Challenges of Working from Home: 9 Reasons it doesn't work

Caragh Bailey
30/09/2020
57
11 min read
challenges of working from home: Advice from employment law friend

Strange times we’re living in, hey? Work in the time of Corona. If you’re finding it all a bit much, rest assured you are not alone.

More and more of the workforce are working from home and despite employer resistance, it is thought to be a leading factor in increasing productivity.

Harvard Business Review published findings in August 2020, showing that knowledge workers are more productive from home. Here are their key findings:
challenges of working from home Key findings from Harvard Business Review

"Proprietary data from employee visibility leader Prodoscore shows 47% YoY productivity growth in 2020, despite the pandemic-driven rise in working from home"

But, that increased productivity doesn't come without some challenges.

Employee versus Employer - the conflicting views of working from home
Employee
Employer
Employee's challenges of working from home from employment law friend
  • Netflix on in the background
  • No commute
  • Save money on lunches
  • No one looking over my shoulder all the time
  • I miss the office banter
  • I'll cancel my holiday and work instead
  • Home PC will be fine to download what I like
  • I'll throw out my notepad
  • Why do I have to have my house on view on a Zoom call
  • I'm feeling low

  • Will they just spend all day watching Netflix
  • No lateness
  • Will they take a longer lunch
  • How do I manage them if I can't see them
  • Hopefully less time talking more time working
  • Did they take a holiday
  • What if their PC has a virus
  • What about GDPR
  • Finally a Zoom call so I can see what you are doing
  • How do I motivate them

Employers challenges of working from home from employment law friend

There'll be some who see the above and think this doesn't relate to them, however there are a large majority of employees who need to be motivated to achieve their daily goals. To be told what to do next. To remind them not to use Facebook.

9 reasons why working from home doesn't work
    1
    Structuring your workday
Working from home (or telecommuting) may seem like the dream: no commute, no small-talk, no tie. You get to manage your day and fit your work around the things that matter to you. Hooray!

Think again.

Time and time again, fresh work from home newbies get all excited about our new freedom, we let the day get away from us, and before we know it we’ve lost a half day’s work over the course of the week and either we ruin our Saturday, or, we keep quiet, kick ourselves, swear we’ll do better next week and hope the boss doesn’t notice.

Save yourself:
Design a work from home schedule that suits you (and follow it). More on designing a work schedule in harmony with your personal life below, and a few top tips for actually sticking to it.

    2
    Distractions
We’d like to think that cutting out that commute buys us extra time for our personal and family lives. So surely life should be less likely to affect our workday?

Keeping that work/life balance only gets harder when working remotely. At home, distractions are everywhere, TV, housework, that book you almost finished, the snacks in the fridge, the dog, the cat, never mind the kids!

Make it a little easier on yourself:
    a
    Designate a work space.
Oh! If only we all had a spacious private office with a vast picture window of our favourite city skyline. Alas, this is real life, and perhaps the best you can do is half the kitchen table, or the top of your bedroom chest of drawers (which, personally, I don’t recommend, unless you enjoy chronic back pain.) Whatever is available to you, set that space aside for work, and work only.

    b
    Practise digital housekeeping.
If you are using your personal computer, clear your desktop of personal files and stash them elsewhere for later, pick a new browser for work (clear of all of your time-wasting bookmarks) and fill it with task related ones. While you’re at it, leave your phone out of arm’s reach and resist the temptation to check it every five minutes.

    c
    Manage your children’s expectations:
This applies to childlike housemates, also.
If you have kids, make sure they understand that you are ‘at work.’ Try using a ‘do not disturb’ sign, or make it more visually clear by using traffic lights, red means do not disturb, amber means ask first and green means come on in. Work a break into your schedule, if you can, to spend a little time with them during the day.

If they’ve got the hang of staying out of the room, (congratulations). But still, they’re matching the noise levels at Piccadilly Circus, it may be worth investing in some noise cancelling headphones.

    d
    Reduce temptation:
Now, to my personal worst distraction. If you are a better, wiser and/or more disciplined person than I, do not keep snacks at your desk. It is never going to be easy to stay on task with a packet of chocolate hob nobs winking at you from behind your coffee. Keep the food in the kitchen. (Except for maybe Fridays).

    3
    Overworking
While the inevitable distractions of telecommuting might lead you to the belief that less work gets done when you work from home, often the opposite is true. It can be hard to ‘switch off’. It’s all too easy to dash back to the laptop and send that last email while dinners on the stove, or stay at your desk for an extra half hour because, well, you’ve nowhere to go.

Overworking is not healthy, and often leads to lower productivity.

Maintain healthy boundaries:
    a
    Set reminders
to take breaks within your daily schedule. Move away from your workspace, stretch and rest your eyes.
    b
    Put appointments in your schedule
for the end of your working day. A run, a walk, some YouTube Yoga, a beer. Anything that gets you away from your work space.
    c
    Separate yourself from your work station.
If you don't have the luxury of closing the door on your home office, and if your set up is relatively small, (I’m thinking netbook, not desktop) pack it all away into a box or a briefcase at the end of each day. Don’t open it until the morning.

