Why remote work feels more challenging than you expected and what to do about it

Working from home. A mere month ago coveted by many office dwellers looking for more flexibility and a level of concentration that a crowded open-plan office can hardly provide. So, here we are, collectively granted that much desired freedom, yet findinging it strangely challenging and difficult to get used to.

Admittedly, voluntarily choosing to work from home and having it imposed on you amidst a pretty worrying global pandemic are two very different things. But given that this is our reality for the time being, we’re taking a close look at some of the most common challenges and offering easy and creative ways to work around them (together with a selection of our favourite tools and apps to help you along the way). 

Here’s what we’ll discuss:

Challenge 1: Staying productive

The main reason we struggle to concentrate and stay productive while working from home is that we’re missing the structure imposed on us externally when we work from an office. 

How many mornings did you wake up wishing to smash your alarm clock and keep snoozing under the fluffy comfort of your sheets? Likely, many. But how often did you actually follow through? Hopefully, you didn’t. You know you can’t because you’d have to explain yourself if you didn’t show up at the office.

Having to take the bus, get to the office on time, prepare for a client meeting at 10am, finish by 5pm so you can make it to your yoga class at 6pm… This is the structure keeping your day in shape and marking the rhythm. When you work in an office, this structure is imposed on your day by others. In a way, this is what we complain about when we say we’d like more freedom. But freedom comes with responsibilities, and one of them is the responsibility of creating your own structure for the day when you work from home, and diligently following through.

You still get the flexibility, but the flexibility lies in being able to create a structure that works for you. So take a few days to experiment with different set-ups, learn when you’re most productive, and then come up with a formula that gets the job done and keeps you happy.

Here’s what you can try:

Have a designated work space

Not everyone is blessed with a spacious flat and a separate study room, we know that. But choosing your work spot and sticking to it will greatly help you be more productive. Even if it’s a temporary set-up on your kitchen table that you clear up at the end of the work day, the main principle is the same: make the space dedicated to work and work alone while you’re supposed to be working.

Having a designated work area will help you concentrate and keep on task

Our minds seek clarity and structure, and knowing the purpose of the space we’re using makes it easier for the mind to stay focused on the task at hand. Ever read how you shouldn’t have a TV in the bedroom if you want to get a good-night’s sleep? Well, the same principle’s at play.

Plan your week ahead of time

This is a big one. Not everyone is naturally inclined towards planning and organisation, but giving it a go will do wonders for your productivity, whether you work from home or the office.

You’ve been there: too many things to do, everything seems both urgent and important, and you don’t know where to start. So you spend a good chunk of your morning just staring at your screen, aimlessly clicking through the dozens of tabs open in your overcrowded browser. Before you know it, it’s time for a coffee break and you haven’t made any actual progress yet.

Sounds pretty bleak, but the good news is that investing 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon in planning the following week is a pretty good way to beat procrastination. A few quick tips for planning beginners:

  • Start with defining your top three goals for the week;
  • Make sure that the tasks you choose to perform help you achieve those goals; 
  • Block time in your calendar for each of the tasks – this is important!
  • Dedicate the first few hours of the day to the tasks that bring you most value;
  • Leave some wiggle room for unexpected requests or delays in schedule beyond your control.

If you want to become better at effectively managing your time, I highly recommend this fantastic course, offered on Linkedin Learning and taught by the knowledgeable and unexpectedly hilarious Chris Croft.

Leave work at work

One common side-effect of working from home is the blurring of boundaries between your work and your personal time. In a standard work setting, it’s easier to leave the work behind the closed doors of the office once you leave for the day. When your life and your work share the same space, your mind finds it more difficult to make this separation. According to a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, over 30% of people who work remotely find it hard to disconnect from work in their free time.

But being able to do so will help you be more productive while you’re actually working. Similarly to keeping your workspace dedicated to work alone, make it easy for your mind to know whether it’s time for work or for play. The better you are at “free-timing”, the more energy you’ll have the next day to tackle new work assignments. A few simple things that can help:

  • Don’t install any work-related apps on your phone, or at least mute the notifications when you’re not working. This goes for chat, email, Google Drive, all of it.
  • Make plans with other people so you have somewhere to be at a dedicated time, even if it’s a virtual meetup.
  • Come up with work hours that work for you and stick to them. Behaving as if you had the entire day to finish that project will inevitably cause the work to spill into your personal time and likely cause burnout in the long run.

Staying productive: Our favourite tools

Productivity tools and apps

Challenge 2: Feeling isolated and lonely

A sense of isolation and loneliness is consistently cited as one of the main challenges of working from home. How big of an issue this is going to be for you depends largely on your personality type, though even the most reclusive of introverts end up missing human contact if they neglect to nurture their relationships (take it from one).

