Remote work can be a classic illustration of the “expectations vs. reality” meme. Unfortunately, that divergence often results in frustration and disappointment. But don’t give up on your dream of becoming a remote worker. In this article, you will find the key reasons why remote work can fail and possible solutions. As a result, you will be better prepared for challenges of telecommuting if you decide it’s the right choice for you.
Reason # 1: Isolation
One of the main challenges faced by remote workers is a feeling of isolation. Working at home, alone, can be a benefit at first, but highly sociable people eventually suffer. According to Steve Klein, founder of StatusPage.io, “some people just aren’t wired for working remotely.” In his article, “We Tried Building a Remote Team and It Sucked,” Steve explains why remote work wasn’t for him. He had spent most of his life surrounded by people. After quitting his job, moving in with his future spouse, and starting to work remotely, he began to feel uncomfortable and strained by the lack of social interaction.
So how can remote employees and companies overcome this challenge?
Solution: Find Time for Human Interaction
When you’re in the office, communication flows naturally. Being in the same building creates a space for inside jokes and memes. You won’t necessarily have the same experience when working at home, and pretending that your cat is your co-worker won’t help, either. You have to explicitly find time for communication. So the solution is – go out and socialize, or be around people from time to time, e.g. visit a co-working space.
For a co-located team, socializing is like a tap with running water – you turn the handle and get the water. In the case of virtual companies, one should drill a well to get this water, i.e. apply some extra effort. Remote-first companies such as Zapier, Buffer, and GitHub organize the so-called “virtual water cooler” – a practice of getting the team together on a meeting to chat about the non-work-related stuff. It helps them to create open, shared, and honest communication between the team members because it is challenging to work with people who you know nothing about. If your remote employer does that – cool, but you should also invest in communication yourself by having an active social life apart from work.
Reason # 2: Lack of Ongoing Collaboration
When trying to work together in a remote setting, you need to overcome a range of obstacles. These can be the time zone differences, internet connection problems, and lack of overlapping time that you can spend working together. It is especially harmful to teams that regularly practice pair programming or prefer drafting the new features together. Teams that get used to such a collaborative approach find it hard to go remote later. Therefore, the managers must consider the specifics of their team and the independence of team members before going remote. At the same time, software developers must evaluate their ability to manage themselves most of the time.
Solution: Embrace Asynchronous Communication
You cannot afford to wait until one of your managers wakes up to answer your questions, so you need to be able to resolve any possible issues independently. The best way to do so is to get familiar with asynchronous communication. In a virtual team setting, it means having a centralized place where you can leave messages to discuss essential issues that can be later read by responsible team members.
Additionally, each team member should own their part of the project, focusing on a specific area. Here’s a solution offered by Mutahhir Ali Hayat, a remote developer, in “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work” by Zapier: “Manage projects in a way that they’re asynchronous. That means that the remote person has a lot of autonomy and any problems that arise can be solved by either leaving messages on Slack/email or syncing up for a couple of hours one day.”
Reason # 3: Lack of Remote Culture
Corporate culture represents the company values and is determined by factors such as history, product, market, strategy, technology, management style, and much more. It influences the way people interact with each other as well as how they perceive the change and share their knowledge. Lack of culture can lead to lack of motivation and thus impact the productivity of remote employees.
There are different opinions about the dependency of company culture on being remote or co-located. For example, Steve Klein believes that it is difficult to create a culture when a team is remote. “This is because culture is spread through team members interacting with the founders and watching the founders interact with others. Remote workers are going to have fewer opportunities to do either of these, almost by definition.” However, according to Wade Foster, CEO, and founder of Zapier, co-located companies tend to ignore culture building because they assume that it will happen naturally.
Solution: Build Mutual Trust with Your Teammates
Trust is probably the foundation of any team culture, including the remote one. You should trust the people you work with and keep them regularly updated on your tasks. In the post mentioned above, Wade Foster says, “The beauty of trusting your teammates is that often times your teammates reward you… This means at the end of the week you either have something to show for your week or not. This means you trust that your teammates are getting something done. But also your teammates trust you.”
Another way to build trust is participation in company retreats. Meeting your remote colleagues in person is an additional factor that creates trust between all of you, so be sure that you will not miss a planned meet-up.
Reason # 4: Technical Limitations
Unfortunately, a common mistake made by remote workers is relying on a very limited set of tools that they use for collaboration and meetings. Combined with a poor internet connection, this can lead to a very unpleasant experience. This is especially true for big companies that have both the co-located headquarters and telecommuters. Scott Hanselman, partner program Manager at Microsoft, has been working remotely for Microsoft for years. In a post on his own blog, “Being a Remote Workers Sucks – Long Live the Remote Worker,” Scott emphasizes, “If someone starts to associate you, the remote worker, as a symbol for technical difficulties it will slowly warp their perception of you. Make it easy.”
Solution: Use Tools Built for Remote Workers
Based on his experience, Scott Hanselman advises knowing about and trying different collaboration tools. If one doesn’t work for you, move to another and save time. Additionally, you should use tools designed specifically for remote work. For example, video chat apps such as Zoom allow seamless participation of up to 100 team members in a call – and, what’s more important, in a free version. Other types of apps for telecommuters are time trackers and time zone management tools. If your company doesn’t have a tool choice, pick the one that you feel most comfortable with.
The Bottom Line
Remote work fails for several reasons, but the good news is that each has a solution.
- Isolation. Not all people are wired for remote work. Some people may feel lonely when telecommuting. The solution? Make an extra effort to communicate with non-work friends and family as well as your remote colleagues.
- Lack of ongoing collaboration. If you are used to close collaboration with your teammates, it will be hard for you to embrace telecommuting, as it requires independence, mainly because of time zone differences. The solution is to embrace asynchronous communication by leaving messages on Slack, email, or internal portal designed specifically for that and syncing up for a couple of hours a day.
- Lack of remote culture. While controversial, Virtual team leaders such as Wade Foster assume that, on the contrary, co-located teams may ignore culture due to the natural flow of communication. The solution is to trust your team members and participate in “live” team buildings.
- Technical limitations. Your remote colleagues may not take you seriously because of connection problems or wrong tools. Therefore, your task is to stick to a set of tools designed especially for virtual teams and ensure that you always have a stable internet connection.
Hopefully, this material will help you make the right decision regarding the remote work. Good luck!
Guest post by Mary Atamaniuk
Mary Atamaniuk is a content writer at YouTeam — a platform for building remote development teams. Mary’s areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.