The Challenges of Working from Home and How to Overcome Them
Derrick Omollo | 15th April 2020Productivity
The Challenges of Working from Home and How to Overcome Them
Derrick Omollo | 15th April 2020Productivity
You’ve just had breakfast and are about to sit down and begin on some pressing work which is on a deadline. You pull your chair, have a sit, switch on your laptop and just when you’ve activated the window your work was on, “DING! DONG! Baba Tommy, uko na screw driver utusaidie”. Minutes later, the garbage guy. Another few minutes later, your kid wants help with his studies or play.
These distractions and more, make up some of the challenges that are inevitable while you seek to use your home for a workstation. A report from the United Nations International Labour Organization found that while employees are more productive when they work outside of the conventional office, they're also more vulnerable to working longer hours, a more intense work pace, work-home interference, and, in some cases, greater stress.
At times, it may seem almost impossible to hack through some of these challenges of working remotely but with this insightful piece, I’d like to prove it otherwise. I shall be breaking down the challenges and the solutions to curbing them so as to make your time working from home as productive as working in your office.
Basically, working remotely blurs the petite line between home and work. When your television, kitchen, couch, bed and work desk are literally under the same roof, it becomes difficult to set the boundary between working hours and regular hours, when you should be relaxing or performing house chores. This in turn will have you working the longest and oddest hours. You’ll find there’s always something to be done and you’ll probably be checking mails when you should be sleeping or closing pending tasks when you should be having breakfast. It’s easier to quit what you’re doing when you’re at your workplace but when your office is where you live, the contrary may be inevitable. You may forget to take breaks or even fail to establish a reasonable time to stop working.
How to avoid overworking
You could avoid overworking from home by setting appointments on your calendar for the end of the day. These could include gym appointments and shopping. It could be an appointment to complete the next chapter of a book you’re reading or just a moment to take a walk around the block.
You could also create a physical boundary between you and your workspace. This could simply involve a room with a lockable door which you could make use of after work and put a we’re closed sign. You could also simply just put your laptop out of reach after work or try partitioning off part of a room for work so it feels like a separate space.
You could also turn off notifications on your phone and computer to avoid being dragged back to work long after you’ve closed shop.
Finally, be clear with your team when on you’re leaving – it could be an announcement on Slack – and actually signing out and shutting down your computer.
- Difficulty prioritizing work and managing time
While working remotely, there will always be the constant temptation to catch up on an episode of a show you love, to break off for house chores or to visit a friend you haven’t seen in a while. By the time you’re done with either engagement, its evening and you have nothing to show for the day.
Working remotely means you’ll not have a supervisor constantly looking over your shoulder or managing your time for you. Remote workers have to be experts at time-management.
How to prioritize and manage your own time and schedule
Set your workdays and hours and stick to them. In most cases, that either means maintaining regular business hours or basing your work hours on the schedule maintained by your spouse or kids. This will give you appropriate time to spend time with family, sleep in or attend to an appointment.
You could also begin your day with the hardest and most demanding task. This will free up your day for less demanding tasks and you won’t have to spend your day constantly looking over your shoulder or worrying about the difficult task ahead.
Additionally, you could limit the number of tasks you plan to do each day. Using the all famous 1-3-5 rule, you could plan to do just one big thing, three medium things and five small things per day.
If you thought working from home meant ridding yourself of office distractions like a birthday party in the conference room or that colleague that constantly hangs at your desk, well think again.
It should come as no surprise that you’ll have a lot more to deal with from your home office. It could be the delivery guy, your neighbour asking to borrow your garden hoe, an old friend dropping by for a chat or your 5 year old wanting to play.
Finding a good place to take conference calls to evade interruptions from family or avoid waking a sleeping baby can be tedious and frustrating.
How to overcome interruptions
Put up a kind of signal that lets others know when you're in focus mode. It could be a”do not disturb” sign on your door or when you put on your headphones. (Or maybe you have to actually lock the door and pretend you're not home.)
You could also set rules with your family not to disturb you while you’re working. Tell them to behave as though you were at the office. Explain to them why it's important for you to avoid interruptions.
