Go Back

How to Fix 10 "Remote Work Challenges" Even In-Person Teams Face

Let’s expand our perspectives on remote work, dive into common challenges, and explore some opportunities for strengthening the digital employee experience, remote or otherwise.

Remote work is complicated.

Its duality of benefits and challenges continue to evolve across a timeline that is itself in constant flux. And while the future of remote work is always changing, one thing is certain: it’s here to stay.

Since it’s not going anywhere, organizations that adapt and leverage remote work principles will continue to enjoy an inherent advantage—not only in their ability to maximize remote work’s benefits and minimize its drawbacks, but also through applying some of the same learnings and strategies to other modes of work.

So, let’s expand our perspectives on remote work, dive into common challenges, and explore some opportunities for strengthening the digital employee experience, remote or otherwise.

1. Communication and Collaboration

The lack of face-to-face interaction inherent in remote work can make communication and collaboration between colleagues challenging.

Face-to-face communication affords people the ability to read nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language; online-only interaction does not provide the same opportunity. People rely heavily on that nonverbal communication.

A bias toward email or instant messages limits nonverbal cues, making it difficult for some coworkers to gauge each other's moods, emotions, or intentions. For the same reason, it can also be difficult for some people to cultivate a working relationship with new colleagues.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

Stay engaged with your team by holding video meetings, whether one-on-one or as a group. While it may not provide all the nonverbal cues face-to-face communication does, video can still give coworkers the opportunity to connect, at least visually, with each other.

Utilizing communication applications, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams allows colleagues to reach each other in a timely and effective manner through text, but also through impromptu video and audio experiences like Slack’s “Huddle” feature.

An intranet with people-focused elements like new hire updates, employee spotlights, shoutouts, badges, tagging, and in-depth employee profiles can be a fantastic way to give work relationships a head-start and help bridge the communication gap between employees working in different departments, or even different countries.

Project management programs like Basecamp and Asana can help a remote team track its progress as a whole, and individually, in a shared structured format.

Finally, the content of our communication is just as important as the tools we use to convey it.

Remote workers should be straightforward when providing feedback, addressing their managers, or responding to coworkers—and vise versa. In an environment where communication is limited, it can be better to over-communicate than to under-communicate or miscommunicate.

2. Difficulty Unplugging

According to a 2022 Statista survey, a quarter of respondents said the number one working-from-home challenge was the inability to unplug.

While working from home, the lines between work and personal life tend to blur if a dedicated workspace is not available. And although scheduling flexibility is a coveted benefit among those wishing to work from home, the lack of designated working hours afforded by many remote positions can make it even more challenging to maintain healthy boundaries between work and personal time.

The standard office workday routine usually includes getting up and ready, commuting, working in the office, and returning home, all of which make it simple to separate work and personal life. Without that routine to divide the two areas of life, particularly the commute, enforcing that division can be difficult.

And while many of these challenges are exacerbated by working from home, they’re still present in remote offices, deskless work, and in-person work scenarios. Employees have struggled to unplug long before working from home was a widespread option.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

Craft a designated workspace within the home, or in the case of an in-office scenario, a personal space that . Even if you cannot spare an entire room for the cause, a desk in the corner where you exclusively perform work can be a game-changer. Clear the area of distractions, and avoid using this workspace for other activities, such as eating or scrolling.

Management may wish to have a hand in assisting their team members craft their work-from-home spaces, including providing the necessary equipment to ensure maximum productivity.

A space dedicated solely to working affords the ability to leave work behind at the end of the workday. Stepping away will allow your brain to switch from work mode to personal time. Conversely, spaces within an office that promote a mindset shift can also be

3. Isolation and Mental Health

Human interaction is essential in maintaining a healthy mind, which Arthur C. Brooks illustrates in his article for The Atlantic. Prolonged isolation can lead to severe adverse mental and physiological consequences, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, and even post-traumatic stress.

In a 2021 poll, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found almost two-thirds of respondents who worked from home felt periodic isolation, and 17% felt lonely all of the time.

Even employees who consider themselves introverted benefit from making personal connections with colleagues. But these connections can feel impossible to make in a remote-work environment.

While it’s a more obvoius challenge for remote employees, isolation can be a problem for co-located workers as well.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

Employees working remotely should take care to cultivate opportunities for social interaction. Coordinate video-chat coffee breaks with remote coworkers, or create a space where colleagues can get to know each other. When the option for in-person meetings arises, take it.

