10 Common Remote Work Problems and How to Overcome Them

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of a man sitting at his desk with a desktop featuring a meeting with four other people and a child holding a stuffed teddy bear and handing it towards the man

Years from now, we will look back and mark 2020 on our calendars as the time most people began working from home. As more professionals perform their duties from their kitchen or living room, many will ask the question, ‘Why did it take so long?’ Companies will concede that they should have embraced remote work a long time ago, while employees will show their employers how productive and happy they are by doing their job from the comfort of their fortress of solitude.

But is the grass always greener? Not quite. Unfortunately, the work-from-home trend presents its own unique set of challenges – for both work-from-home companies and employees. From the lack of team collaboration to the scarcity of high-performance technology, there is a downside to remote work.

So, what are some of the more common remote work problems? Better yet, how do you overcome these obstacles? We have compiled a list of the various remote work struggles and some effective solutions.

1. Collaborating remotely as a team

When you are fulfilling your obligations offsite and online, it can be hard to function as a team with the rest of your colleagues. You are not an arm’s length away, and you are not engaging around the office water cooler. Instead, you need to plan calls on Zoom or Skype or shoot off back-and-forth emails.

Both instances can make it hard to accomplish that instantaneous or lightning-in-a-bottle brainstorm. Although studies find that you can be more productive when working from home, it can impact workplace cohesion.

Businesses that have depended on remote teams for years have utilised communication and project management apps. This consists of programs like Slack or Trello, giving workers the opportunity to communicate in real-time and at any given moment. And, if you need document collaboration, Google Drive can also facilitate this need. Put simply, there is a laundry list of go-to apps for offsite teamwork.

2. Working in different time zones

Thanks to the internet and advanced technology, organisations are tapping the talent pool from around the world. It is common for an American start-up to have employees from the US, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom. While this is great for companies because they are expanding their horizons and finding talent in every pocket of the globe, it can make for awkward timing.

In other words, leading such a globally diverse workforce can be hard for time management because of, well, the time. According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report, the most common problem remote workers had was working across different time zones.

A workforce residing in different time zones does not need to be challenging. By establishing a fairly regular schedule with your team you can find better belance. Having a set of specific hours every week, will help everyone possess a general idea of who is available when.

Google Calendar is your friend in this endeavour. And, of course, something like Slack can be of tremendous assistance since it provides you with a glimpse of who is currently online.

3. Maintaining work-life balance

Studies from all over the world suggest that it has become increasingly difficult for remote employees to unplug and disengage from their job once 5 pm rolls in. The diminishing of work-life balance caused by working from home can produce as much stress and anxiety as being situated in an office and bringing your work home with you. At a time when so many people feel insecure about their jobs, it may feel like a necessity to work around the clock. Is there a solution?

Yes, there is. Everyone has their way of doing things, but the best tactic to achieve a work-life balance is to create a to-do list at the start of your day. Once you complete everything you need to do during an allotted period, then you unplug and disengage.

Other rudimentary tips include automating more mundane tasks, like automatic replies to emails or invoicing.

A recent Future of Work study by CareerAddict found that three in four workers think automation will enhance their work-life balance, so it might be time to start utilising the technology that is available to us to do so.

4. Avoiding distractions at home

You have a 60-inch, flat-screen television, a Super Nintendo, a record player for classic recordings of J.S. Bach’s harpsichord concertos and, of course, zero supervision. It is too enticing to take frequent five-minute breaks throughout your workday, which then turn into 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes and so on. Before you know it, you’re hardly doing any work, your productivity has been obliterated, and you have proven the remote work sceptics right. But it isn’t impossible to avoid distractions at home.

Many parents who find that their kids are too distracted by the stuff in their rooms, establish a dedicated workspace for studying, completing assignments and doing homework. The same idea should apply to you and your work: You need a dedicated workspace that is tailored to your professional needs and is only used for your work – nothing else.

Sure, you can still use the workstation to browse Facebook and play Solitaire, but this dedicated area will encourage you to do more work, and less play.

5. Completing tasks independently

Let’s be honest: You are too accustomed to having someone breathing over your shoulder. For much of your professional career, you’ve always had supervisors, managers and senior colleague micro-managing your tasks. This, unfortunately, has eaten away at your confidence, independence and autonomy.

Now that you are completely alone at home – or the coffee shop – you need to do things without supervision. For a lot of people, knowing how to function alone can be hard. But it is doable, especially as time goes by and you acclimate to remote work.

