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What are the challenges of remote work?
Director of Engineering
October 27 2018

Remote work has many benefits. But what are some of the challenges you face when working remotely?

Recently I posted about the benefits of remote work, from an employee perspective. There’s always a flip side to any situation and in this post I want to cover the challenges of remote work. Of course, some of these can be mitigated or affect different people in different ways, but nothing is perfect. I define remote work as work that is done primarily outside of a shared physical location.

  • There is no daily in person human interaction with your team. In person interaction is generally higher bandwidth and a lack of that can be isolating. Employees can still be friends with co-workers, but won’t be able to participate meaningfully in after work activities together.
  • An employee can spend an entire day in the same couple of rooms. (This may fill you with excitement or with dread.) If you want to get out, you have to plan for that. At Culture Foundry we also have office space that is available in our main cities.
  • Popping up and asking a question can feel more weighty when you have to type it into chat and possibly interrupt someone (you don’t have the general awareness someone is busy that you might in a shared office).
  • In general getting help requires a more proactive approach–no one can see if you are frustrated or hear you sighing online, so an employee needs to be willing to stick up their hand (virtually) and ask. This is typically tough the first couple of times.
  • Conceptual discussions are more difficult to have. Even if you find the perfect online whiteboarding software, latency and online tools affect the conversation negatively. Plus the aforementioned lack of interaction bandwidth.
  • In particular, video chat isn’t perfect. It’s easy to talk over another person inadvertently because you don’t have the cues you might in person.
  • Work/home boundaries are fuzzier, and work can bleed over into personal time. Setting firm boundaries is useful (one of our team members “commutes” to her home office by walking around the block at the start of each day.
  • A high level of communication is needed. There are few easy ways to see how someone is doing passively, so everyone needs to make their progress explicit. (Frankly, this issue is also a problem with software development in general and is not unique to remote work.)
  • Most communication is written, so often some tone is lost. This is especially important to be aware of when tension is high.

Many of these can be overcome. For example, if you are isolated by working at home, get a space in a co-working office. Or if you have a hard time with abstract conversations, find better tools and practice it more often. I have worked both onsite and remotely throughout my career and at different times in my life. The relative weight of the above challenges differs over time (sometimes it’s harder to be isolated, other times getting help is tougher).

But these are real issues with working remotely. Remote work isn’t for everyone.

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