Working from home can be beneficial to both individual employees and organizations as a whole. A famous two-year study from Stanford confirmed that working from home can boost productivity (at least in certain industries), and most people would agree that skipping the stress and time associated with a daily commute is a benefit.
That said, remote work is not without its downsides, and most teams face significant obstacles when going remote for the first time. Success in remote work isn't necessarily about preventing these obstacles--but rather, accounting for them and figuring out a way to mitigate them.
These are some of the most common obstacles teams face when going remote. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome all of them.
1. Time management.
As any newbie will tell you, one of the hardest parts of acclimating to a work-from-home environment is finding a way to manage time. At a physical office, people are motivated by group start and stop times, and the energy of those around them. They want to finish work by 5 p.m. and keep pace with co-workers. But when those factors are invisible, and you have more time to finish your work, it's hard to stay motivated. There are many potential solutions here, but one of the best is implementing time tracking. This lets you see when and where you're going wrong, so you can brainstorm ways to tackle those issues.
In person, collaboration is easy. You can see each other, work at the same time, and call up other people or resources when necessary. But online, you might be dealing with different versions of the same files, or transparency issues. Luckily, there are platforms specifically designed to assist in remote collaboration, allowing teams to see each other's edits and comments in real time, so productivity doesn't take a hit. It's on you to choose the right app for your team.
When working in person at an office, you'll have the benefit of seeing body language, hearing tone, and visiting someone's office or cubicle whenever you want. Online, communication can be a mess, with chaotic conference calls, competing chat platforms, and constant notifications. Keep things streamlined by selecting a small range of different platforms, and specifying how each should be used (and when). No matter what, it's going to take some getting used to.
When isolated, people are going to be more responsible for resolving their own technological limitations. Someone's internet could go down, or someone's laptop could unexpectedly stop working. Ordinarily, an IT professional or office manager could step in to resolve the issue, but while working remotely these solutions may not be available. Providing additional tech support and training can help, as can simplifying the technical requirements of your workflows.
Did you know that a single distraction can compromise your focus for up to 23 minutes? And of course, working from home means you'll be constantly surrounded by distractions. The lure of the TV, the chatter of your spouse or children, and the call of the refrigerator can tempt you to look away from your work. Isolating yourself, disabling notifications, and (paradoxically) allowing distractions for short intervals can help you.
While working from home, you'll have constant access to food, and you'll have fewer excuses to go out and exercise. Accordingly, your health can take a hit. You'll need to take on more disciplined daily habits if you want to stay healthy--especially in the early stages.
7. Work-life balance.
Even if you're working from home, it's important to keep work life and home life separate. Designating a specific office space and setting specific work hours can help keep these worlds from colliding with each other.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when going remote is trying to merely translate their office to a home environment; they want to do everything the same way, just with digital tools. But this is untenable. Not only is it impossible to directly translate certain activities, but some traditional office habits were unproductive to begin with.
Instead, plan with remote work optimization in mind. Rather than shoehorning your office environment into a remote context, plan a new environment with remote teamwork as its base. You'll be much more successful at avoiding or mitigating the problems associated with remote work, and you'll get started with a much more flexible mentality.