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4 Pitfalls of Working from Home – and What You Can Do to Avoid Them

With employers starting to recognize the many upsides of letting employees work from home, remote workers are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Owl Labs’ 2019 report shows that 40% of global companies allow some percentage of their employees to work from home, and an additional 16% of companies are fully remote (Bernazzani 2019). These percentages are likely to keep growing, as companies will need to keep hiring from a country-wide (or worldwide) pool of talent to remain competitive.

The report also shows that people who work from home are 29% more likely to be happy with their jobs. Working from home lets employees have better control over their work-life balance, giving them the freedom to focus on what they truly care about. They can become more productive by avoiding meetings and commuting, and they have more time left over to spend with their loved ones.

However, working from home has some downsides too. If you’re thinking about becoming a remote worker, or you’ve already chosen this option, keep reading to learn about the full picture.

The Main Sources of Distress When Working from Home

Buffer’s annual report on remote work polled 2,500 people working from home (State of Remote Work 2019). An amazing 99% of the respondents said they want to keep working remotely until they retire. The overwhelming majority also said that they recommend working from home to their friends and family.

The report also took a look at how people feel about working remotely. The main upsides are the flexible schedule, the ability to work from anywhere, and the time spent with family.

But what about the struggles? Some named timezone mismatches, Wi-Fi access, or low motivation as their biggest difficulty. However, the four main issues were the following.

Distractions

About 10% of respondents said that getting distracted was their biggest struggle when working from home. Losing the busy atmosphere of the office can be enough to make one’s attention splinter. Without oversight and the presence of coworkers, some find it more difficult to stay on task. There are also distractions from significant others, housemates, pets – and most importantly, children. One of the major reasons why people choose to work remotely is that they want to spend more time with their kids, but dividing their attention can lead to feeling distracted and overwhelmed throughout the workday.

What can you do about it?

First, it is important to keep in mind that being distracted at work is a widespread problem that affects those who work on-site as well. Research shows that workers get interrupted around seven times an hour (Nagle 2018) and we spend two hours a day just recovering from distractions.

So there is no need to feel that you are at an innate disadvantage just because you are working from home. Instead, you can make full use of the freedom at your disposal – for example, you can change your workspace to maximize your ability to engage with your job. This could mean getting out of the house to get work done, or creating a home office that remains off-limits to family members outside of emergencies. Renting a workspace can be worth the investment as well.

You can also use your flexible schedule, as long as you can maintain a firm daily plan and then stick to it. For example, you can choose the most affordable childcare options available and then fit your workday around that.

It is also important to pay attention to your habits and the way you spend your time. Learn about distraction triggers and the psychology of remaining undistracted. If you’re not sure where to start, consider this podcast interview featuring best-selling Wall Street Journal author Nir Eyal. Eyal goes into the myths and misunderstandings surrounding distraction, and the linked resources can be a great help if you want to make a change in your routine.

Collaborating and/or Communication

The report shows that 17% of respondents have problems with the collaborative part of their jobs. Even though communication often happens online even in on-site workplaces, those working from home may face some extra challenges. There is less of an opportunity to get to know your coworkers, and misunderstandings may happen more easily.

What can you do about it?

If you’re working from home, it is very important to work on your communication skills. Here are a few ways you can make collaboration easier:

  • Be open about your schedule and what you are working on. There is no need to be on-call 24/7 but your manager and coworkers should have a clear idea of what to expect from you.
  • Keep messages concise, leaving no room for ambiguity.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions and always confirm your understanding.
  • Any documentation you create should be easily accessible to others too.
  • Relying on written communication alone isn’t always enough. The occasional video call can do wonders for collaborative projects.
  • These are many tools and platforms that make team communication and remote organization easier. If possible, explore these options and suggest improvements.
  • Be considerate when talking to your coworkers.
  • Don’t skip out on informal conversations. Smalltalk may seem like a distraction, but it is actually a valuable tool that improves team cohesion.

Loneliness

The second-most common complaint featured on the Buffer poll has less to do with productivity and more with the personal side of working remotely. Feeling lonely is the main struggle of working from home according to 19% of respondents, and it is crucial to take this seriously. In time, feeling lonely and isolated can harm your mental and physical health (Schmalbruch 2019), and it can certainly have a negative impact on your work.

What can you do about it?

Workparent is a coaching company that focuses on helping working parents achieve a better work-life balance. Their recommendation for people working from home is to “allocate 10% of your time to relationship-building.” (Wademan Dowling 2017) This means taking the time – sometimes even when you’re off the clock – to show your coworkers that you’re paying attention to them.

As discussed above, these informal moments of workplace communication can make projects run more smoothly. But building connections also helps ease the loneliness that comes with working from home. Talking to people who understand the job and have gone through the same experiences can be a great motivator to keep working.

On the other hand, the loneliness of working from home can come from changes in your personal life.

Unfortunately, there is still a widespread idea that working from home is easy or unambitious. This might make you feel guilty in conversation with friends and family who are working 9-to-5 jobs. At the same time, you may end up doing overtime to prove your commitment to your job.

In either case, your personal relationships suffer. One solution to this problem is to schedule some time off with the people you care about. Perhaps you could go hiking with your friends, take a class together, or simply invite them over for dinner. You can also consider joining a club or do some volunteering to ward off loneliness and become more balanced.

Unplugging After Work

According to the Buffer poll, the most common problem with working from home is that work starts bleeding over into your free time. 22% of respondents said their biggest struggle is to unplug after work. In part, this comes from the guilt mentioned above – if you feel a constant urge to prove yourself, you may end up working all the time. But there is also the fact that working from home makes harder to stop thinking about your ongoing tasks.

What can you do about it?

Psychologist Guy Winch has a fascinating TED talk on rumination, which in this case means the unproductive and harmful way we think about work even when we’re supposed to be resting. You can watch it here:

Winch says that working from home makes this tendency worse. “More and more of us are losing our physical boundary between work and home. And that means that reminders of work will be able to trigger ruminations from anywhere in our home.” (Winch 2019)

His advice is to reassert your boundaries intentionally. You can literally unplug from the tools you use for work – for example, never check your notifications or inbox after 8 PM. But it also helps to alter your environment when your workday is done. Changing the lighting and music is a simple way to signal to yourself that it’s time to relax. Most importantly, keep in mind that you need and deserve to take a break from time to time, and it’s up to you to make this happen.

Don’t Get Stuck

Working from home is definitely here to stay, and it is becoming an option in a growing number of industries. This means that there is a great deal of support available to people who are working remotely. The moment you notice that the way you work is causing you problems of any kind, you can start looking for help. Sometimes, it’s enough to talk to others going through the same things, as it can give you a new perspective on the way you approach your job and life.

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