10 Biggest Challenges of Working From Home (and How to Overcome Them)
June 17, 2020
The challenges of working remotely can stop you in your tracks. It seems like telecommuting should be peaches and cream – until your 3-year-old stuffs actual peaches down the heating vent and pours cream into the ficus. So let’s grab a quick overview of the top challenges of working from home and give you some great solutions.
About the author
Why should you listen to me? I’ve worked from home for 18 years. I’ve also worked from the beaches in Belize, in Costa Rican jungles, Western ski towns, and even along the river at whitewater festivals. Now? I live in a dream community where real estate is cheap, nature is plentiful, and jobs are scarce. The up side? There’s no commute, I have abundant family time, and I make a very healthy living. If you want to live this life, too, it’s within reach.
Through the years, I’ve built a strategy to boost my productivity and still have social time and fun. Clients are often shocked by how much and how fast I get things done. Besides my own experience, I also spoke with other veteran remote workers about their top solutions for this article. Here are our tips to overcome the biggest working from home problems.
You don’t want to pull a Jack Nicholson at the Overlook Hotel. Studies show social isolation can wreck your sleep, moods, cognitive ability, and even your health. You don’t always realize how much you crave those water cooler chats or coffee breaks with teammates until they’re gone. Cabin fever and loneliness are two of the hairiest challenges of working from home.
Luckily, remote workers can fill their social tanks without a lot of effort. Use Facetime, Zoom, or WhatsApp chats to log some friend time. If you’re overbooked, schedule phone chats for when you’re out for a walk or a run. If you can’t sync calendars, find a friend who doesn’t mind listening to a string of voicemails from you, then return the favor.
Reach out to colleagues too, like networking contacts found on LinkedIn. Don’t want to be a time-mooch? Offer to chat with contacts lower down the career totem pole who can benefit from your advice. Find them on niche groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Reddit. You’ll feel like a million bucks for helping. If all else fails, use the ListenNotes podcast search engine to load up on the best chats this side of your favorite pub.
2. Time management
“Wait - it’s Thursday? How have I only worked 15 minutes and still haven’t combed my hair?” Another of the top challenges of working remotely is failure to launch. Answering emails, watching cat videos, and that ongoing argument on Facebook just seem so pressing. But time management is key if you want to get things done.
The secret? Most people think time management is all about better scheduling and to do lists. It’s not! Kevin Kruse, best selling author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, has a life-changing tip. He interviewed hundreds of millionaires, billionaires, and Olympic athletes. His #1 advice: Throw out your to-do list.
Instead, put everything important in your calendar. “If you don’t schedule it, it won’t get done,” writes Kruse. Then, focus less on efficiency and more on passion. If you narrow down your goals to things you’re passionate about, you’ll spend that extra 15 minutes working toward them instead of wasting time.
“Shhhh. Mommy’s working!” Meanwhile, two 5-year-olds are playing don’t-step-on-the-lava through your office. “One of my biggest challenges of working from home is the other people in my house,” says Jennifer Goforth Gregory, home business owner and author of The Freelance Content Marketing Writer. “They never leave and they’re always cooking things they don’t clean up. They also breathe too loud.”
Gregory has worked at home for 13 years. “But now I’m never alone,” she says. The solution? Boundaries. Set specific office hours and stick to them. Share them with your family members, and remind them gently when they forget. A room of your own is the lifeblood of working from home, hopefully with a door that closes.
You’ll also be glad later if you invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones like the crowd-pleasing Bose Quiet Comfort headphones. You’ll work in comfort as Steve and Kristie chase each other around the house with wiffleball bats. “I use mine with a web app called Coffivity that plays cafe sounds to drown out the noise,” says work-from-homer Christine Parizo. If the pandemonium still gets through, be flexible. Pop out for a walk and come back to your project once you’ve pushed the reset button.
4. Communicating with team members
Sometimes emojis just don’t cut it. With text, there’s no body language, tone of voice, or nuance. It can feel like everyone is thick or has no social skills. Email can leave you out of the loop and miscommunication is all too easy. Thankfully, this is one of the challenges of working from home that tech has great new fixes for.
Short voice messages are gold. Open your phone and start a text, but instead of typing, press the little mic or sound-wave icon. (If this doesn’t work on your phone, get WhatsApp for free and use it there.) It sounds basic, but it’s magical. Suddenly humor, inflection, and meaning are a snap, and it’s so much easier to get your point across.
If you need less tell and more show, check out screen-sharing apps like Flipgrid and Snagit. In a pinch, even the pre-installed Game Bar app for Microsoft Windows can record your screen. Short voice and video messages let you skip the 1-hour Zoom session and get on with your day.
5. Work/life balance
Picture this: You sit down after breakfast feeling chipper, and suddenly it’s 3 a.m. and no one fed the dog. Sometimes we don’t work enough, and sometimes we work too much. Or worse – we work too many hours and get nothing done. Most of us don’t have to picture it. It’s one of the biggest challenges of working remotely.
