Every year, more and more people are working remotely either part-time or full-time. A report from Gallup found that in 2016 at least 43% of American employees worked at least part-time remotely, and that by 2020 (just two years away) 40% to 70% of the US workforce will be full-time remote employees.

There are great benefits from working remotely:

  • Avoiding long commute times to an office
  • Flexible schedule
  • No dress code
  • Increased productivity
  • Being able to live anywhere
  • Being able to work on the road
  • More time with family

However, working remotely has some major drawbacks as well. While studies have shown that employees are generally more productive when they work outside a conventional office, they are also more likely to work longer hours, at a more intense pace, and suffer greater stress unless the remote environment is properly managed.

The four greatest challenges to a remote work environment are:

1. Isolation

Most of us are either introverts or extroverts, and it is more likely that our personal pendulums will swing more to the extremes than to the middle. Also, being isolated reduces your ability to get new ideas and feedback from coworkers.

For the introvert, while working remotely may seem like the dream job, it exacerbates the trait by reducing or eliminating human interaction. People need other people to lead healthy lives, so becoming a hermit can be both unhealthy and weird. You have to keep an eye on how much time you’re spending by yourself and be ready to start venturing out when it becomes obvious you need to socialize.

For the extrovert, the issues of working remotely are more profound in that the extrovert feeds on socialization to satisfy their personality needs. Stifling these needs can have strong impact on energy, productivity, and general mental health. Being the life of the party doesn’t mean as much when it’s a party of one. Interestingly, the same remedies for the introvert work for the extrovert:

  • Have regularly scheduled places to go outside of your work space where other humans are likely to be
  • Consider joining a co-working space near your home
  • Set up breakfast or lunch meetings
  • Join local user groups
  • Exercise at a gym
  • Meet friends for a happy hour (after hours)

2. Distractions

Working from home will inevitably expose you to distractions that you would otherwise not have to deal with at an office. Family, pets, neighborhood noise, even the mailman can interrupt your work. Managing these potential distractions before they happen can make the difference in making a deadline or not. Some people even go so far as wearing noise canceling headphones when they are working at home. Some ideas that might help you include:

  • Resolve your biggest distractions before you settle down to work. If it’s paying personal bills, do it before you start your day. If it’s walking the dog, do it first.
  • Claim your kingdom for your own. Set boundaries for your family. They should know that when you are working you are off limits for all but the most severe circumstances. That means if the house is on fire, interrupt you, but short of that they have to keep their distance.
    • Set aside a place in your home that is exclusively your work space, and only use it for work
    • If your office has a door, close it when you’re working
    • Announce your works hours with your family and make them rigid
    • If you have children running about, consider childcare during work hours
  • Dress for Work – This may seem unnecessary, but wear the same type of clothes every day when you are working at home. This doesn’t necessarily mean a coat and tie but dressing properly will set your attitude for what you have to do during the day. Try it for a week and see if it doesn’t have an impact.
  • White Noise – Just having some innocuous noise in the background of your home office can cover a lot of distracting sounds from your house or neighborhood.

3. Productivity

We’ve just said that working remotely generally leads to a more productive work environment, but when you are managing your own time, it’s easy to get behind. We all have to learn how to become self-starters and figuring out how to make that happen is critical to working remotely. Some tactics that will help you manage your productivity include:

  • Plan your tomorrow before you finish your today. Making a plan is imperative to staying in control of our time; in other words, if you don’t manage your time, your time will manage you. So, make a plan and stick to it.
  • Prioritize your activities each day and check them off as they are completed. Priorities will be either hard or important and sometimes both. Focus on the hardest priorities first and then work on the important ones. You don’t have to finish each task, but you have to work on them.
  • Take breaks, but with limits. After you have completed an activity, take a break to reset your mind before you start the next task. This will keep you fresh and mentally prepared during the day.
  • Set limits so that you are not working too much. Some days will require extraordinary effort, but if you have too many of them back to back your results will begin to suffer. Setting limits will keep your productivity high for the next task/day/project.
  • Exercise regularly. Getting up and walking around the house or apartment during the day will increase both your energy and mental acuity. Also, at the end of your day, go to a gym, or for out for a run. This will also help your productivity and get you among other people.

4. Technology

Losing your connection with your fellow workers or clients is the greatest risk for remote workers, and nothing strikes fear when working at home like the thought of losing power or internet connectivity. Each remote worker should take responsibility for having a backup plan in the event of an outage.

  • Have an old computer or tablet ready and available if for some reason your work computer fails you. A lot of remote workers will have a separate laptop for personal use. Have it set up so that you can engage it quickly if your work system goes down.
  • Most office servers have a battery backup in the event of a power failure. Today’s technology makes it very affordable to have a similar backup for your home systems. These back-ups can generate 6 to 8 hours of power for your computer and internet connection, so consider having a battery backup ready, charged and available if you lose power.
  • Have a mobile hot-spot ready if your internet connection goes down. Most cell phones are now capable of managing this function, although the speed will suffer, and video conferencing may not be possible.
  • Finally, unless a power outage is widespread in your area, know which coffee shops or other public locations offer WiFi. Once you assess the nature and length of your power outage, be prepared to pack up and get there.

The workplace of the future is going to be remote.

Remote work can be very rewarding for both employers and the employee as long as you know what you’re getting into and can handle these common issues. Keep in mind that we all have to deliver results and successfully managing the challenges of being remote can be the difference between delivering results and falling short.