At 5CA, we’ve been champions of working from home since our humble beginnings. But while it’s been great to see other companies get on board with remote work — however necessary — we also understand its problems.
Not everybody thrives when they work from home. Generally, those with an aptitude for remote work are those who learn on the go and can manage their own time. But there are dozens of reasons why it might not be right for them. As a result, we’ve built WFH aptitude assessment into our recruitment model. That way, we’re able to screen our CXperts, ensuring everyone thrives in a remote environment. And those who thrive provide the best results.
Having championed WFH for two decades, we’ve been able to identify them and do our best to defeat them. Because as with everything good in life, there are plenty of challenges to address along the way.
And while we believe remote work is the future, we’re also totally aware it’s not all sunshine and roses. Organising and maintaining a remote workforce is hard, and there are no Matrix-style contortion tricks you can do to get around it.
But every issue you come across also has its solution.
We know it because we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve worked our butts off to foster the best WFH environment for our CXperts and our team: by identifying key problems and solving them with a solid work-from-home strategy.
Is working from home really the new normal?
If we had a cent for every time we’ve heard “x is the new normal” since the beginning of 2020, we’d be richer than Mario on his way to the castle. But they’re also not wrong. Thanks to the pandemic, working from home had to become the new normal.
With everyone stuck at home, companies of all shapes, sizes, and niches, had to go remote. As a result, there’s no better time to work from home. And the stats prove it. Microsoft Teams, for example, saw a huge boost in users, rising from 20 million users to 75 million in just five months.
People were using software they’d never used before. Some, that they’d never even heard of. Zoom memes became common place reaching more than just millennials, and boomers and gen x learned the value of a well-placed gif.
While many are enjoying the benefits of working from home, the same isn’t true for everyone. Many still prefer having a desk over their kitchen table and water cooler chatter over freedom to use the W.C. without drawing co-workers’ attention.
And big-time companies are just as split on this as their employees. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon recently cited working from home as an aberration. As a proponent of “direct contact”, the investment giant shut down the idea of employees working from home post-pandemic. Music streaming moguls Spotify, on the other hand, are adapting their flexible “Work from Anywhere” model going forth. At 5CA, we’ve been a pioneering force for the work from home life from the beginning. We know its ins, its outs, and its challenges. And we also know how to solve them. Because we’ve been there, have done it, and have a global talent pool of satisfied unicorns to prove it.
But while remote work is what we’re known for, we get that it isn’t for everyone. And we also want people to know that’s OK. Not everybody is going to vibe in a WFH environment, but there are ways to remedy that.
Common WFH problems (and how to overcome them)
Whether 2020 was your first foray into remote work or it’s just not for you, there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer being in the office. In a way, it’s not dissimilar to going to the gym vs working out at home: some of us like to be told what to do, others want the freedom to figure it out themselves.
And, like exercise, both works.
But there are also some people who want to work from home and get tripped up. After all, with so many challenges to overthrow, it can feel overwhelming. That’s why we want to help by covering some of the most common problems you’ll run into when you’re working with a remote team. And tell you how we overcame them ourselves.
1. Time Management
Believe it or not, there are plenty of bosses like David Solomon. One quick Google and you’ll find dozens of statements on how bosses think remote workers are slacking off. It couldn’t be more different.
People working from home are more likely to overwork than they would if they were in office. Having work and home lives collide leads to burnout. As a result, they feel overworked, overstressed, and like they have no time for themselves.
In setting their own hours, a lot of people forget to eat, don’t get to exercise, and don’t know when to sign off. And while it’s no one’s fault, they’re spending at least 3 hours more on the job.
To curb this, you need to ensure your employees stick to a routine.
- Create boundaries: It’s too easy for people to check their work email at 7pm when they should be relaxing. Don’t let them. Make sure your workers know their work hours and insist they stick to them.
- Form schedules: Routines can be the difference between a productive day and time spent wasted. By inspiring your workforce to schedule their days, they’ll keep to their tasks and be more inclined to “hang up” their laptops at the end of the day.
- Leave work behind: This goes for bosses as much as employees. Remote work makes it harder for people to separate their work and home lives. So, they don’t get the chance to relax as they would after leaving the office. Make sure they know when they clock out for the day, they’re done.
Average working hours have decreased in the last 30 years, but that’s not a bad thing. Working too much is one of the biggest productivity killers out there. If you’ve ever sat around in an office without work watching the clock tick by, you’ll know first-hand.
