The challenges of working remotely… With solutions.

Cast your mind back a few months. Feels like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? But try to remember the long claustrophobic commute, the office politics or even the dreaded small talk with your colleagues – these are parts of office jobs that we’d gladly avoid. Remote work offers the opportunity to realistically do that with an array extra benefits such as a better work-life balance, savings and a flexible schedule.

The coronavirus pandemic has served as a catalyst for the normalisation of remote work. While remote work is not a new phenomenon – co-working spaces and home offices, as well as collaborative tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, are fixed fixtures within society – the last few months have seen the largest amount of people being introduced to remote work.

For the first time, working remotely has gone mainstream and unsurprisingly, people are now largely aware of the benefits of remote work.

Cast your mind back a few months. Feels like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? But try to remember the long claustrophobic commute, the office politics or even the dreaded small talk with your colleagues – these are parts of office jobs that we’d gladly avoid. Remote work offers the opportunity to realistically do that with an array extra benefits such as a better work-life balance, savings and a flexible schedule.

Here at Remotings, as a fully remote company with staff around the world, we believe that remote work is more than a trend. It is likely that after this period, remote work is here to stay, companies like Twitter and Facebook have made the move to remote work permanent and it’s highly possible that more will follow. With that in mind and so many of us transitioning to remote work, often fully for the first time, some common struggles have arisen – so we’re sharing some helpful tips and strategies to help new and experienced remote workers thrive.

Challenge 1: Navigating Loneliness and Isolation

Shared offices are by design filled with numerous opportunities to socialise. From office water coolers and kitchens to after-work drinks, micro-social interactions are peppered throughout the workday. While they may not always be appreciated, they are certainly a welcome distraction during the day. By definition, remote work is the antithesis of that, despite the company of your cute pets or the plethora of communication tools like Zoom or Slack, it can get rather lonely – particularly if you live alone. For those who are new to remote work, there are so many things to become accustomed to like a new schedule and new technology, it is easy for your social life to be deprioritised.

Well, Remotings has some expert tips to help remote workers manage and overcome loneliness and isolation when working from home.

  • Try to leave your house: Working remotely is the stuff of dreams, especially if all the social trappings of the office are not particularly appealing. However, it is important to find a balance, it is easy to fall into a reclusive pattern of staying at home during the working hours and remaining there afterwards or just moving to another room. Try dividing up your workweek and perhaps spend two days working outside the home. Cafés, libraries and co-working spaces are excellent alternatives that allow remote workers to get a change of scenery, switch up their routine, get fresh air and have much needed social interaction on their terms.
  • Take a real break: We all get into the habit of working non-stop or being completely engrossed in a task but long term it is important to take breaks to let your mind and body refresh. Now, this has to be more than a five to ten-minute scroll through social media – you should aim to disconnect physically and mentally from your screen where possible. Go out for short walks, meet up with your friends for lunch, go to the gym so when you return, you feel refreshed and reinvigorated to continue the day.
  • Plan your social activities: When you work remotely, it is common to blur the lines between your work and personal life and sometimes one overtakes the other. Not to worry, there is a simple solution to this and while it might not sound fun, the outcome is worthwhile – planning. Meticulously plan and pencil in fun social activities with your colleagues, friends and family. This can be done virtually or in person, it may seem small but little social activities like going to the cinema, or a concert makes a world of difference.
  • Reach out for help: During the transition to remote work and perhaps afterwards, it is possible to seriously struggle with loneliness. Chronic loneliness can have a negative impact on mental health particularly if it has lasted a long time. The 2019 State of Remote Work released by Buffer found that 49% of remote workers note that a big struggle for them is wellness – a significant portion of that related to loneliness. Mind UK also states that loneliness is closely associated with stress, depression and anxiety. Navigating these mental health issues can impact job performance which may, in turn, exacerbate your mental health challenges – it can be a worrying cycle. If you find yourself dealing with chronic loneliness or mental health problems, it is important you contact either your manager directly or the human resources department to see what mental health support or reasonable adjustment your organisation offers. Mental health is tricky to speak about, especially in a professional setting, if you don’t feel confident speaking to your workplace or you are one of the many freelancers or entrepreneurs that work remotely – there are alternative mental health support you can receive.

