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If you’re reading this at work, there’s a good chance you’re working from home. The Covid-19 pandemic led more than 16 million U.S. workers to begin working remotely. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at five common challenges faced by a remote workforce and examine best practices to overcome them.
ARTICLE | 5m read
July 27, 2020
Before the pandemic, a striking 86 percent of employees who had the option of working from anywhere chose to do so. Considering the clear benefits of remote work to employee engagement and business efficiency, it’s little surprise working from home has become the new normal. But now that we’ve all been working remotely for months, we know there are remote working challenges as well as advantages.
The biggest challenges of working remotely range from technological to social to personal—but despite their complexity, there are immediate and long term solutions to help us get the most out of working from home.
For remote workers to be productive, they need to have access to the same technology, data, and resources as employees inside the office. However, access is more than just a box to check. Because remote workers rely on commercial internet connections or public wifi, they can face poor connectivity to the web and SaaS apps they depend on for work. Making matters more complicated, 64 percent of remote workers share internet with their households, and 33 percent say connectivity problems are their biggest technology challenge.
Solution: If your employees share their internet connections, one immediate solution is setting a usage schedule with their household. When they have a video conferencing meeting coming up, their children should know not to play online games that take a lot of bandwidth. It’s also good to have a backup plan like a mobile hotspot device or smartphone tether if their primary connections get spotty. For the long term, your organization should look at networking technology that optimize slower connections to ensure quality application delivery.
For an introvert, the quiet of a home office can seem like a paradise compared to the noise of water cooler chatter in a co-working space. However, the lack of face-to-face contact and social interaction can leave remote workers feeling isolated and cut off from team members (especially if they’re in different time zones). This often leads to more video calls being scheduled to improve communication. Remote workers not only attend more meetings overall, but 14 percent of remote employees attending more than 10 each week. At the same time, 71 percent of senior managers worry their meetings are unproductive and inefficient. This not only fails to improve team communication, but also can lead to meeting fatigue that hurts engagement across remote teams.
Solution: To improve communication across remote teams, the long term solution is not more meetings—it’s better collaboration. This requires leadership to establish clear policies and best practices for various communication types. First, not every communication needs to be a face-to-face video call. For project updates and asset handoffs, content collaboration tools with automated workflows can simplify teamwork without fatigue. Second, every scheduled video conferencing meeting should have a clear agenda that’s shared before the meeting. This will respect everyone’s time and help them leave the meeting ready to work instead of feeling exhausted.
Because Covid-19 forced many organizations to scramble to get their entire workforce working remotely in a matter of weeks, bad actors have gotten more aggressive in going after the access credentials of remote workers. What’s more, the VPNs that many companies rely on do nothing to protect against these risks. With 67 percent of breaches are caused by credential theft, social attacks, and user error, your long term remote work strategy needs strong access security.
Solution: The best access security goes beyond VPNs to add multi-factor authentication in a single sign-on solution. SSO solutions provide remote workers with secure, anywhere access to the business apps and resources they need. This helps prevent credential theft from turning into a breach because bad actors need more than just a password to access sensitive data.
While many remote employees like having added control over their home offices and when they work, these remote workers probably don’t have young children at home. In addition to domestic distractions like family members, remote workers can also be interrupted by notifications for meetings, expense approvals, and instant messages sent to a shared channel. It’s little wonder employees who are frequently interrupted at work report a 9 percent higher exhaustion rate and make more mistakes than workers who aren’t interrupted.
Solution: To prevent distractions while working at home, adopting the right technology is a good long-term solution. A digital workspace can help screen out nonessential interruptions using settings that eliminate notifications from email or calendar updates during designated times. It’s also possible to use AI to automate routine tasks like RSVPing to calendar invites or approving expense reports. While this can’t stop family members from interrupting, it can help remote workers focus on meaningful work within the time they have.
Numerous studies show that remote workers tend to be more productive and more engaged than in-office employees. But this engagement can go too far. With the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life, many remote workers can have trouble knowing when the work day ends. This can pose challenges for both remote employees and companies, as 67 percent of workers say being “always-on” has a significant negative effect on their health, and about workers who experience burnout are more likely to look for new jobs.
Solution: To prevent overworking in a remote workforce, take the blurred boundaries and make them distinct. For example, designate a specific room in your home as the place where work gets done, and leave that room and close the door once work hours are complete. Set calendar time for specific tasks, and include specific break times when you will get up from your desk and give your mind a break. It’s also helpful for your work/life balance if you set reminders at the end of the day to make dinner, exercise, or run errands so you have a clear conclusion to a day’s work.
As we continue to adjust to the new normal of remote work, it’s important to adopt technology and best practices that will help us succeed now and over the long haul.