The Challenges of Working Remotely, And How to Overcome Them

March 29, 2017

Some big challenges work-from-home employees face is isolation, a feeling of being forgotten and giving and taking feedback.

More people today than ever are working remotely. A new report by Gallup found that 43 percent of American employees now work remotely at least some of time, up from 39 percent in 2012.

Additionally, Gallup found workers are spending more time working remotely, with many entirely remote.

That sounds great, as working remotely and the flexibility that comes with it empowers more people to pursue the work they love. But, as anyone who has worked remotely knows, there are some major drawbacks to working from home as well.

In his LinkedIn Learning course on the subject, Instructor Todd Dewett identified the three most common challenges employees face when they work remotely, along with strategies to overcoming each one.

1. Isolation.

Working from home sounds great. You can wear pajamas all day, there are no annoying colleagues to deal with and you can do the laundry while you work.

But, after a very short while, those benefits begin to lose their luster. And soon you realize you’ve spent the entire day in your sweatpants and haven’t talked – or even seen – another person for the past six hours.

Quickly, working from home can go from amazing to isolating.

Dewett recommended a few strategies to avoid that feeling. They are:

  • Meet with your team in-person on some regular basis. Depending on your situation, that can mean once a week, once a month or twice a year. That face-to-face interaction is key to feeling like you are truly part of the team.
  • Remember the purpose behind your work. Working from home can make you lose sight of the bigger purpose behind your job, making work feel like little more than a series of tasks you need to achieve. To avoid this, remind yourself of the higher purpose behind your work and the benefits it has to the world around you.
  • Spend 5 percent of your day using technology to connect socially. Email, text, chat, video chat – there’s no shortage of ways to communicate with colleagues today. While those methods should primarily be used to communicate professionally, Dewett recommends spending 5 percent of your day using them to connect socially with your colleagues. Again, this will make you feel more a part of the team.
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks. There’s nothing more isolating than sitting at your computer and cranking out work by yourself all day. And the reality is office workers take breaks throughout the day, so you should too. Dewett recommends dedicating 10 percent of your day to taking breaks. Ideally, you’d spend some of this time with other people, either with neighbors or friends and family via the phone or text.

2. Feeling like you are losing influence.

When you work from home and others are in the office, you can feel like the forgotten one. While others are getting face time with key stakeholders and pushing their agenda, you are in your home, cranking away alone.

To push against this and ensure your voice is heard, Dewett recommends doing these three things:

  • Ensure you meet with your boss and your team often. Dewett recommends talking with your boss two to three times a week via video chat or on the phone. For your team, proactively update them on the work you are focused on and your progress. Also, going back to the last point, being social with them occasionally can help here too.
  • Stay up-to-date and proactively share your views on key issues. You don’t need to know what every person is doing at all times. But, there are always a few big issues your team is focused on that you do need to stay up-to-date with and be sharing your opinions on. To do this, identify the two or three people most influential to the decision, and reach out to them with any questions and your point of view.
  • Build relationships with the key people in your organization. You obviously need to form a strong relationship with your boss, which is covered in the first bullet. But, identify two or three influential people at your organization that you want to form relationships with: maybe it's a rising star, someone who is politically well-connected or a star performer. Create a dialogue with them by asking their opinion on something and going from there, perhaps even forming a social relationship with these people. This will ensure they factor you in when making decisions.

3. The seemingly impossible task of giving and taking feedback remotely.

Giving and taking feedback is hard enough. But it’s even harder remotely.

Whenever giving feedback, Dewett recommends following these five rules, regardless if you are remote or not: make it specific; make it descriptive so they are aware of an issue, instead of evaluative so it feels like you are condemning their performance; own your feedback, instead of trying to pass the blame on others; make it about issues, not about the person; and give one piece of feedback at a time, not many.

Okay, those are the rules for giving feedback generally. But, specifically, how do you give feedback remotely? There are a few rules to follow, Dewett said:

  • Either give the feedback in-person or on the phone/video chat, with a well thought-out email serving as a last resort. Never give critical feedback over chat or text.
  • When giving the feedback, praise something they did first, give the feedback second and then allow them time to talk through it third. Ideally, this is done over the phone or on video chat, because that best fosters dicussion and understanding.

Finally, receiving feedback remotely can be even more difficult than receiving it when you work in-person. The reason is you often don’t have the same social relationship you’d have in-person, and it can make you feel particularly isolated and unimportant to your team.

Don’t let those emotions overtake you. Feedback is critical for growth, and when you do receive feedback, Dewett said there’s a process you should follow.

“You need to acknowledge that you received it, signal that you understand the feedback and suggest specifically how you will use the feedback,” Dewett said in his course. “When you do that the person who gave it to you will feel much more confident that you're on the right track.”

Tying it all together

There are a lot of benefits of working remotely. You can set your own hours to some degree, you can do chores during the day and you avoid all the distractions of the office.

That said, there are some negatives as well, with three of them highlighted here. The more proactive you can be about addressing these issues, the less likely you’ll face these challenges and the better experience you’ll have.

Do you work from home? Watch Dewett’s full LinkedIn Learning course, Working Remotely, today.

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