Here’s what you can do to keep feeling connected:

Check in regularly with your team, even when you don’t feel you need it

Even if you’re one of those people who can happily motivate themselves and quietly while away for hours without needing to utter a single word to another human being, do make an effort to communicate with your team members on a regular basis. You will be surprised by how invigorating it can feel to hear another person’s voice every once in a while and to know that your team is there for you.

However, make sure that the communication is structured and doesn’t interrupt your workflow abruptly. The goal isn’t to jump at every Slack message the second you receive it, but rather to cultivate a sense of belonging to a team that works together towards shared goals. Use status updates in your chat app to make it easy for your colleagues to know whether you’re online, available for collaboration, in a meeting, or immersed in deep work.

You should ideally have at least one weekly team meeting where you revise the priorities and go over what everybody has been working on. Make it a recurring meeting in your calendar so that you can take it into account when you do your time blocking for the week.

Keep communicating with your team, even when you don't feel you need it

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It’s important to remember to ask for help when you need it. Without a coworker sitting physically next to you, it may feel more logical to turn to Google for answers. And though being self-sufficient and resourceful is certainly a skill valued at any workplace, so is knowing to rely on your colleagues for support. Having a team buddy or a mentor, or simply a desk colleague who can quickly resolve a doubt is a staple of working in a team. So don’t forgo that just because your team member is a few clicks away.

Make room for socialising

Coffee breaks and non-work-related chats with our colleagues are anything but trivial. They help us express ourselves beyond our job titles and foster a sense of belonging to a community. So making sure you don’t skip them when working from home is as crucial as regularly communicating about your tasks and projects.

Virtual socialising will inevitably look a little different and may initially require a bit more effort, but it’s every bit as rewarding. Here’s what we’ve been doing at Badi since we collectively switched to remote work due to the coronavirus crisis over a month ago:

  • Weekly chit-chat meetings: Set up a recurring weekly meeting for your team where you’re allowed to discuss anything but work.
  • Online pub quiz: Pick your platform of choice (we’re using the good old Slack), come up with some fun and creative questions, and invite people to join. For extra bonding, have people join in teams rather than individually. Beer is optional, but hilarious gifs are obligatory.
  • Team fitness: You may not be able to go for a jog during lunch break or head over for a round of beach volley after work, but you can ask your resident fitness guru (every company has one) to host a virtual workout session for the interested colleagues. It’s fun, it’s healthy, and there’s nothing like sweating it out together to bring you closer to one another.
  • Themed Slack channels: Set up a dedicated Slack channel for anything and everything. Our coffeebreak, parentsgoingcrazy, and mindfulness channels are proving particularly helpful during our current remote work experience.
  • Team tutorials: Rotate with your teammates to host an online tutorial for the rest of the group. Wherever it is that your hidden talents lie, dust them off and display them proudly for the benefit of your colleagues. One of our most prolific teams has so far hosted a workshop on making the Argentinian mate tea, a charcoal drawing tutorial, and a session on false friends between Spanish and Italian. The opportunities are endless!.

Nurture your social life outside of work

Though this one is currently a bit of a challenge itself, given that many countries are in total or partial lockdown, the principle is timeless: making sure you regularly connect with your friends and family will greatly help you manage those feelings of loneliness caused by working on your own.

Once you can, get up and leave the house every day after work. Make it non-negotiable. It can be as big as arranging a dinner with your friends or as small as going grocery shopping. The important thing is to allow for a change of scenery. It will help your brain make a mental separation between work and your personal time, and seeing other humans even if you don’t directly interact with them will remind you that there’s life outside of your little cave. That’s why a lot of people like to work from a café or a coworking space (find a cool app recommendation for that a bit further down).

To take it one step further, engage into some human interaction during your lunch break as well. If you’re currently in lockdown you may not be able to meet a friend or join a gym class (both excellent options otherwise), but you can use the break to call your parents, chat with your best friend, or share a meal with your flatmates.

Staying connected: Our favourite tools

Apps to help you socialise with your colleagues
  • Slack for organised team communication;
  • Houseparty for face-to-face social gatherings;
  • Coffitivity for the perfect coffee shop vibe.

Challenge 3: Staying healthy

This one isn’t unique to remote workers, our sedentary lifestyle is taking a toll on all of us. When we talk about staying healthy in relation to work, we mainly refer to two things: knowing how to set boundaries around work and prevent burnout, and keeping our physical body in good shape. We’ve touched upon the former in the section on staying productive, so here’s some tried and tested advice on what you can do to look after your body. It’s all quite straightforward, though it does require discipline and constancy.

Stand up, stretch, and rest your eyes – more than once a day!

