- Set appointments at the end of your day. If you struggle to end your day at 5:00 p.m. (or even 6:00 or 7:00), schedule evening appointments, workout classes, dinner, or other events that force you to get away from your desk. Meet a friend for happy hour or offer to pick the kids up from practice––anything that gets you to clock out.
- “Close” your office for the day. Technology makes it so easy to stay in touch, but that also means it’s hard to completely disconnect. When the end of the day rolls around, power down your work computer, shut the door to your home office, and turn off your email notifications. Leave it for tomorrow.
4. Prioritization struggles
To be good at working remotely, you have to be good at working independently. While you might have video calls or chats with your team throughout the day, you’re usually left more or less on your own to make sure all your tasks get done on time.
Some team members might struggle with this freedom––especially if there are distractions they haven’t been able to get rid of. When the sun is shining and your dog is begging for a long walk or your kid wants to show you their latest art project, you need to know how to prioritize your work.
Prioritizing work with team members in different time zones also means anticipating their needs. When someone’s “tomorrow” is still your “today,” you might need to plan ahead to make sure everyone gets what they need on time.
How to manage prioritizing to-do lists
Staying on track needs to be a team effort. While employees can have their own systems for getting their to-do lists done, proper task organization is key for keeping all projects moving forward. Here are some tips for managing to-do lists.
- Have a project management tool. Keeping all tasks and projects in a tool like Asana or Trello can give your entire team a big-picture view of what needs to get done. When you can see the path your project will take after your part is complete, you can better prioritize to make sure deadlines are still met.
- Create a priority communication system. With remote teams, it’s easy for an employee to not recognize something is a priority and put it off until the last minute. That’s why it’s important to have a communication system in place for discussing project priorities.
- Use breaks to take care of distractions. You can’t ignore your dog or kids all day, so use your pre-scheduled break time to tackle some of the things nagging at you while you’re trying to focus. Spend 20 minutes walking the dog or quickly tidying up the kitchen. Then get back to your to-do list when that break is over.
While working in your pajamas might seem great for a day or two, it can get old fast. When you’re not leaving your house to go to the office, you might find that you barely leave the building at all.
Soon, working remotely can feel a bit lonely—the lack of human interaction that often comes with working in a traditional office can lead to isolation and take a toll on your mental health.
But working alone can also just get boring. Without close coworkers to share jokes with or talk about the latest news, you might miss those little breaks in the day that let you refresh or rest your eyes.
How to overcome loneliness
Depending on your living situation, loneliness can be easier to combat for some people. But if you don’t have kids home during the day or a partner or roommate who also works from home, here are some tips for combating loneliness in a remote job:
- Go outside. We’ve already mentioned this as a great way to eliminate distractions, but heading to a coworking space or coffee shop can also be a great way to fight loneliness. Even if you’re still working alone, just being around other busy workers can help lift your spirits.
- Catch up with a coworker. Even if your coworkers are dispersed all over the world, schedule a catch-up call with someone on your team, a mentor, or even just a friend. At least one video chat a day can help you feel more connected to your team and help combat loneliness.
- Start some remote work clubs. You don’t need to meet in person to create clubs or groups within your team. A remote book club or virtual running club (just to name a few) can add to your company culture and encourage more communication and connection among your teams.
Set up separate networks in your team messaging platform (like RingCentral, which lets you create groups for different projects and clubs) where interested members can join. Then you can hold discussions, ask questions, or talk about non-work related topics that can bring you closer.
- Network in your city. While it’s great to find ways to connect with your other remote team members, sometimes you just need to get out and meet people in real life. Finding a local networking group can help you feel more connected to your job while also helping you find other like-minded people in your town.
You can even take it one step further and create a group of other remote workers to meet up for lunch or even work together.
Solve remote working challenges with communication and organization
When it comes down to it, the problems that come with remote work tend to fall into two categories: communication or organization. But when you have the right communication and organization systems in place, you can thrive—even if everyone’s in a different country.
To overcome the common challenges that pop up when you’re working remotely, it’s better to over-communicate. Even if you feel like you’ve already said something once or that you’re over-planning a project or task, it’s better to do too much than not enough. After all, remote teams tend to have fewer opportunities to keep each other in the loop.
As you begin to adjust to working remotely, you might find that everyone struggles with different things—check in regularly to see how you can help support your teammates. You are each other’s biggest assets when it comes to remote work!