Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, more people than ever are working remotely from home. We are fortunate to live in an age where technology allows many of us to continue working and keep our jobs.
Working remotely has many benefits including work-life balance, no commute, and, for some, improved productivity. Businesses also recognize these benefits and that is why there has been a 91% increase in remote workers over the last 10 years.
So, it is not unreasonable to expect that remote work as the new normal will be a mainstay for a greater number of people, even after social quarantines have been removed.
There can be downsides to working remotely, and some people are starting to experience these. Fortunately, these downsides are well documented and various methods have been developed to work through them.
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What are the Downsides?
In spite of the many benefits, there can be downsides to working remotely. These downsides shouldn’t be reason enough to dissuade someone from working remotely, however, they do warrant consideration.
Some of the downsides to working remotely from home include:
- Feelings of isolation
- Blurred lines between work and home life
- Detachment from co-workers and the office
- Drop in productivity
Your job is important, and you have work to do, so how do you deal with these situations?
Manage Feelings of Isolation
It’s not surprising that loneliness or feelings of isolation can be a huge downside of working remotely. If you live alone, it’s possible that you could go days without in-person contact, and your interactions with other people may be limited to work-related discussions.
With social distance measures in full effect, these feelings could be amplified even further. Some people prefer to be alone, so this may not be an issue at all. But if you’re not one of those people, what can you do?
Harvard Medical School has published an article that outlines how to socialize during a pandemic. It emphasizes an assessment based on a spectrum of risk to guide your social interactions. You should review local information on spread of the virus, assess your susceptibility and risk factors, and evaluate activities based on location, duration, and setting.
It should go without saying that you should comply with local laws and mandates and choose low risk social interactions. This can include activities that take place outdoors where you’re able to maintain proper social distancing, such as going for a walk with a friend or meeting in a park.
Other ways to maintain contact with friends and family include texting, social media, writing a letter, or scheduling regular phone calls. Having regular contact with people will help reduce the sting of not being able to see people face to face on a regular basis and help you cope with feelings of isolation.
Set Boundaries Between Work and Home
When working from home, sometimes the boundaries of home and work life can disappear. Without the normal routines of office life, such as a commute, lunch break, mid-afternoon coffee-run (make it decaf!), etc… You may find that you’re lacking the mental cues that normally define your workday.
This could lead to a daily pattern where you’re getting out of bed, logging into your work computer, and then working into the late hours. This issue can be exacerbated if you are plugged into a messenger program that makes you more accessible to your coworkers.
This behavior can ultimately lead to job burnout and that is why it is important to establish some boundaries when working from home.
Things that you can do to separate work from home include:
- Establish a workspace that is only used for work. This can be a home office, or a desk and chair that you only use for work. This will allow you physical separation from work when you are “off the clock.”
- Stick to a schedule. This will help you, your manager, and your co-workers recognize when you are and aren’t available. It’s helpful if you use email or an instant messaging program to notify your manager and co-workers when you sign on and off for the day.
- Keep a daily routine. This is similar to your schedule except you are considering activities. This includes your morning coffee, lunch break, afternoon walk, and other activities. If you have an evening workout, you are more apt to stick to your work schedule.
Deal with Distractions
There are plenty of distractions at home and you will have to master these if you have any hope of being productive. This can include family, pets, tv, and anything else that steals your attention.
Everyone has different distractions, so it is important to recognize the various distraction triggers throughout your house and take measures to minimize their influence on your workspace.
If you have family at home, this may mean setting up your work area in a room that allows you to lock the door. You can also wear noise cancelling headphones or play music at a volume that drowns out household noises.
If you have a tv within view of your work space, try tuning in to some zen-like programming for background noise and non-flashy visuals. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a window in your home office. Youtube livestreams of various natural locations such as a forest or the ocean work well for this (I’m fond of NASA’s ISS live earth stream).
Stay Relevant and Connected
When you don’t have regular facetime with your manager and co-workers, it can feel like you’re on an island. So, it’s important to make some noise and keep yourself connected.
Hopefully your manager is reaching out to you for regular check-ins. If not, you should touch base at least once or twice a week to let them know what you are up to and receive company updates.
If possible, you can also invite your manager or other co-workers to meet for lunch or drinks. The free flow dialogue that happens during meals and drinks can provide valuable company insight and strengthen bonds.
The company you work for may have initiatives in place to help facilitate connections between employees. So you should participate and make a good showing. This will allow you to connect with co-workers and remind people that you exist.
It should also be noted that these events are generally approved by upper management, so they will see your participation as an expression of gratitude.
Be Self-Motivated and Productive
Working remotely from home means your boss won’t be peering over your shoulder to make sure you’re staying on task. If you slack off and your boss notices a drop in productivity, you’ll have a hard conversation to look forward to.
Self-motivation is a skill you can develop and developing this skill will help you stay productive. If you feel like you’re not getting it done or are having issues with procrastination, consider the following:
- Create a “to-do” list on a daily basis. Having a to-do list will help you wrap your mind around what needs to be done for the day. Plus, when you finish a task, there is some satisfaction in scratching it off the list. This also keeps you from forgetting important tasks that need to completed before the end of the day.
- Minimize distractions. Turn off the phone notifications, declutter your workspace, and only check email at set times. If your mind is constantly pulled in different directions, you will fall into the inefficient and tiring trap of multi-tasking.
- Use a process-based approach to tasks. If the thought of completing a deliverable is overwhelming and demotivating, home in on the first step, set a timer for 25 minutes, and get to work. When 25 minutes is up, take a 3-5 minute break, and then do it again.
Your brain doesn’t like doing things that are uncomfortable or undesirable, so the idea here is to bypass that thought process and automate your behavior. For more tips to help you stay on task, look at our post on how to maintain productivity.
The Cost of Working Remotely
Working remotely isn’t free, so some people may perceive this as a downside. You have costs for internet service, workspace, and you have to buy your own coffee and tea. So this could be viewed as a downside, but it should be noted that the average person saves over $4,000 per year by working remotely (that’s like a $2 raise!).
These savings happen because you’re not buying gas for your car, you spend less on clothes, you eat out for lunch far less, and some people may have lower child-care costs. Not only that, but you gain a lot of extra free time that would otherwise be spent in traffic. So you are actually gaining quite a bit by working remotely from home.
Any up front or small recurring costs should be weighed against these savings. Which means that in the long run, there is no real downside for getting set up to work from home from a cost standpoint. In fact, many companies even provide stipends or one-time payments to help you get set up.
Making it Work
In spite of some downsides, there are many benefits to working from home. Whether this is more free time, more time with your family, or extra money in your pocket. So it’s worth strengthening your self-discipline and building the skills necessary to be an effective remote worker.
What helps you stay productive when working remotely? Please share what works for you by leaving a comment below.