As a concept, remote work sounds pretty amazing. There are so many benefits—from a flexible schedule to a strong work/life balance, and not to mention the close proximity to your pantry with all your favorite snacks! But, the reality is that working remotely can be a double-edged sword as it often presents its own set of unique challenges.
To better understand what these challenges are, we surveyed over 17K designers and asked them to identify their top concerns and obstacles when it comes to working remotely. (Check out these findings and more in our Global Design Survey).
Curious to know what the overarching responses were? We’ve outlined the five main pain points below. The good news is, as a fully distributed team here at Dribbble, we have plenty of practice tackling these remote-specific hurdles. Here are some of our tried-and-true tips for overcoming the top five challenges of working remotely:
1. Separating work from personal time
When work is home, and home is work, it can be hard to separate the two—especially in the age of smartphones where we can carry work around in our pockets.
Set up boundaries
It’s crucial to set up boundaries when it comes to signing off from work and being present in your personal life. Turning off your notifications after hours is one of the easiest, and best ways to separate work from play. Limit any Slack, e-mail, or project management app notifications to your work hours, so that you’re not being pinged after hours and pulled back into work mode.
Clarify your work hours
Always communicate with your team when you’re signing on and offline. At Dribbble, we have a dedicated Slack channel to announce when we’re coming online or heading offline for the day. When you’re on a fully remote team, it’s important that you create clarity with your team as to when you will or won’t be responsive to their messages.
In addition to having set working hours, you can also create a start-of-the-day and end-of-the-day-ritual. When starting or ending your day, having a routine that you habitually keep to, whether it be a walk around the block, reading a chapter of a book, listening to a podcast, or meditating for five minutes, can help serve as a physical signal to your body that the workday is done, and help you shift your focus back to your life at home.
There’s no shortage of distractions at home; whether it be the temptation of the fridge, your dog scratching at your office door, or the pile of laundry you’ve been meaning to fold for days. Staying present and focused at work when there are distractions a-plenty is no easy feat. (Our friends at rocketship.fm address this in their podcast on making time). Staying focused in a remote environment isn’t about willpower or discipline; it’s about beating distractions and re-configuring technology and your environment so it’s easier to stay focused.
You can help yourself out a lot by using an online project management tool. Bonsai is one of the best out there for remote work. It’s simplistic, user-friendly, and comes with all the necessary features remote workers need to manage their time and projects.
Cultivating an awareness around what triggers you to become distracted, and what works for your attention and energy is key to building a remote work environment and routine that will set you up for productivity and success.
2. Communication issues
Communication in the workplace can be challenging (even in a physical office setting), so it’s no surprise that when a team is fully distributed and in different time zones, these communication challenges are only amplified.
Defer to open channels of communication
Communicating in public channels makes information accessible—this is great for teams that want to provide visibility into their work. Creating product and functional team channels where the relevant people can transparently share what they’re working on and any updates or announcements is a great step towards inclusive knowledge sharing and communication. Generally, Slack works best when the majority of communication happens in public channels. Reserve direct or private message use for ad-hoc conversations that don’t require an entire channel to weigh in.
Leverage video conferencing and chat face-to-face whenever possible
Just because you are remote doesn’t mean you need to cut back on face-to-face meetings when they are needed. The technology is readily available and it’s easier to use than ever. Sometimes a face to face conversation can be much more effective than chatting over slack—we’re human, we like to converse! Encourage video calls for those situations when talking is easier and better than typing.
No agenda, no meeting
Meetings are useful for many situations, but it can quickly go from a few meetings a week to a calendar of back-to-back meetings with no breaks. Nobody ever looked at an empty calendar and said, “the best way to be productive today is by cramming the day with meetings!” By creating some guidelines around meetings, you have more uninterrupted time to focus on the work you love. For instance, we keep meetings to 30 minutes or less, and for standing meetings, the expectation is that the person organizing the call brings an agenda for others to review beforehand. This helps keep things on track, and helps remote employees stay accountable!
3. Lack of team bonding
When there’s no watercooler or foosball table to chat around, remote companies miss a lot of organic opportunities for team bonding. But team building and spending time with your colleagues, whether virtually or in person, is a worthwhile investment in employee productivity, retention, and engagement.
Get together in person
Working with a fully remote team shouldn’t, and doesn’t have to mean missing out on team bonding. Try to bring your whole team together in person at least once a year. It’s a really valuable way for your team to make lasting connections, and if you can afford it, it’s an investment that is most definitely worth making.
Make time for extracurriculars
Make sure that you still see plenty of one another face-to-face on a weekly basis, especially since the technology is readily available and better than ever. For example, we host a virtual happy hour every month where we bring our favorite drinks and play games over video conference. Ensuring we have face time this way helps combat loneliness and isolation, and it provides opportunities to foster cohesiveness by connecting on a more personal level.
As remote work grows in popularity, technology to support remote work has become more readily available, and there are more apps that can help you foster connection and engagement on your team! The app Donut for example, is a great way to introduce unfamiliar team members to each other and encourage them to meet or chat. With so many options, find and test what apps or software work best for your team!
4. Loneliness and lack of human interaction
As wonderful as it is that the commute to your office is only a few feet away, it’s all too easy to fall into a routine at work only to realize that days have passed and you’ve barely left your house.
Build socializing into your schedule
Commit to having at least one social activity on your calendar a day; whether it’s a 15-minute phone call to Grandma, coffee with a friend, or eating lunch with your partner. Put it on your calendar so you have it to look forward to, and so it keeps you accountable!
Fighting cabin fever
If you start to find yourself feeling isolated, sometimes a change of scenery is just what you need. Explore local coffee shops to find the ones with the best wifi or free refills, and use it as a second office for when you’re not feeling productive at home. If a co-working space is also an option for you, try out a few and see if the environment suits you.
5. It’s hard to get feedback
To do your best work as a designer, it’s critical you receive quality feedback and critique on your work. This can often become difficult as a remote worker, but there are a few techniques you can use to foster an environment of open, effective feedback.
Use video calls to deliver critical feedback
Text-based communication, as much as it makes our lives easier, is also inherently flawed. It can be all too easy for someone’s tone to be misinterpreted, or for meaning to be misconstrued. When faced with the need to give, or get feedback, use video calls and ensure feedback is delivered face-to-face, instead of text-based methods of communication.
Commit to regular 1-1 conversations
In many organizations, the cadence for 1-1 conversations is likely to be semi-weekly, or even monthly. In a remote environment, ensuring there are open channels of communication that facilitate feedback requires taking a proactive approach. It takes diligence in a remote environment to ensure that people have clear goals to work on, are getting the feedback they need to do their jobs well, and most importantly, are happy coming to work every day.
To ensure everyone on our team is feeling engaged, challenged, and supported in their work, we use 15Five to help facilitate quick weekly virtual check-ins, and we ensure everyone has regular 1-1 meetings over video call, goal tracking, and formal performance reviews.
When done right, we’re still convinced that the pros of remote work far outweigh the cons. The reality is, no job is perfect. Like anything, remote working takes getting used to, and even after months or years of doing it, there will always be aspects of remote work that come easier than others.
There are some useful tools out there to help you too, like Bonsai, which will make planning projects and completing tasks much easier in your daily work life.
Understanding these common challenges is the first step to remote work success—just remember what works for one person may not work well for another. Ultimately, working remotely takes diligence and commitment to being honest with yourself and your team when something is going awry, so you can work together to change it!
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