Mental health helplines:

  1. Anxiety UK: A charity providing support for those dealing with anxiety
  2. Samaritans: Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress.
  3. Talkspace or BetterHelp: These are apps that provide access to counsellors and mental health professionals for treatment via text, calls or video calls.
  4. Meditation: Meditation is renowned for helping people with stress, concentration and rest. There are a range of ways to incorporate meditation into your schedule, the most popular of which is via Headspace. Headspace is an app that makes ‘meditation simple, teaching you life-changing mindfulness skills’.

Challenge 2: Maximising Productivity

There are numerous benefits to remote work, a flexible work schedule, a work-life balance and independence but a common fear for both remote workers and companies is a dip in productivity. The challenges relayed throughout this article, such as loneliness or distractions if not handled properly might lead to poor job performance.

There are a range of things to keep in mind when working remotely to help increase your productivity, here are a few.

Stop overworking: A common misconception about remote work is that employees will work less but studies such as the 2019 OWL Labs State of Remote Work show that 20% of remote workers feel overworked. This is for a number of reasons chief among them being because they love their job. Understandably when the line between your professional and personal life becomes blurred, it’s hard to know when to stop. The pull to reply to that last email or complete that small task is hard, but overworking is not sustainable and in the long term can lead to burnout. There are simple things to implement during your day to avoid overworking.

  • Set a reminder for the end of your workday on both your personal phone and work computer. This is a signal that you need to either be winding down for the day or set the task aside for the following day.
  • Set reminders for breaks: Breaks are important to give your mind a refresher. Go for a walk, get a snack or a cup of tea – just step away from the screen for a few minutes.
  • Communicate and be clear with your team about what time you finish for the day, so they know you’ll be unavailable. If possible, couple this with an “out of office” message that reinforces this when you cannot.

Get the right tools: Remote work sometimes requires more than your computer and a desk. While your computer is your main tool, there are a wide range of platforms designed specially to help remote workers with communication, collaboration and task management.

  • Communication: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom
  • Task management: Monday, Trello, Asana
  • Collaboration: Remotings

Self-motivate: The treasured autonomy of remote working often means just that – more autonomy. You are in charge of task prioritisation, time management and self-management which can be a lot to handle. Self-motivation, in this case, becomes a priority, here are some handy tips to help motivate and improve your productivity.

  • Create a morning routine: The most alluring trap of remote work is to work from bed. We get it, your bed and pyjamas are comfy but doing this frequently cements a bad habit and you are likely to fall asleep again. Try to establish a routine that gets you out of bed, and into work mode. Change your clothes, eat a healthy breakfast, do some exercise or yoga and begin your day!
  • Schedule your day: There are a multitude of task management tools that help remote workers keep track of the many things they have to get done during the day. From the simple to-do lists apps like To-doist to project management tools like Monday that helps teams track management and manage different tasks to Trello which lets teams create and assign tasks in a single interface.
  • Have a reward system: This is a fun way to motivate yourself and ensure you finish important tasks. Set up a system and every time a task is completed, you can give yourself a bar of chocolate, biscuit or whatever you want, it’s up to you!

Challenge 3: Managing distractions

Remote working is often a minefield of distractions. There is a fear that you have swapped the interruptions at work for a wider array of mini distractions at home. From Netflix to your kids that need attention, it can feel like you are being pulled in multiple directions. It is important to know that distractions are unavoidable, they are a part of being human however they can be efficiently identified and managed to ensure you have a productive day.

Let’s take a quick look at some tips to help navigate distractions when working from home.

Manage your digital activity: The most common distraction even when working in an office is probably your phone. Every second the screen lights up with a notification is minutes taken out of your day. With most smartphones, it is simple to either set up “do not disturb” or more meticulously manage your screen time by setting usage limits for non-work-related apps like Twitter or Instagram. The standard is from 9am-5pm but the great thing about remote work is that you can be flexible, so set your limit to suit your lifestyle. Ensure you allow caveats for emergency numbers and messages, so you do not miss important calls.

