“Working remotely is an exciting opportunity for almost everyone but as I learned, there are many hard lessons to overcome for new remote workers.”
When I left my 9-5 office job for the final time, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never worked remotely before although I knew that increasing numbers of people around the world were working away from the office.
But it’s not all roses and sunshine. Three years into remote work and I find myself still learning!
Here are five of the toughest lessons I’ve learnt as a new remote worker and my advice for dealing with them:
1. Getting easily distracted.
This might sound surprising, but it can be even harder to concentrate when you’re working alone at home as opposed to being in an office full of people.
The main challenge is not having anyone in your space overseeing your productivity – no one keeping an eye on you, leaning over your desk and making sure you’re working each day.
Then there’s the Internet. The greatest invention of the 21st century and the most important technology today can also be a major distraction and decrease your productivity.
While Internet connectivity is a must-have for remote workers, allowing us to fulfill our work online, it can also tempt us into NOT doing our work.
I found myself wasting hours just going through Facebook or watching YouTube videos. Not to mention all the times I played video games, went on spontaneous trips just for the sake of it, and hung out with my friends during times when really I should have been working.
Solution: Block out the distractions one by one. When you work remotely, all your bad habits will come out. Divide and conquer! Use apps like RescueTime to record and cap your activities online. If you find yourself spending too many hours on Facebook, use programs like FocusMe to block out time on both your PC and phone.
2. Not scheduling my work day.
Aside from getting distracted, effectively managing your work schedule can be another challenge for remote workers. Being my own manager, I found this to be a constant battle.
Those who are starting out could be like me and not follow a set schedule to begin with. Wake up, work, and go to bed sounds simple enough but you need self-motivation to stay on task.
If you factor in everyday chores, eating, and dealing with clients and colleagues in multiple time zones, sticking to a schedule is a must.
Not managing time effectively can bring on unnecessary stress. It can lead to overworking and allocating time and resources inefficiently; which often results in working MORE than the traditional 9-5 office job so as to avoid missing deadlines or having to push projects back.
Solution: The key for me was figuring out my chronotype. Not everyone works the same way. Some people are night owls while some are early birds.
Many remote jobs, depending on the nature of the work, will allow you the freedom to create your own schedule and work when you’re at your most effective. It may take you a while to determine what works best for you, but once you find your pattern, stick with it!
3. Feeling isolated.
People are social animals. Whether we’re introverts or extroverts, party animals or lone wolves, we need time to interact with others. People make friends at work; in fact, a fifth of them end up meeting their partners in the office, according to a survey conducted by Mic in 2015.
That’s what happens when most of us spend 30 to 40 hours a week at work, even more time than we spend at home while we’re awake.
Working remotely removed me from the office space and left me in extended periods of isolation. Instead of making new friends or meeting my future spouse, I’m by my lonesome. Married people with children may not see this as much of an issue but they’re not immune to it either.
Feelings of loneliness can drain you of your energy, and even worse, contribute to mental illness, so it’s something we all need to take seriously.
Solution: Consciously make social time. I schedule it like I do with my projects and make sure I meet with friends and relatives at least once or twice a week. It makes a big difference. I gain energy, feel less encumbered by my thoughts, and feel more inspired to work.
4. Getting too comfortable at home.
People use “work from home” interchangeably with remote work but this can be bad advice if taken literally. Even as a single man living on my own, I’m easily distracted working at home – I can only imagine how much harder it would be with children or pets around.
The temptation to get too comfortable is hard to avoid as well. Luke Liu, CEO of online course provider Albert suggests you should always work from a desk to maximize productivity and avoid slipping into relaxation mode.
To leave the home and commute to an office environment may seem counter-intuitive to the concept of remote work, but if your home is not the most conducive work environment, you may need to think about finding a work space elsewhere.
Solution: The search for a conducive work environment may take a while. I’ve gone through dozens of places from libraries to cafes to writing spaces.
All you need are at least two places: one as your main hub, and the other as a backup in case your first choice is unavailable, or just to switch things up a bit. Just be sure your work spots are easy to access, peaceful, and have reliable Internet.
This article will give you some advice when you’re looking for a remote desk away from home.
5. Struggling with timezone differences.
Remote work is happening on a global scale and many teams are distributed around the world nowadays. My colleagues and clients work in different continents: North America, Europe, and Asia mostly, and this does cause some time zone issues, mostly in terms of communication.
If I’m working with someone in Brisbane, Australia (a 14-hour time difference from my location), often it means they’re unavailable when I’m working during my day. If I need a quick answer or run into a problem, I just have to wait for them to reply.
Project deadlines can also create some confusion. A Saturday deadline could mean a Saturday in my time zone or a Saturday during their time, which could be a Friday, and vice versa if the roles were reversed.
Solution: Be specific with due dates and times when setting deadlines with clients and colleagues. When confirming times, always specify the local time in both parties’ time zones. This ensures everyone is clear upfront on when tasks are expected to be completed. Using a time zone converter can be very helpful.
When working on important tasks, I sometimes adjust my work schedule to ensure I have some hours available while my client/colleague is awake in case I need to communicate in real-time with them. Working ahead is key to avoid delays on projects.
I hope you find these tips helpful when you start your remote career.
About the Author
Paolo is a freelance writer from Ontario, Canada, who has worked remotely for the past 3 years. Having started his career as a full-time sports writer, he later realized that life had much more to offer and transitioned to freelance. While being self-employed has taken him out of his comfort zone, Paolo enjoys pursuing his passion for writing captivating and practical stories, and continues to work remotely in the ever-changing world of social media and digital marketing.