Working remotely—from the comfort of your own home or from a hammock on the beach in the Caribbean—sounds like a dream. After all, who wouldn’t want to be rid of the daily commute or work from exotic locations across the world?
The reality of remote work, however, is hardly all sunshine and rainbows. The lack of a daily commute is great, but there are some downsides to working mostly alone that I’ve experienced within the two short weeks I spent working from home.
First, a little backstory
I fell sick on New Year’s Day, and that little fever turned into a bad case of pneumonia. Obviously, this meant some time away from work—but once I was out of the hospital and recovering well, I asked my manager to let me work from home for a few weeks and she agreed immediately. This wasn’t my dream remote work scenario, yet I really wanted to make it work—mostly because I was sick and tired of lying in bed all day.
Things got off to a good start. Not having to spend an hour or two on the road every day was awesome. By the end of the first day, I was going to bed earlier in the night so I could start work earlier the next day. I even had time for an afternoon nap! Well-rested and refreshed, I marked a few more tasks off my to-do list than usual and worked a few hours into the evening before signing off. Well… that was the plan. It worked well over the next few days, but I also encountered some unexpected challenges.
Here are three key challenges from my two weeks spent working remotely:
- Working from home can make it harder to stop working
- Working remotely doesn’t mean fewer distractions, just different ones
- Remote work can be liberating, but it can also be lonely
Working from home for the first time? We've put together The Flock Guide to Working From Home with just you in mind!
1. Working from home can make it harder to stop working
Sure, telecommuting or working from home can help us achieve better work-life balance, but it can make things worse, too. In an office setting, it’s easy to notice when everyone is leaving and begin winding down your day. Working from home—a cramped apartment in Mumbai with the windows shut and curtains closed to stop the noise—meant I had no such visual cues or hard stops to the day, and I’d sometimes work long into the night without realizing it. I once lost track of time writing an article late into the evening, only to be called out by a teammate in Boston who’d just gotten back from lunch. Tattletale! ;)
My solution? Set up Flock reminders to take regular breaks and schedule meetings in the evening (when my Boston teammates start their day and I’m at the end of mine). Setting a hard stop for the day after a meeting might sound counterintuitive, but it’s surprisingly helpful in structuring my workdays. In addition to serving as a reminder that it’s time to unwind, it gives me a list of action items to start the next day with—helping me to better manage my time and focus throughout each subsequent workday.
2. Working remotely doesn’t mean fewer distractions, just different ones
Working remotely means you avoid distractions such as noisy co-workers in an open-plan office or a colleague dropping by your desk for a “quick chat.” On the flip side, working from home involves dealing with distractions such as family, friends, kids, pets, the phone, the TV or whatever is in the fridge. Worse, when you’re “in the zone,” interruptions such as a neighbor that wants to borrow a hammer or a FedEx delivery person at the door can break your concentration. Studies show that it takes us an average of 20 minutes to refocus after we get distracted. A few such interruptions in a day, and it’s much harder to get back into the flow!
Honestly, I’ve no idea why my neighbor (who I’ve spoken to twice in two years!) thought I had a hammer handy at home—I didn’t. Once she’d confirmed that I was just another lazy bachelor with no redeeming qualities, I shut the door and walked into the kitchen for a quick snack. Two hours later, I was still munching on carrots and watching the highlights of Federer’s matches from a decade ago on YouTube.
Avoiding all distractions is impossible. However, I’ve learned that it's important to set expectations so folks around you know that you’re working during specific hours. Plus, I set my phone and Flock to DND so I can stay focused on the task at hand. If you’re like me, emptying the refrigerator is a good idea too. As for the neighbor ringing the doorbell, I haven’t yet figured out a solution except to put on headphones and act like I’m not home.
3. Remote work can be liberating, but it can also be lonely
In a team that works from an office, working from home also means missing the usual banter with colleagues and the occasional post-work party. This can foster a feeling of isolation and loneliness. In fact, as Buffer’s State of Remote Work report shows us year after year, loneliness is one of the biggest struggles remote workers face outside of remote work bias.
Personally, I didn’t miss the office banter until I realized I was out of the loop on a few things happening at work. Despite being liberated from the distracting office noise, knowing you are not a part of those watercooler conversations can amplify the fear of missing out (FOMO) that many remote workers experience. I was no exception, and I compensated for it by connecting with teammates on Flock video calls every day for a few minutes just to shoot the breeze. It also helped that I knew I was going to be back in the office soon enough. :)
P.S. For managers worried about remote team members feeling isolated, Gallup has some great advice here.
To sum up: Remote work is on the rise and an increasing number of businesses now offer telecommuting as an option. Working from home for two weeks was an interesting experience, and I loved getting back the hours lost in transit. There are real challenges involved in making remote work a viable solution for all kinds of businesses, but the upside—happier and thus more productive employees—is too big to ignore anymore. Plus, business collaboration tools like Flock are making it incredibly easy for teams—remote and not—to work together from anywhere.
On a personal note, I’m going to try working remotely again in the near future. I’ll just have to be better prepared this time.