Top 5 Personal Barriers to Remote Work Success

As the pandemic evolves, employers carefully consider how and when to return workforces to offices worldwide. In the meantime, employees continue adjusting to the new opportunities and challenges of remote work.

Our staff caught up with two experts—Susan Insley and Laurel Farrer—to discuss their top five barriers to remote work success.

5 Common Challenges of Remote Work

1. Employees Don’t Say “No” Enough

For many knowledge workers, there seem to be twice as many meetings (particularly video conferences) now that they’re working from home. And this makes it easy to feel like you need to join every single meeting—with the camera on.

“If employees have clarity about their key deliverables, this becomes much less of an issue. Workers know which calls are most important,” explains Insley, vice president of human resources at VMware. “Prioritize what is needed at this time, so you can appropriately manage your weeks.”

A byproduct of always saying “yes” is a feeling of being overextended. A manager, for example, may be able to attend town halls with a “follow-the-sun” schedule for one series. But making a habit of late-night or early-morning hours can quickly become a burden. While it’s important to stay close to an extended team, managers need to avoid overpromising and burning out.

Another byproduct of not saying “no” enough is a deterioration in health.

“It’s easy to keep doing work every day, seven days a week, because it’s right there in your own home,” says Insley. “Individuals must be conscientious about taking breaks and not feeling guilty about it. Without free time, people don’t get the rest and exercise they need to do their best work.”

2. Managers Fear a Lack of Transparency

A close-second to always saying “yes” is getting into the habit of reporting every activity daily. Many managers ask employees to account for their time more often than needed because they fear a lack of transparency, says Farrer, a leading remote work strategist and the chief executive officer of Distribute Consulting.

This can be a critical personal obstacle to remote work success because we all have more productive days than others. And no one wants his or her manager monitoring every interaction or scheduling excessive one-on-ones.

Rather, employees working from different locations must take control over their results. And managers should only monitor to ensure employees have what they need to deliver best results. That includes engaging to:

  • Prevent isolation.
  • Follow or track result milestones.
  • Reinforce positive work habits.

“If you were a manager in a physical office and saw somebody clocking in at 4 a.m. and clocking out at 11 p.m., you’d have the option to do one of two things. Ask if there’s a problem or say ‘great job, keep it up.’ The former invites transparency into how work is accomplished. The latter does not. You’d try to help them overcome a barrier to be able to rebalance work-life priorities,” Farrer says.

How to Boost Employee Experience During Crisis

Insley outlines best practices for how organizations can manage employee experience during a time of crisis at HRExecutive.com.

3. Employees Are More Afraid to Make Mistakes

Everyone knows the old adage “out of sight, out of mind.” So although working from home offers more flexibility and a casual dress code, employees may feel even more pressure to be perfectionists.

Remote workers may be erring on the side of caution when it comes to presenting ideas or work products for fear of losing their jobs. They may not want to fall short of expectations, be viewed poorly, or disappoint a manager or colleagues. It’s up to managers to help them overcome this obstacle, and they can do so by encouraging both a growth and a fail-fast mindset.

“Employees are likely to be less fearful about making a mistake if they are able to be open and honest about their workloads and ability to deliver,” says Insley.

4. Managers Trust Remote Employees Less

For those unaccustomed to working remotely, supervising employees can be challenging. Managers skeptical of an individual’s ability to be productive can create issues involving trust. Employees can help unsure managers be more comfortable with effective working from home by collaborating on and establishing appropriate:

  • Key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Results-based tracking methods.
  • Collaborative objectives.

“Remote employees working in a culture of respect and trust feel autonomous and empowered to do their best work,” says Farrer. “When employees cite remote work dissatisfaction, it is often because of poor interaction with a particular supervisor. Although sometimes a micro-manager won’t or can’t change, employees should take it upon themselves to find a solution that works for everyone. And if that is insufficient, they can involve human resources.”

5. Miscommunication Is Rampant

Both leaders stress the importance of communication. “There is no such thing as overcommunication with remote workers,” explains Farrer. “It’s simply communication.”

Insley agrees. “When our workforce was mandated to work from home, VMware’s leaders sent a strong, visible message communicating that we’re all in this together,” she remembers. “Communication at the right cadence—and I advocate more often than you normally would in the office—helps remote workers feel more supported in their work.”

Employee experience continues to be a valuable business asset as organizations embrace new ways of working. Ensure your team understands how to overcome personal barriers to and common challenges of remote work.