For those working from home, consider spending time at a coffee shop or other co-working space. Whether or not you interact with others is up to you — what's important is seeing and hearing other people throughout the day.

Many software tools, such as Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, exist to foster collaboration and socialization among colleagues. Some intranets also have the ability to create groups and manage company events.

Whether or not employees are remote, tools like these make it easy to facilitate employee resource groups, organize games like March Madness brackets among team members, host regular "water cooler" discussions in real time, or play weekly company-wide trivia challenges.

Be creative, and have fun!

4. Micromanagement

Micromanagement isn’t new, but it’s complicated by remote work.

Some managers operate under the bias that remote workers are less productive or less engaged than in-person employees. These managers may be inclined to micromanage their remote teams in various ways to ensure their productivity, keep an eye on what they're working on, and suggest how they should perform their responsibilities.

Micromanagement is a commonly cited challenge of working from home. Some employers have gone as far as to install surveillance software to monitor their online activities, which the BBC suggests may be doing more harm than good.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

A clear line of communication between management and their teams is essential. For remote teams, fostering that line of communication might take a little more planning or tooling. There are various software options that allow remote workers to keep their managers in the loop as far as their work activities.

Keeping information about projects in a centralized location allows remote workers and their in-office counterparts to share pertinent information in real time. Setting up a short, weekly Zoom check-in is another excellent way to ensure both parties are on the same page.

Finally, placing greater focus on key outputs and outcomes rather than inputs can help relieve the burden for both managers and their direct reports. This is true regardless of whether the work environment is remote, distributed, or in-person.

5. Lack of Synchronous Communication

As remote work has all but eliminated hiring borders, many companies now employ team members worldwide. This means colleagues are working across various time zones, which can present an obstacle to collaboration and coordination.

Support staff may not be available when colleagues need them most. In some cases, language or cultural barriers can add another layer in addition to time zone difficulties.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

Modern project management software can relieve some of the pains of working across international time zones. It is also beneficial for companies to have a central source of truth, such as a company intranet, where all necessary documents, files, and information are readily available. Issue important dates and times in universal time, or ensure every member of your team receives the information in their local time.

A knowledge management system housed in the company intranet could be a repository for frequently-sought information, and a search component can vastly improve the remote team's ability to have the necessary information at their fingertips.

6. Unconscious Bias

Whether they recognize it or not, many managers assume remote workers are less productive than people who physically come into the office every day. Proximity bias and visibility issues are major concerns in the age of remote work. Managers tend to behave more favorably toward team members in closer proximity to them.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 42% of managers sometimes forget about their remote teams when assigning tasks, and remote workers receive fewer promotions than their in-person counterparts.

Recent research by Envoy showed even more concerning numbers: About 96% of executives said they noticed and valued their in-person team's contributions far more than that of their remote teams.

Once again, while this is a more obvious challenge faced by remote employees, some of the same biases can influence perceptions of in-office employees who are predominantly introverted, or simply quiet performers.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

The first step toward mitigating any bias is perhaps the hardest: acknowledgement.

Acknowledge that proximity bias is a potential issue, and commit to remaining alert to avoid it. Also, initiate face-to-face video meetings with remote team members to make them feel valued and keep their work at the forefront of management's awareness. Consider introducing more inclusive practices that place more value on workers' contributions and skills than on their proximity.

Consider implementing peer recognition strategies, like shoutouts, that help make great work by all employees more visible. It’s nearly impossible for a leader to witness and call out every action someone takes that is worthy of recognition; however, close colleagues are in a perfect position to do so—as long as they’re empowered to.  

It's also important that HR professionals keep omni-directional communication channels open as the company tests different hybrid and remote-work strategies.

This article from the Society for HR Management (SHRM) details ways to prevent proximity bias while using a hybrid workplace model. According to them, HR professionals should work to reduce proximity bias by "reviewing the performance evaluation process, coaching managers to recognize biases and teaching remote leadership skills."

7. Managing Distractions

Remote work provides immense flexibility; however, that flexibility may come with a downside. This is especially true for remote employees who work from home. Working from home also means easy access to all of the comforts and distractions of home.

This includes the temptation to prolong morning coffee on the deck, and the siren song of the couch and TV. It may also include children, chaotic pets, chatty relatives, and noisy neighbors.

Conversely, an office, retail environment, or job site can also be host to an incredible amount of distractions. So, while each environment presents its own unique distractions, addressing them covers similar territory.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

A dedicated workspace is essential for any remote worker to be productive and successful. Remote workers should keep temptations "out of sight, out of mind." If possible, close the door to your workspace to minimize interruptions.

