Remote Control – The Challenges of Working Remotely
Here at InventoryLab we all work remotely. Our team members are spread throughout the United States, and it’s been incredibly beneficial for us. We’ve been able to pull talent from all over the country instead of being limited to one geographical area. As a result, our small team is unique and diverse. Each person brings their own special talents, backgrounds, and cultures to the table, and working remotely allows all of us to strike the right balance between our work and personal lives.
But as advantageous as working remotely can be, there are some uphill battles too. If you’re currently a remote employee or entrepreneur, you’ll recognize these challenges all too well. If working remotely is something you’ve always dreamed about, then these are the realities you need to be aware of.
Don’t be discouraged though – we’ve also provided some ideas and tips to overcome each challenge. No matter what situation you’re in, there are ways to tackle each obstacle head-on and truly focus on being productive and successful!
Pardon the Interruption
This is probably one of the biggest challenges people face when working from home. Between the kids, partners and spouses, pets, the phone, and the doorbell, it can sometimes feel like there are constant interruptions. Not only are interruptions disruptive to the flow of your work, they can make you feel frustrated, irritable, and unable to maintain any kind of focus throughout the day.
If you have a dedicated workspace in your home, try using visual cues to your family to indicate when you shouldn’t be interrupted. A simple sign on a closed door can be effective with a phrase like “Do Not Disturb”. If you have small children who can’t yet read, consider a two-sided sign with a red side and a green side. Explain to them that if the sign is red, they aren’t allowed to come into the room or even knock until the sign is green again. The only exception should be if there’s a real emergency.
For those who are more technologically savvy or just want to have a little more fun, you can rig up a system with red and green lights to indicate when you’re unavailable to others.
Block it Out
Once you’ve put something into place to keep family members from interrupting you, make a point of setting aside blocks of time when you refrain from answering non-emergency or non-work related calls, texts, and emails. By blocking out your day in much the same way you would working in a regular office, you can be more productive and task driven. It also allows you to take “scheduled” breaks as needed to keep you energized and alert.
Only the Lonely
If you’re the type of person who is more productive and successful at your job without other people around you, working remotely is probably a good fit. However, if you’re the more social type, working remotely can be a real adjustment.
At first, the solitude can be amazing. You don’t have to listen to office gossip around you, other people’s phone conversations, other people’s music, or deal with coworkers randomly stopping by your desk to say hello or ask questions. For some people, though, working remotely can feel isolating and lonely.
If you work on a team that has regular or semi-regular virtual meetings, chances are you may not be bothered by the lack of company as much as someone who works for themselves. If you’re an FBA seller without local employees, friends, or family members helping you, the isolation can sometimes feel overwhelming.
Playing your favorite music or podcast can often help minimize feelings of loneliness. Listening to podcasts in particular can help you feel a little more like there are actual people in the room with you. There are podcasts available for every type of personality, interest, and mood so change it up depending on how you’re feeling on any given day.
Change of Scenery
Sometimes just getting out of the house for a while can diminish your loneliness. Working from a coffee shop or cafe can provide the human interaction and sense of companionship missing when you work by yourself. Whenever possible, arrange to have a friend or family member meet up with you for lunch or coffee.
Man’s Best Friend
If you don’t already have a pet, consider getting one to keep you company. Before deciding on what kind of pet you want, educate yourself about how much time and attention the animal will need. If you just want a living thing to talk to now and then that doesn’t need your constant attention, you might do well with a cat, fish, hamster, or reptile. If you have your heart set on a dog but can’t imagine trying to corral an energetic, needy puppy while you’re trying to work, a full-grown (and housebroken) rescue dog might be a better option.
Remember, while a pet can be therapeutic in many ways and the right one can provide the companionship you’re craving, it’s important to fully consider whether or not you’ll be able to meet their needs and still manage your time effectively before making a commitment.
Motivating Yourself to Stay, Well….. Motivated
When you have the freedom to work in your pajamas all day, it can sometimes be hard to find motivation. We have a few simple suggestions to help you hit the ground running every day.
Exercise can be a great way to jump into your workday and energize your body and mind. Whether you like to run, walk, strength train, or throw your own personal dance party to get moving, squeezing in your workout before you sit down and work can help you stay focused and engaged.
Avoid Rabbit Holes
Stay away from social media and/or streaming video services during the workday. Even if you rationalize this behavior by telling yourself you’ll only watch one video or take a quick peek at your FaceBook or Instagram feed, once you start down that path it’s too easy to fall into a million rabbit holes and kill your motivation and production.
Come up with a creative way to schedule your day and brainstorm ideas. A chalkboard or whiteboard can help you chart your ideas and progress, get you on your feet and away from your desk, and just be an overall fun way to stay motivated throughout the day.