It may be a tired trope, but trust in your abilities to accomplish your goals for the day. And, speaking of goals, create a list of what you wish to achieve over the next several hours.

Moreover, when you are stuck, you should not feel ashamed for reaching out to your co-workers or communicating with your manager from time to time. For the most part, however, you need to trust your skills, judgment and work ethic to get the job done.

6. Managing your time effectively

If you thought your time management was bad at the office, imagine what it’s like working from home and without direct supervision. A common concern that remote workers have is that they are terrible at managing their time. This can be one of the drawbacks of working independently and not at a centralised location. Since telecommuting is the new norm, it’s time to prepare yourself for this reality.

Time management isn’t as intimidating as you think. It’s not a pipe dream. Instead, there are plenty of realistic tips you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine:

  • Plot your schedule for the workday
  • Dress like you’re going to the office (leave the pyjamas behind)
  • Establish boundaries that work for you
  • Utilise productivity apps

7. Remembering to take breaks

Unfortunately, one of the more common work from home problems is remembering to take breaks. Indeed, while some people may find it hard to get work done, others are possibly working too much.

Who can dispute the fact when you’re in a groove that it is hard to walk away? But it is critical to take breaks, whether it is going for a stroll outside your home or doing a short workout.

You may not think it is essential, but breaks can help keep you motivated throughout your day and week. But how can you remember to take these breaks?

It is estimated that working beyond 52 consecutive minutes can start triggering cognitive boredom and produce long-term negative effects. The simple solution is to take a break at the 52-minute mark. You can use the alarm on your smartphone or an app to alert you.

Once you have a few minutes, here are some ideas on how to spend them:

  • Distract yourself by switching off and letting your mind wander
  • Go for a walk, either outside or around your home
  • Snack on something, particularly healthy snacks that have can act as brain fuel, like a banana or dark chocolate
  • Adopt the 20-20-20 rule: Look away from your screen every 20 minutes and focus on an item 20 feet away for 20 minutes
  • Stretch! Many of us are unaware of the power of stretching our bodies

8. Interacting with people

If you’re an introvert, and being alone, working from home is the ideal situation. However, if you’re an extrovert who needs to be around people all the time, remote work is a frightening prospect. And, if you’re somewhere in the middle, you enjoy a mix of solitude and being in the company of others.

Whatever your feelings are, studies find that socialising at work is beneficial to productivity so that employers might encourage even more interaction among their remote workforce. In the end, you might feel too isolated if you’re working remotely full time.

Do you have an online network? If so, tap into this network, be it with colleagues, former classmates or family members. You can participate in online chats, message boards or webinars. You can also encourage more video meetings with your teammates.

9. Measuring your work performance

It is quipped that if you have a job tomorrow, you did a good job today. Well, at least in the work-from-home field where it can be a tad difficult in receiving on-the-job feedback from your superiors. Indeed, for a lot of remote workers, it might be hard to know if you have completed assignments, tasks and other aspects related to your job. If somebody isn’t doing it, you’ll have to do it yourself.

You can work hard, or you can be productive. These are two different concepts because a lot of people work hard, but they don’t do productive work. For example, you might be answering phone calls and engaging on Slack all day. This is work, but is it high-quality work? On the other hand, are you completing assignments, gathering leads and concentrating on a new project? This is the deep work that could be added to your daily productive baselines.

10. Forgetting to invoice

If you are a freelance worker, how many times have you forgotten to invoice? Or, if you receive a weekly or bi-weekly paycheque, how often have you forgotten to submit your hours? When you are working around the clock, or you are having a hard time adjusting to this new environment, the downside is that you make little mistakes. And neglecting to send an invoice is one of those errors that can cost you – literally.

A self-employed contractor or a freelancer – invoicing is critical to your living. Therefore, you need to make it a priority and at the top of your to-do list come payday. A reminder, a client invoicing application or an automatic invoice sender from PayPal, there are many ways to send your invoices on time and make sure your hard work is paid off.

Over the latest decade, studies have found that 52% of the global workforce works remotely at least once a week.

If you are finding yourself working from your home more than at the office, it is crucial to resolving the myriad of remote work problems.

Even the most seasoned telecommuters will come across a wide variety of struggles. But if you think you will be permanently working from home, it is best to overcome these hurdles now before they compound and worsen.

This is an exciting time for your career, so be sure to tackle these issues headfirst in order to take advantage of the plethora of benefits.

Do you work from home? What are some other problems you have encountered? Share them with us in the comments section below!