The same goes for workers in an office, or any other environment. Even in an open office with shared workspace, it’s possible to cultivate a productive bubble. For employees whose work is often distracted by colleagues, a pair of noise-canceling headphones can be an easy way to both block out sound, and send a visual cue to others.

Finally, consider adding more short breaks into the day. This may seem counterintuitive, but allocating mental space to those urges to pop in a load of laundry, step out for fresh air, chat with a work friend, or walk down to the vending machine can help reduce its pull during focus time.

8. Suboptimal Equipment

Remote workers often cite their inadequate equipment as one of the main challenges of working from home. Some companies expect remote employees to use their own hardware to work from home, such as their personal computer, desk, chair, and more.

Some provide remote employees with a technology budget that pales in comparison to the funds they'd otherwise spend on overhead like office rent.

This can be a huge challenge when the employee's equipment doesn't match the employer's performance expectations. This TrendinTech article details some of the technological challenges remote workers face.

Suboptimal equipment can decrease employee productivity as both ergonomics and the overall remote employee experience can suffer. Working eight or more hours per day while sitting in an uncomfortable chair or squinting at a monitor that's too small or incorrectly placed can cause strain and even repetitive stress injuries.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

Any company that employs remote workers should also assist with the remote workers' technological setup, whether in person or remotely. These specialists should advise remote employees on the required hardware, software, internet connections, and security protocols. The onus shouldn't be on the remote employee to provide the technology.

It's just as essential that remote workers have ergonomic equipment as it is for in-person workers. Provide ergonomic chairs, second monitors, and other equipment to ensure your remote team remains safe and healthy.

The same is true for any work environment. Anti-fatigue mats, proper footwear, PPE, and ergonomics are examples of equipment that may help in-office or deskless workers. Just as crucially, in-person employees should have a quality digital experience.

Excellent technological tools and support can make frontline workers’ daily work easier, more efficient, and even safer. In emergencies, when it’s critical to get information to everyone quickly, some intranets can even send out multi-channel emergency communications via SMS, email, push notifications, and more.

9. Poor Habits

Poor habits aren’t exclusive to remote work, but there are some unique aspects of remote work that can lead to undesirable outcomes.

Excessive screen time is almost inevitable because the screen is the remote worker's window to the rest of the world. WorldHealth.net recently published an article about how too much screen time impacts remote workers’ mental health, and the eClinicalMedicine journal came to similar conclusions in 2022.

These unhealthy practices can be hard to break once established, and many of them can have severe detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of those who work from home.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

Creating healthy routines is of the utmost importance when working from home, they’re also helpful for anyone. Some suggestions for healthy habits to consider building include:

  • Getting up at the same time every day
  • Establishing an exercise routine
  • Getting up from your desk periodically to stretch and move your body
  • Looking away from the screen using the 20/20/20 rule to prevent eye strain
  • Getting involved in activities that bring joy
  • Looking for learning opportunities, both at work and outside of it
  • Setting short-term and long-term goals
  • Scheduling social interactions with friends, family members, and colleagues
  • Going to bed at the same time every night

10. Increased Cybersecurity Risks

As more companies have adopted a remote-work model, cyberattacks have increased as malicious actors have learned to prey upon the security vulnerabilities of remote work. Unsecured sensitive files, documents, and information attract cybercriminals, and the trend toward remote work has created an increased risk now that remote workers have access to this sensitive data from home.

Home internet connections may be less secure and therefore more vulnerable to attack than professionally managed business connections, meaning intrusion into these home networks is easier for motivated criminals. In addition, cloud misconfigurations can also lead to an increased risk of cyberattacks.

According to a study by IBM, when remote work is involved in causing a data breach, the average cost per breach is $1.07 million higher than otherwise. 2020 data from Malwarebytes indicates that 20% of companies reported facing a security breach as the result of a remote worker.

Suggestions to solve this challenge:

While remote work does present a new set of security challenges, nearly every company should implement basic cybersecurity protocols. A careless download or malicious email attachment is just as dangerous in an office, or on a jobsite, as it is in a remote work context.

Overcoming “Remote Work Challenges” in Any Work Environment

Good communication, an appropriate workspace, community, safety, proper hardware and software, and personal responsibility are critical in any work environment.Overcoming these obstacles can make the employee experience a successful, fulfilling, and productive one.

First Published
November 30, 2023
Organizational Culture
Employee Experience

Related Reading

View More