    4
    Lack of Supervision
It may at first be quite a relief to escape the powers that be, breathing down your neck. But, that lack of guidance, feedback and accountability when telecommuting can leave you feeling lost, undervalued or demotivated. Being out of sight and out of mind might be detrimental to career opportunities, where your boss isn’t around to see your big win, or notice your exemplary work ethic.

Without physically being in the room with your teammates it’s almost impossible to recognise opportunities to maximise on their time. You don’t see the person in the next cubicle on their way back to their desk with a cuppa, to bounce a few ideas off of them without interrupting their workflow.

Instigate feedback:
    a
    As a team leader it can really help to hold a brief face-to-face video conference every morning, where the team each says hi, what they finished yesterday, and what they’re starting with today. This keeps everyone on track and reminds them how their role fits into the bigger picture, as well as giving the team supervisor the opportunity to direct, correct and appreciate progress.

    If your supervisor can’t do this, ping them a message each morning to the same effect, this way they can monitor and celebrate your progress and guide you where necessary.
    b
    If you’re struggling with telecommuting, ask to schedule a weekly one-to-one. It is only natural that you would need to replace your usual workplace guidance while you work from home, and many of us will need a little extra support to help us adjust.
    1
    Don’t beat yourself up about it, you’re doing great! Use your team chat, ask the group if anyone has a few minutes to brainstorm.

    5
    Communication issues
We’re human. We rely on facial expression, tone and body language to convey or perceive attitude, mood and emotion. It’s much harder to grasp the feeling behind the words, when all you have are words on a screen.

This becomes even harder when everyone is working online and their WiFi seems to be taking turns to crash!

Use the tools available to you:
    b
    Face-to-face wherever it’s appropriate.
    c
    Set simple ground rules for video conferencing (for example, ask everyone to mute themselves on zoom when they’re not talking so background noises don’t cause distractions and people are less likely to talk over one another).
    d
    Summarise in writing at the end.
    e
    Keep a WiFi dongle, or use your phone as a hotspot for tech-meltdown emergencies.
    f
    Use cloud based file storage for collaborative work, so no one person’s broadband fiasco holds up the rest of the team.

    6
    Isolation and loneliness
It can be a shock to realise how much we rely on workplace interactions for social fulfilment. Even if we don’t consider ourselves to be particularly sociable people, just being around other people on our commute and in the break room can be the difference between contentment and suffocating cabin fever.

This is hugely magnified by the global situation and social distancing, especially with further lockdowns.

Make it happen:
    a
    If you live with other work from home professionals, suggest a co-working arrangement in one room of the house (create your own work from home office together).

    If you don’t, see if you can find a safe way to bubble up with another telecommuting professional and co-work together.
    b
    Schedule your lunch break with your family or housemates, so you can eat and spend quality time together.

    If you are alone at home all day, schedule lunch break video calls to catch up with loved ones. (My grannies are delighted that I have no one else to talk to!)
    c
    Recreate regular after work dinners or drinks by video conference.

    7
    Working in your Pj’s
What do you mean? That’s not a challenge?!

Well, actually, it is.
Whilst working in our pyjamas (or, god forbid, in bed) seems like the lap of luxury, it only serves to blur those boundaries of the work/life balance; which, we have learned, is detrimental to both.

That and basic hygiene aside, the field of psychology is providing growing evidence that we are directly influenced by what we wear; the right clothes make us feel and behave better.

Get dressed:
    a
    No one expects you to sit at your kitchen table in a suit every day, but don’t fester in your pyjamas either.
    b
    Pick something suitable from your wardrobe that makes you feel comfortable and professional and keep it for ‘work.’
This will also help you to mentally separate work time from your time.

    8
    Motivation and ambition
Staying motivated might be the biggest challenge of working from home .

No one is watching you and no one is tapping away productively in the room. You can lose sight of your career goals and find yourself coasting.

DIY:
    a
    Set your own goals.
    b
    Use your one to ones with your boss to ask about career opportunities you’ve missed without the gossip at the watercooler.
    c
    Take on the more challenging tasks and get them done first.
    As Mark Twain said: ‘If it is your job to eat a frog, it is best to do so first thing in the morning. And, if it is your job to eat two frogs, it is best to eat the biggest one first’

    9
    Health
Of all the challenges of working from home your health is the most important.

We’ve covered the mental health aspects of working from home already; but, the lack of movement that can become part of a work from home lifestyle, along with less time outside and proximity to the fridge can take its toll on your physical health.

Schedule it in:
    a
    Aside from keeping the snacks away from your work space (I wish you better luck than me) make sure you schedule outdoor exercise into your day.
    b
    You may wish to make your day longer to take a long lunch break with time for a workout, or take a shorter lunch break so you can get out for a morning run or an evening walk in the sun.
    c
    I still make my lunch in the morning, so that I can really enjoy my lunch break, instead of preparing a meal. If you have access to outdoor space, eat there.
    d
    Replace the exercise you’ve lost in your commute, and structure your day to make the best of working remotely.

So, think you can handle it?
 
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