“The trick is to keep some semblance of a routine so you’re not working from sunup to sundown,” says business owner Erin Cafferty. Get up, shower, brush your teeth, and dress for success. But don’t feel you have to work 8 hours straight, either. According to the Harvard Business Review, doing short work sprints with exercise or household chores in between can help you get more done.
Set clear limits, too. We all have goals for how much money we want to earn or how much we should get done. But why not set another target for how little you want to work? Create minimum and maximum daily work-hour goals and stick to them. You’ll feel a lot more sane, and you’ll spend more time with the people and activities you value most.
Sure you worked all day, but what did you accomplish? Research shows working from home can make you more productive. A Stanford University study found remote workers carve out a full day of extra productivity per week. But “can” doesn’t mean “will.” To be productive, set goals for what you want to do this month, week, day, and chunk of work time.
Break each work project, goal, and task into bite-sized pieces and slot them into your calendar. I work 1 hour in the morning, take a run with my dogs, then work 2 more hours before lunch. After that it’s 2 more hours, some chores, and 2 more hours until dinner. Each block gets a productivity goal pinned to it first thing in the morning.
“A key to my productive day is never having the television on after 9 a.m.,” says Sherry Beck Paprocki, award-winning journalist and author of The Idiot’s Guide to Branding Yourself. “Logging 2 to 3 hours of productive work in the morning will make your day feel great.” You can also place a moratorium on social media during office hours to zap another of the biggest challenges of remote working.
7. Feast or famine
Cycles of boredom and then the stress of too many deadlines can stick a lawn dart in your mood. One day you’re rushing to catch up and the next you’re binge-watching The Mandalorian. It’s even worse if you own the business. Today Client X wants an $80,000 project and tomorrow they have to “re-evaluate our budget.” Uneven workflow is one of the toughest challenges of working from home.
For freelancers, the best way to handle feast-or-famine work is to set aside some time each week for marketing. "It can be easy to get too busy to reach out for future assignments,” says Michele Lerner, a freelance journalist with 30 years of work-at-home experience. “But it's important to set aside time at least weekly to review your schedule and reach out.”
One of the most stressful challenges in working remotely is taxes. If you run a business or do client work, taxes can take up too many hours or even days. Even worse, one small mistake can cost you thousands of dollars in overpayments or fees. And navigating TurboTax or H&R Block’s software can leave you guessing whether you’re making the right choices or not.
The best advice? Hire an accountant. They’re relatively inexpensive and they’ve already found all the pitfalls and secrets so you don’t have to. Unless you live in a pricey metro area, you can probably find a good one to do your taxes for a reasonable rate. It’s so much easier than slogging through trash cans of receipts and poorly-written IRS instruction documents.
Plus, do yourself a favor and track income and expenses weekly. You don’t have to download a flashy app or spend hours on it. Just set an alarm every Wednesday or Thursday as a reminder. Then log into MS Excel or a Google Sheet for 5 minutes and type in a rough log of money in and out. You’ll save yourself a headache next April.
9. Home office blues
“How do you get anything done in this rathole?” Working in cramped quarters behind the washing machine or in the attic won’t do a thing for your morale. And working in bed, with a laptop on your legs, can wreck your back. Even if your home office space is small, trick it out with the best chair and desk you can afford.
The Sauder Harbor View is a great desk at under $300. Looking for a more affordable option? The Soreno L-Shaped computer desk is a great pick for about $100. For chairs, look into a high-end Herman Miller Aeron. They’re over $1,000 new, but you can find a good used one cheap on eBay with much of the 12-year warranty still intact.
Next, dock your laptop with a handy tool like the HP EliteBook Ultraslim docking station. Add an external keyboard to save yourself from carpal tunnel and you will feel free and easy as you work. Also, consider dual monitors and one of the HP family of wireless printers. A good home office is among the challenges of working from home you shouldn’t have to suffer with.
In the brick-and-mortar office, an IT staff is ready to create a trouble ticket for any hiccup you run into. At home, when the internet goes out or your laptop’s on the fritz, nobody is there to help but the spiffy-looking person in the mirror. You can spend hours chasing down some little annoying problem until you’re ready to blow your stack.
Deep breath. Of course your internet service provider (ISP) is obligated to help with some issues, but they don’t always cut it. When trouble strikes, reach out to HelloTech, a paid online tech support service that offers paid tech support for computers, WiFi, printers, peripherals, and more. The cost? About $10 a month. Not bad to solve one of the top remote work challenges.
There are also numerous local work-from-home IT specialists. Ask your networking group to give you recommendations. Many of these providers will have a low monthly retainer so you can call on them when you need help.
Need a device replacement in a pinch? Go with reliable products that won’t leave you hanging. Dependable HP laptops and desktops like the HP ENVY, HP Spectre x360, and HP Pavilion are hardened for security and durability, with military-grade testing and legendary support. They also come in versions that fit every budget.
Working from home can be a dream come true. Set your own hours, ditch the commute, and spend more time with family. But like any job, it’s not without its hardships. This list of the challenges of working from home covers isolation, productivity, time management, communication, and more, with solutions for each from professionals who’ve worked from home for years.
Learn to solve the toughest remote work problems, and you’ll soon wonder how you ever made it in the brick-and-mortar world.
Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.
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