How to Survive Working Remotely

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Traditional employment is no longer the norm, while remote work is getting more and more popular, especially in the area of IT. One estimate says that there will be 1 billion digital nomads by 2035.

Working from home is efficient, convenient, and beneficial for both employers and employees but it has its challenges.

Serokell has been remote from the very beginning, and our employees can tell quite a few stories about their experience. We conducted an informal, anonymous survey and asked our colleagues about the challenges they faced when starting remote work and how they solved them.

Time Management Problems

When you work from home, you don’t waste your time in traffic jams and can start the job even before the morning coffee. And here is where one of the most frequent problems appears, namely the time management issue, which includes overworking and procrastination.

As remote work usually implies flexibility, some people tend to have longer working days at home than is needed. Many of our colleagues told us that they spend much more time on work during the day than they used to at the office. “You can organize your timetable like you want, for example, to visit a doctor at 11 AM, but you do important things before and after work, so in my case, I don’t have free time for weeks,” one of the Serokell developers explained.

Discipline, supportive environment and modern time management tools can help. Some people turn on the timer and have breaks, say, every two hours, others ask relatives to remind to have some rest: “Sometimes I might work unhealthy amount of time. The best solution for me is to have an environment where people will help me to notice that I am working too much,” a colleague of ours said.

Another consequence of poor time management is procrastination. When you’re on your own and the atmosphere of the apartment is relaxing – or disturbing – you may find yourself doing anything else but work. Some ways to overcome that:

“I’m always trying to have interesting tasks to keep myself motivated, sometimes creating new ones which I and my team lead find reasonable to be implemented. Or turn on music. Usually, one of these helps.”

“Regarding procrastination – it usually helps just to start something, and then I usually get inspired and carried off.”

Communication Difficulties

We may think that being remote means there’s less communication needed, so we are more effective as a result. But in fact, it’s the opposite – you need to communicate with your team a lot just to make sure everyone has all the required information. And as long as you communicate via text messages or voice chats, you need to be very careful in expressing your thoughts in a way that everyone can comprehend.

Plus, don’t underestimate the “social” aspect of work. Even though there are many tools for video chat and conferencing, the feeling of being disconnected from the team can be very stressful. This is how one of our teammates described this problem: “One of the hardest things for me is the lack of face-to-face relationships with colleagues.” “I sometimes feel like I have no one to muck about with during lunchtime,” added another.

What to do? Take responsibility for your communication practices. Use words carefully, try to avoid misunderstanding, be ready to explain everything twice and, in general, communicate a lot. Turn off notifications in Slack if you need a couple of hours for uninterrupted work. When you are resting, it will save you from annoyance.

And remember that your colleagues, wherever they are, are real people, and treat them appropriately: “I solve my communication problems in the same way as if I worked in the office. Except that now technically I can’t yell at people, which I never did anyway.”

Lack of a Proper Routine

Even if you work flexible hours, working from home doesn’t give you absolute freedom – there are deadlines you have to make and projects that require your full attention, plus, remote workers often have to track their time. It may be hard to build your working schedule by yourself and even harder to stick to it and say “no” to friends and family who disturb you as long as you’re at home. Job and personal life get tied up very easily if you do not separate them consciously.

“It’s often difficult to spend 8 hours working when at home. Personal activities tend to tie up with working hours, and sometimes, I feel like my life is dedicated to my job. Also, my cat apparently cannot distinguish “I’m home and free” and “I’m home but working” states,” one of the Serokell developers said.

In order to explain to friends and family that even if you’re at home, you’re busy, you can show them your task tracker or Google calendar. It also helps to choose a suitable time of day and work during these particular hours regularly, emulating the office schedule:

“I manage my time quite easily. I have only changed my routine a couple of times, just to fit different circumstances (e.g. having lunch with family or having something to do at a specific time every day). I usually start working as soon as I can and later in the day start checking the clock that is going, when I’m close to 8 hours I start to consider how long a task will take and if I can do it in a reasonable time (or if I already have gone over it too much).”

Working Environment Issues

The working environment can be a challenge when working from home. You need to have the proper equipment, devices and tools as well as a comfortable table and chair, and a calm place to put it all in.

Sometimes people start working from their rooms but then realize that there has to be a dedicated space for work only. Some people prefer just to transform their space into the working place: “I put a scrum board near the table, and that’s all. My room is an office with a bed.”

Proper furniture is not only about comfort but also about the health: think of long-term effects for your back.

“For those two years when I was combining work and university, I was living in a dormitory, and my working space was essentially a bed and a laptop. After returning home, I bought a special chair and now generally try to improve the environment with regard to my health,” said our teammate.

And of course, nothing makes a remote worker shake in fear as much as an internet outage. It may be surprising, but even in the 21st century, problems with the internet connection appears frequently. Make sure your smartphone is charged and it’s possible to use the mobile connection in case of an emergency.

Lack of Human Interaction

Your teammates are your social circle, and when you spend all your time online, you may feel lonely at the end of the day. Remote workers often work asynchronously and, if you don’t have family members home with you, perhaps you have only houseplants to talk to. “You have less social interactions with colleagues, so you might feel lonely or bored if you don’t invest in your “normal” life,” explained a Serokell employee.

You can also try working at co-working spaces to feel you’re a part of society – and, well, to find out you don’t miss office life at all. Anyway, all of us need to contact people in person at least from time to time. Continuous isolation can even lead to mental health issues, so it’s essential to be around others during non-work hours.

“If your personal life is not well-arranged and the social circle is not built, you can fall into a rut even worse than at the office. Social life is crucial for people,” thinks one of our teammates.

To Sum Up

Remote work offers several different challenges. Remote employees don’t have an option to discuss tasks during a coffee break and have less natural opportunities for brainstorming, but most of the issues can be solved by proper management, convenient infrastructure and wisely built connections inside the team. The issues related to social isolation and lack of routine can be solved with some efforts as well. Despite all these challenges, remote work is very rewarding, and we at Serokell enjoy it.