You could also get child care for the young kids unless you plan on working only when they’re asleep.
It can also be frustrating to be interrupted just because you’re the only person that knows how where the masking tape is. So in this regard, train your kids and significant other to be self-sufficient and occupy themselves.
You could also strive and keep consistent work hours. Avoid picking calls when you’re working or replying to messages.
You could also try removing distractions from your work area. With no TV or books around, you succumb to them less easily.
If all else fails, try working out of a co-working space, the library, or a coffee shop.
- Loneliness and Social Isolation
Sitting at home by yourself all day may take a toll on you. Humans are social animals. They need to interact other people. Without a water cooler moment to swap jokes, stories, and shop talk around occasionally, telecommuters can get lonely. Videoconferencing helps — a little. But it’s not the same as face-to-face interaction.
People who work in shared offices experience impromptu "watercooler" moments of interaction and maybe even share meals together or after-work drinks. Remote workers? We often work asynchronously with our teammates and perhaps have only our houseplants to talk to.
How to overcome loneliness and social isolation
You can include social breaks in your schedule by working a few hours then spending an hour or two doing something social outside of your home, such as lunch with friends, then going back to work. Just going out and grabbing a snack while chatting with the counter person can be rejuvenating.
You could also try working at co-working spaces or coffee shops so you'll at least feel like you're still a part of society. You might just find that you'll make friends with the people who work at and from the coffee shop. Think of it as your second office.
You could also be more intentional about joining local groups or organizations. Find a meetup, attend networking conferences, or take some classes at your town's recreation center.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you could engage in video calls with friends and family or meeting privately with a friend or two. Consider walks, hikes, or other solo outdoor activities, which offer plenty of ventilation.
- Communication and coordination challenges
It may prove difficult when every member of a team is working from home. It’s hard enough to hold productive in-person meetings to coordinate different team members’ efforts to remain aligned.
Team collaboration tools like Slack exist specifically to make it easier for companies to stay in touch and stay organized. GoToMeeting is another popular choice for companies to stay in touch using video conferencing.
How to overcome communication and coordination challenges
If you’re a boss or supervisor, schedule weekly phone or videoconference meetings with your most important teams. Check each team member’s progress toward their previously agreed-upon deliverables and goals. At the end of each session, set new deliverables and objectives for each individual. Ask each responsible team member to repeat these back to make sure they fully understand them.
Team members should similarly confirm their priorities and tasks with their boss or supervisor and colleagues before setting off to complete them. Virtual communication leaves too much room for ambiguity, so verify assignments at the end of any call, conference, or email. The same policy applies to self-employed workers communicating with clients and vendors.
For daily communication, use collaboration tools like Slack or nTask to keep track of all communications and ensure all team members remain in the loop using the same platform. These allow for tracked communication threads between two or more people, assignments, file sharing, private messages, and more, replacing email for more consolidated quick communication with no lost messages, spam, or nonwork distractions.
- Reduced supervision and direction
Providing direction and supervision is a supervisor’s crucial purpose to the staff s/he oversees. Bosses not only tell you what you need to do, but they give you feedback about your progress on it.
Working from home may see a lapse in this direction and supervision.
How to overcome reduced supervision and direction
You could remain in close communication with your supervisor. Ask them which projects you should prioritize and when they expect you to reach each milestone.
At least once each week, connect with them to discuss your progress, your challenges, and any ideas to address those challenges. Keep them in the loop so they can provide better feedback and direction.
If you work for yourself, start with setting broad weekly goals. Then every morning, set three high-priority tasks. You can cycle in smaller tasks like keeping up with email as you get a free five minutes, but keep your eye on the larger high-impact tasks.
All of these help you answer that most critical of questions: What’s the most important work I can do today?
Closing off . . .
After overcoming all the above challenges of working remotely, you’ll find work to be fulfilling, flexible and autonomous. You’ll also enjoy the opportunity to work in your best environment and your productivity will be highly enhanced plus if you play your cards right, perhaps also find more time for a life outside of work.
Stay safe, stay home and sanitize!
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