You’re probably rolling your eyes as you read this, thinking “I’ve heard this a million times”. Yet, how often do you actually do it? Forgetting to get up and move our body is easier than it seems. Despite being someone who suffers from chronic back pain and knows how important all of the above is, I am continually shocked to find that it’s been another three hours since I last stood up from my screen.

Regardless of how young or fit you are, your body simply wasn’t designed to spend the entire day in front of a screen. Neck and back pain are among the first symptoms you’ll start to notice, followed by eyestrain, headaches and pain in your wrists or arms. 

So take regular breaks (a few minutes every hour) and make sure to spice them up with some movement. You could try these 12-minute chair stretches for your neck and upper back or this gentle cardio session that takes only ten minutes but gets your entire body moving. A 20-minute walk around the block also does the job brilliantly (once we’re no longer confined, that is).

Incorporate exercise into your routine

When you work from home you’re not even getting those couple of thousands of steps that it normally takes you to get to the office, so being extra diligent with your fitness routines is really important. Another one that’s a no-brainer but very easily neglected.

Remember the planning stage we discussed above? Incorporate regular exercise into your plan and batch tasks around it. Pencil it in like any other task to make sure it gets done. You can split your workout into two and do the first half during your lunch break and the second half once you finish work for the day. This breaks the long sitting periods into shorter stretches and slows down or prevents the development of pain, particularly in your back.

Incorporate exercise into your work-from-home routine
Team up with your flatmate and act as each other's accountability buddy to ensure you get your daily dose of fitness

If you’re not the type who naturally enjoys exercise, try varying the type of activity that you do to keep it fun and motivating or get your flatmate on board and act as each other’s accountability buddies. Check out our extensive overview of the best online fitness platforms for some fun ideas.

Try a (makeshift) standing desk

Standing desks have been all the rage for the past few years. Even though they don’t necessarily help us lose weight or stay alert, as it was initially believed, they can help with lower back pain caused by prolonged sitting.

But it’s important to use them correctly, because being on your feet without moving for too long isn’t ideal for your spine either. Generally speaking, you should alternate between sitting and standing and not stand for more than 30 minutes at a time. 

Remember to mind your posture as well, whether you’re sitting or standing. The same rules apply in both cases: your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle to the desk and the screen around an arm’s length away from you, the top of it reaching just below your eye level.

Since you most likely won’t splurge out on a fancy standing desk for your home office, you can consider purchasing a more affordable standing desk converter or get creative and build a temporary one from scratch. Our favourite examples from the Badi community: ironing board, ladder, or the more predictable cardboard boxes from your old Amazon deliveries.

Staying healthy: Our favourite tools

Apps to help you unwind from work

Challenge 4: Working with flatmates around

Ok, so you’re finally getting into your remote work groove, but now your flatmate decides to do her own fitness break just as you’re about to hop on a client call in that very room. Working from a house that you’re sharing with other people is a challenge in its own right, though you have hopefully made sure that you and your flatmates share as many lifestyle preferences as possible (Badi helps you do just that). 

In the end, compromising around your work-from-home routines is not that different from deciding on other important aspects of a shared life. It’s ultimately about setting some ground rules and respecting each other’s boundaries. Here’s our top advice on how to go about it smoothly:

  • Jointly agree on where each of you is going to be working and make sure neither one of you monopolises the best spaces. Set up a simple table in Google sheets to keep track of who’s using what space and when, just as if you were booking a meeting room at your office.
  • Sync your calendars so you all know when one of you is going to need some quiet time for video calls or deep concentration.
  • While you’re working, treat your flatmates as coworkers – wear your headphones if you like to work to music (unless all of you do) and let each other know if you’re too busy to chit-chat without taking offense.
  • Try to get some alone time every day, and similarly, grant it to your flatmates as well.
  • If your schedules permit, have a shared meal, even if it’s only a few times a week. It’s a great way to disconnect, socialise, and be ready to go back to concentration mode for the afternoon.
  • You’re hopefully already doing this, but find a way to stay on top of the house chores in a fair and efficient way. When your home is also your office, it’s all the more important that you keep it clean and neat.

Remote working with flatmates: Our favourite tools

Apps to use with your flatmates

Final thoughts

Even though a lot of the advice we’ve shared here is logical and straightforward, we all know from experience that we don’t necessarily follow it all the time. And that’s fine, it’s a learning process, and the beauty of being able to work from home is in the freedom and the flexibility that you gain. But generally speaking, using this freedom to create a routine that works for you will make the experience more pleasurable, especially if you’re in it for the long haul. So experiment with different set-ups before you land on something that feels good and allows you to get the job done, and then stick to it. You know you can do it because you do it unfailingly when others ask you to (i.e. when you’re working from an office), so why wouldn’t you be able to make it work when you’re the one in charge?