Having a longer working day means there are more hours to fill. And unfortunately, when you have too many hours, it’s much easier to get side-tracked. Even more so working from home when you’re surrounded by distractions be it barking dogs or an idle DualShock 4.
Feeling uninspired is like throwing a wrench into the works when it comes to getting anything done. But there are ways to avoid this and keep people feeling motivated.
- Take a break: Data backs up the fact that taking breaks makes a person more productive. Productivity app, DeskTime, found 10% of their most productive workers take scheduled breaks. Rather than only breaking for lunch, inspire your workers to schedule regular — perhaps even hourly — breaks. Their work and wellbeing will only benefit.
- Shake things up: Although routine is great, it’s never good to eat the same thing every day. It’s the same as with work. Let people know that, if the work gets done on time, you don’t mind when they do it. If they feel sluggish, it might be worth taking that break half-an-hour earlier.
Thanks to COVID-19, even a lot of introverts have been left feeling isolated. A Totaljobs survey found that 46% of UK workers found loneliness while working from home. For a lot of people, going into the office to see your colleagues is an essential part of being human. We are social creatures, after all.
And while many people find the idea of becoming a hermit enticing, it can get old fast. No matter how much software comes out to capture the social aspects of work, there’s a difference between sending gifs in Slack and telling Elon Musk he’s muted over Zoom.
So much of our mental health and wellbeing is linked to being around other people. Whether it’s morning commutes, coffee-buying, or watercooler gossip about Jane Doe from HR, human interaction can lift spirits — even if you can’t wait to get home at the end of the day.
Loneliness can be a big problem when working from home. What people don’t realise is we need social contact to satiate us. Not unlike we need food to stave off hunger. Thankfully, there are ways to curb it.
- Change your surroundings: While this was easier prior to COVID-19, it’s always good to get out of the house. Your workers can have the best home office and still feel burnt out from seeing the same thing every day. Going to a coffee shop or collaborative workspace brings people back into the world.
- Engage your workforce: One of the primary reasons for a disengaged workforce is the relationships workers have with their supervisors. In the world of remote work, managers need to be proactive in engaging their team. Be it online games, teambuilding activities, gamification of work, or even virtual parties.
- Schedule recurring hangouts: It’s so easy for people to forget to talk non-work things with their colleagues. Having work hangouts is a great thing to stave off loneliness and up morale. Whether virtually or in person, being able to talk about hobbies and interests makes everyone feel seen. But be sure to make it a regular thing — everyone needs something to look forward to.
Truthfully, maintaining a successful and happy remote team isn’t unlike romantic relationships. Communication is key. While this is true for all work teams, it’s even more important when working from home.
When you’re able to see somebody in person or sit across a board table with them, you can pick up on social cues. If you’re conducting all your work via email or team software, it isn’t as simple.
Text doesn’t read the same as body language. And video chats make it so people must look at themselves as they speak, which can be distracting if you’re not used to seeing yourself talk.
Miscommunications are going to happen by default, and without a clear line of communication, people will be more inclined to sort things out themselves. But luckily, this is incredibly easy to avoid.
- Have meetings: Organised work meetings are a great way to get everyone onboard and up to date. You can do these via video chat, text, or group email, but we recommend software like Microsoft Teams or Zoom so you can see each other. Ensure everyone is heard and everyone understands. When you’re all on the same page, you can do some amazing things.
- Share updates: Let people know they should share their updates with you and the team regularly. In return, share your own too. Let everyone know what’s going on in the project and what may or may not happen long term. Keeping that communication open will make sure everyone knows what’s going on.
A well-thought-out strategy makes working from home fun.
Implementing a strategy can make working from home more fun. Not only that, but you’ll be also getting the most out of your workers as a result. We also think the word strategy has far too bad a reputation.
Even the biggest freedom seeker needs some form of strategy if they want to be successful. There’s absolutely a thing as too much freedom, but not in the way most of us think. With a strategy, Into the Wild would have turned out much differently.
And while your remote team might not be parking a bus in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, there’s a lot to be said for giving them some guidance. For lots of us, WFH is the future of work. But it’s only going to be successful if you keep fostering those working relationships, too.
If you have a WFH strategy in place, your team will soar.
Forming a well-thought-out work from home strategy means you’ll be supporting your team through the fog. In ensuring they don’t work too much, feel able to communicate with their co-workers, and effectively manage their time, you’ll get the best results.
We founded our global remote operating model to empower and engage our CXperts. With it, we’re able to work together seamlessly and bolster productivity. And in doing so, fosters a work from home environment people of all walks of life can love.
No matter their language, anytime and anywhere.