Day and Night
If you have complete flexibility in your schedule, consider whether you’re a morning person or a night owl. Some people are at their most productive first thing in the morning and can easily keep a traditional workday schedule. If, however, the very thought of accomplishing anything before noon and five cups of coffee makes you tired, you may find your most productive time falls sometime between early afternoon and mid evening. Try putting that timeframe to good use by setting aside a 2-4 hour block to knock out the bulk of your work.
If you have school-age children, you may be familiar with that feeling of dread that often accompanies the end of the school year. Holiday and seasonal breaks can be difficult enough to navigate. Surviving two-and-a-half months of unbridled kid energy can feel nigh impossible.
Calling Mary Poppins!
Ideally, your kids won’t be in the house 24/7. If you haven’t already arranged for regular childcare, most communities have full and half-day summer camps, summer educational programs, and week-long specialty camps. If you don’t have these resources near you or your budget doesn’t allow for them, consider working out a deal with a friend, neighbor, or family member to help watch the kids on a part-time basis.
If you’re in a situation where your kids are going to be home with you all day every day for the duration, consider creating a structured day for them. This can include arts, crafts, games, outdoor play, and meals all set at certain times so they can stay busy and you can count on uninterrupted stretches of time to work.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Summertime is challenging because of how long it lasts, but what about those times when the kids are home unexpectedly? One weather event, power outage, or other unforeseen circumstance can shut down a school or daycare on any given day during the year, throwing your schedule and your sanity into a tailspin.
Make sure you’re already thinking ahead, especially during the times of year when this is most likely to happen. Have a contingency plan in place involving activities, movies, and anything else that will keep the kids safely and happily occupied. Most importantly, be very clear with them about boundaries and respecting your workspace. Explain why it’s so important that they allow you to work uninterrupted during designated hours.
Obviously, it’s a little easier to manage all of this with school-age children who are somewhat independent. If you have infants or toddlers, there may be days when you just have to accept that little to no work is going to get done and try to have some fun as well. After all, sometimes the best strategy is to know when to give yourself a break too!
One of the biggest challenges for any employee, especially remote workers, is open, clear communication with other team members and/or business partners. When you’re communicating virtually through email, messaging apps, and project management software, a lot of things can get lost in translation. There is definitely an advantage to having direct, face-to-face or even voice-to-voice contact when you’re trying to convey or absorb information, express ideas and opinions, and provide or receive guidance and direction.
If you feel as though there is a lack of communication, don’t allow the situation to escalate. Bring it to the attention of the appropriate people as soon as possible. Regardless of whether you’re dealing with coworkers, customers, partners, affiliates, etc., be specific and clear in your request for more or better communication. Use examples whenever possible, and try to present a solution to the problem. Do you feel that one person in particular isn’t communicating timely or concisely? Is this a company culture issue? If you manage others, consider your own role in the team’s communication (or lack thereof). Be clear what the expectations are of each individual, the team as a whole, and then lead by setting the example.
Another consideration is timezone differences. When you’re just about to end your day, other team members may be three hours behind. Communicate clearly to everyone involved directly and indirectly with your business when you’re available and ask them to do the same whenever possible. This can help avoid the frustration of feeling like someone is ignoring your messages rather than simply needing the appropriate amount of time to respond to them.
When you work from home, especially when you have flexible hours, time management can be a huge challenge. Manage your time poorly, and your productivity and overall work can suffer, not to mention your personal life if you’re working odd hours.
Create Some Structure
Time management can also tie into the issue of interruptions. You can create a structured day for yourself while still having the ability and the freedom to work around your personal life and outside influences. Are you the type of person who needs to schedule each and every hour for yourself including breaks and meals? Or are you more apt to be productive if you only add large projects and meetings to your calendar and play the rest of the day by ear? You know yourself, your work habits, and your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. Be honest with yourself about what will work long-term and what you need to improve when it comes to managing your time.
The Happy Medium
One trap that remote workers tend to fall into is the feast or famine syndrome. They either end up constantly working, or they find themselves getting distracted by everything and not getting much work accomplished. The trick is to find the right balance based on your type of work, your personal situation, and your goals and expectations.
Ask for Help
If you’re not sure how you can make improvements don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. If you’re on your own with no coworkers to turn to, consider asking other remote workers what works for them. Look on social media and/or message boards for strategies others have implemented to manage their time more effectively. Most people are happy to share their ideas, and you may find one or several that work for you as well.
The Bottom Line
Working remotely has so many advantages, it’s tempting to believe that it’s the perfect situation for anyone. Between the flexibility, the comfort of working in your own home (and let’s face it, in your pj’s), and not having to drive to work in inclement weather, it’s no wonder that it’s so appealing.
If you’re currently considering a remote job, keep in mind that like anything else, working remotely comes with its share of challenges and disadvantages. With a little creative planning and foresight, you can create a remote environment for yourself that not only keeps you focused and productive but also helps create the perfect work/life balance.