I think it’s safe to say that most of us have had our share of remote work problems over the last 11 months. When things start to feel overwhelming, it can be helpful to remember that no matter what you are going through, someone else has probably been there, solved that.
Some remote work issues have easy solutions, like noise-cancelling headphones or faster Internet. Others require more significant changes in our schedule, mindset, or expectations to overcome - like learning how to lead remotely or maintain connections with our co-workers.
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Read on for some of the thorniest issues workers and leaders have experienced in the shift to remote work, and how they solved them. Consider how you can apply their lessons learned to be more productive in the year ahead.
1. Remote work problem: Too many meetings
Fix: Designate a meeting-free day
“The inability to gather with colleagues in-person at first led people to schedule meetings to seemingly make up for the lack of face time. This quickly led to employees becoming fatigued with meetings and losing valuable time to be productive in their work,” says Justin Silver, AI strategist at PROS. “We have found it helpful for team members to block calendar time for heads-down work and, if possible, even set aside a day of the week where meetings cannot be held.”
2. Problem: Missing impromptu chats
Fix: Create intentional time and space for informal connections
“Informal conversations at the office – before or after a meeting or just randomly running into a colleague in the hallway or at lunch – are not only valuable for socialization but can often lead to productive ideas and decisions,” says Silver. “While these unplanned encounters are hard to replicate virtually, one suggestion is to end the discussion of agenda topics 15 minutes early and invite people to stick around after meetings to chat.”
“Another idea is to scroll down your contact list and look for people you might see around the office but don’t often interact with and send them a chat to say hi,” he says. “Of course, this takes forethought, but it’s worth the effort to stay connected with colleagues, and you might even get into a discussion that leads to the next best idea for your company.”
[ Does remote work leave you exhausted? Read our related story: Remote exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]
3. Problem: Awkward silence during virtual meetings
Fix: Use tech creatively to boost engagement
“Our weekly Google Meets video calls weren’t as engaging as we hoped. We realized that those presenting often couldn’t get a quick pulse check on the viewers, and with some employees experiencing connectivity issues, those with cameras off were essentially virtual ghosts,” says Dwight Zahringer, president of Pure Cabo. “We started using an extension called Nod. With one tap employees can give a thumbs up, applause, a laugh, or a variety of other quick emoticons to show their reaction. It really brought our team members together remotely, and made the meetings themselves more engaging.Sometimes, a small fix is all you need to bring bigger results.”
4. Problem: Difficult to recognize burnout
Fix: Learn to recognize patterns of engagement
“When someone neglects to pull their weight in an office environment, especially in a small team, it can be quite obvious. In remote teams, however, it’s harder to confidently make a decision especially when their work isn’t something that can be created or uploaded to shared drives,” says Eliza-May Austin, CEO of th4ts3cur1ty.company. “The way I combated this, and how I would recommend other people do this, is to create a delegation tracker. Track what you have asked this person to do, when it is due, and whether or not they completed the work. This will identify patterns, giving you the opportunity to offer support if someone is struggling, or deal with an employee who simply isn’t engaging in their role.”
5. Problem: Increased cybersecurity risks
Fix: Audit now to avoid problems later
“At the onset of the pandemic, a number of companies were forced to rush the purchase and adoption of digital services from external suppliers (cloud, managed services, collaboration etc.) to support the transition to remote work, which ultimately extended the attack surface for cyber criminals,” says Chris Butler, lead principal consultant, resilience and security, Sungard AS. “Pressure to implement the services quickly resulted in many of them not being properly managed into service, such as going through test and development, before being made available to operational users. The best way to improve third party security is by performing an audit of third party suppliers’ arrangements, and demanding proof of cybersecurity standards and procedures that meet good practice from third parties.”
6. Problem: Too many interruptions
Fix: Block calendar time for deep work
“Many of my clients are CTOs and CIOs –as well as heads of product and engineering. Two of the most salient complaints I’ve heard are variants on the same theme: I can’t get my work done, and there are too many interruptions,” says Amie Devero, President, Beyond Better Strategy and Coaching. “To fix this, first turn off all of the alerts on the computer including email and Slack. Begin to block large portions of the calendar for deep work. That may mean every afternoon from 1:00-5:00 p.m. on several days a week that are unavailable for meetings or other interruptions. Then create office hours during which those ‘urgent’ requests can come in. Make those time slots large enough to be able to assess the request, make a determination, and assign the work to people on the team. Bottom line: Defend your time by using your calendar as a tool to design your workday.”
7. Problem: Energy dips
Fix: Focus on self-care essentials: Sleep, exercise, and lunch
“I noticed my energy and motivation took a dip when I switched to remote work. It is hard to keep up with my workload when this happens. “It turns out the solution was to focus on the fundamentals we love to ignore; sleep, exercise, and good food,” says Brian Casey, founder/owner of Knifegeeky. “To stop myself from becoming exhausted, achy, and unproductive I’ve started taking time to prepare my lunch from scratch so I can give my eyes a screen break, stand up and walk around a bit. I make a light meal that will fuel me for the rest of the workday without needing a nap. I think anyone who works at a computer all day can easily fall into the habit of staying put all day, and this helps combat that.”
8. Problem: Longer work days
Fix: Set - and stick to - clear guidelines
“When I first entered the digital nomad lifestyle, one of the core challenges I faced was that the line between work and personal life started to blur. When you work remotely, it’s relatively easy to get carried away and put in extra hours gained as a result of no pesky commute or potentially extended lunch breaks with colleagues,” says Michał Moroz, senior software engineer at ResumeLab.
“It’s essential to set a schedule, stick to it, and be as dedicated to your work as you would be if you were in the office. Make clear guidelines on when to work and pick a definitive ‘end time’ to wrap up the workday. You should be productive and execute on your deliverables, but not at the expense of burnout.”
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