If you are not blessed with the sheer will to resist digital distractions, take a look at a shortlist of options to block them on your computer.

  • Self-control: A distraction app blocker, Self-control allows you to add websites to your ‘blacklist’ with a timer set for the amount of time you’ll be working.
  • Stay focused: This is a chrome extension that allows you to set a limit for how long you can stay on certain sites.
  • Focus Booster: Based on the Pomodoro Technique, Focus Booster allows you to focus on a task for 25mins and then take a break for 5mins. You can also see where you spend most of your time and when you’re most productive.

Set rules and expectations: For those who live with other people, aside from digital distractions, your family or friends can unwittingly become distractions. Fear not, just like with digital distractions you can set up a “do not disturb” – literally. For older people, it is easy to let them know when you aren’t to be disturbed. This can be done in a fun way by putting up a literal “do not disturb” on your door or even posting your weekly schedule where it is clear for everyone to see. With this, they know the best time to approach you and when to give you your space.

It gets a little tricky with children as they might not fully understand when you need some quiet to work.

If you are not able to arrange childcare, here are a few handy tips to avoid distractions from your children while working from home.

  • Screen time: Technology has allowed for a wealth of educational programmes, games and apps to entertain children while you’re in important meetings. From Reading Eggs to TedEd there are so many things to engage your kids and with time, you will figure out which programmes will best occupy them.
  • Communicate with your employer: You must be realistic with both yourself and your employer about your routine while working from home. Let them know you are willing to find a way to make it work and be upfront about needing to miss a call now and then for little things that pop up.

Have a designated workspace: Chances are if you are an experienced remote worker, you will have a clear workspace in your home. For those who are new to working from home, it’s difficult to figure out the best spot to have video calls, with the comfortable chair that’s also close to a socket. It is important to have a clear space to work in – it becomes part of your morning routine. You spend less time moving around the house trying to find the ‘perfect spot’ and more time focussed on your work.

While it might not be possible to have the perfect home office set up, there are ways to make up for it.

  • Invest in “office” equipment: You will spend numerous hours in your home office so it should be a place that is comfortable. While it may not be your number one priority when you begin remote work, aim to invest ergonomic chairs, over-ear headphones, an adjustable desk and some decorations. Make your workspace somewhere you want to spend time in.
  • Keep your workspace clear: This is important as it mentally prepares you for work. Whether it’s a separate room or a corner of the dining table, it is important to keep the area free of clutter, so you have fewer things to fidget with or distract you. Have only the things you need, your laptop, notepad, noise-cancelling headphones and a pen.
  • Music: Have a specific playlist. One small but often distracting thing is selecting the right soundtrack for your day. It’s an easy thing to get side-tracked by but take advantage of Spotify or Apple music’s range of work-related playlists or create your own before the day begins.

Challenge 4: Taking care of your health

It is important to take care of your physical and mental health when working from home. Remote workers have so many things to keep track of that general health gets put on the back burner.

Try incorporating these suggestions into your day to improve your overall health when remoting working.

  • Get as much exercise as possible: Frequent beneficial activity has numerous benefits for everyone. It helps to improve your mental, emotional and physical health. Remote workers are in prime position to squeeze in short bursts of exercise where possible. During your breaks try to stretch your legs, do some stretches, try yoga moves or go for a quick walk.
  • Take a power nap: This is a little unconventional but hear us out. While this is not something to do regularly, taking a power nap to replenish your energy levels during a mid-day slump can do a wealth of good for health and in turn your productivity.
  • Eat well: Working in such close proximity to your stash of snacks and the kitchen can be a bit of problem for remote workers. It is easier to snack, get takeaways or even skip meals while working which can have adverse effects on our health. Try to be mindful about what you eat, create a meal plan or even meal prep in advance to keep on top of this.

These challenges though daunting at first are surmountable with proactive action to manage them. Take these issues as they come, find ways to overcome them and you will be well on your way to enjoying your remote work experience free from long commutes, unnecessary meetings but greater independence and work-life balance.

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