Remote work, which was considered a bit outlandish just a few short years ago, has fast become the new normal. With 16% of companies in the world going 100% remote, the global remote workforce is only expected to rapidly grow by the decade’s end.
However, remote work comes with some rather daunting challenges as well. Loneliness, communication issues and the inability to unplug come in on top.
If you already work remotely full time or if you’re considering making the transition to a fully remote workplace, here’s how you can overcome the hidden risks of working from the non-office.
A lack of work-life balance
Working from home comes with an unprecedented sense of freedom. You can work whenever you feel like it (more often than not), and you don’t even have to put pants on.
However, this “anytime, anywhere” mindset can soon morph into quite the challenge, and you may find yourself working longer hours than before.
When your home is also your office, drawing a clear line between being productive and relaxing is not going to be as easy as you might have initially imagined. If you’re someone who needs to physically separate work from play, you may be in for an especially rough time.
The long hours and the absence of balance can quickly lead to unrecognized burnout. We often confuse its signs with mere stress or tiredness, and the consequences of untreated burnout can be dire. You’ll want to keep a watchful eye out and make a change in time.
Consider work-life integration
Instead of stressing about the concept of work-life balance when it seems unachievable, consider turning it into work-life integration. While the balance concept revolves around separating work and life, integration advocates blurring the lines and letting the two sides of your life coexist in harmony.
This means you no longer track your hours but instead focus on getting your daily tasks done as productively and effectively as you can. It may mean getting to work after 3 PM because you spent the morning running errands. But it also means you arrive at your virtual stress-free, as having accomplished so much already.
Start scheduling everything
If you’re not a fan of the work-life integration concept, you can try using the calendar method. Block out the time you need for professional and personal tasks. This will mean scheduling breaks, sleep, meal times, and time with your friends and family, too.
The benefit of this method is that you don’t let yourself work too much, as you have other commitments chalked down. You’ll need to start attending to them on time – even if they are taking a walk or watching Netflix.
Set yourself clear hours
Although it may feel counterintuitive and like it’s going against all the benefits of remote work, setting yourself a start and an end time for work can help a lot, too.
If there is a certain time that you need to be available anyway, you can add your extra hours around it. You can also split your working hours into two, with a long break in between, if that’s what works best for your productivity style. Knowing there is an endpoint in sight can help you work more efficiently.
Difficulty assessing a new company’s culture
Without engaging with a new company, client or manager in person, it can be rather difficult to gauge what their culture is like and whether you will fit into it in the first place. There are, however, some signs of good company culture you can keep an eye out for, even remotely.
Check out their online presence
You can discover a lot about a company by doing a bit of social media snooping. Check out their LinkedIn profile, and take a look at what the people working for them have said in the past. Glassdoor is a good place to visit too.
Their website will also tell you a lot, so if they’ve written about their culture explicitly, be sure to ask appropriate questions during the interview.
Follow the top people
Check out the online presence of the top managers and executives in the company. They are usually the key driving force behind a company’s culture, and their views and thoughts will tell you a lot.
Trust your gut. If someone’s online persona isn’t to your liking, your instinct has probably picked up on something.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled during the interview
Companies that foster a culture you want to be a part of will exude it at all times – especially during the interview. You want to feel safe, heard and free to ask any number of questions. The interviewer should have all the answers ready or feel comfortable enough to ask a higher-up if they don’t.
If the hiring process feels odd and you don’t feel valued, chances are the culture you could become a part of isn’t what you are looking for.
The impact of isolation and loneliness
Remote work happens to be a recipe for loneliness. After all, no amount of Zoom calls and Slack chats can ever replace human interaction. Remote workers will often feel isolated, suffer from FOMO, and find themselves feeling increasingly alone.
It will be up to you to be highly aware of this risk and put in place systems to avoid it. As you start to feel more isolated, your productivity and motivation will begin to suffer too, and you will feel less and less satisfied with your job.
Set social breaks
When scheduling your breaks, make sure they are social ones. Set up lunch with friends or family, and make a conscious effort to leave your house as often as possible. It may just be going to the store or running errands, but you need to do it every day.
Sign up for an in-person class or course, find a sociable hobby, and strive to spend as much time around humans as possible.
Don’t work from home
Remote work doesn’t have to equal working from home. Try going to a coworking space or even a coffee shop – you’ll feel much less isolated when surrounded by others. Even your local coffee shop will do.
Chat with your coworkers
Even if you were not a fan of watercooler chat while you were still working from an office, you might find you now miss it. It’s certainly a distraction, but it can do a lot to abate loneliness.
Take these conversations online, and chat with your coworkers. Ask them about their interests and hobbies, about the jobs and the company itself. Some might prefer not to engage, but there will certainly be others who are feeling just as isolated as you are. They’ll appreciate the human touch.
Feeling out of the communication loop
When a team can’t meet in person, there is a risk that not everyone will understand what’s expected of them and how a specific task should be executed. And while the company or client your work for should always strive to do their best, some just aren’t great at online communication.
If you are the only remote worker or part of a minority, the chances of communication mishaps are especially high. It will be your job to ensure you get everything you need to do your best work. Don’t just expect the other side to go out of their way. Take the responsibility on yourself.
Ask all the questions
Start by speaking up and advocating for yourself at all times. It will take some time to get used to it, but you can become much more assertive over time.
Whenever something is unclear, ask a question. You may find others wanted to ask the same thing but were afraid to speak up. Even if you walk out of an online meeting feeling like everything has been said, but then you discover afterwards that there are still holes in your understanding, follow up.
Choose the right channels
Don’t demand immediate answers over email. Use a chat app for that. Don’t ping someone over chat if you don’t need the answer right away: Email will do. For absolute emergencies, make an actual call.
Working fully remotely can be an incredible way to live your life, but there are plenty of challenges involved. By adjusting your expectations and preparing for the darker side of remote work, you’ll feel better and more ready to take on this new stage of your career.