How to Avoid the 3 Biggest Pitfalls of Working Remotely

Working remotely can be a gift — of freedom, time, and mobility. In our modern-day economy, more and more businesses are relying on this type of out-of-office employment. Indeed, many companies, especially international and/or web-based ones, are run exclusively by a remote staff.

What’s the appeal? For one thing, you don’t have to deal with a boss hovering over your shoulder every other hour (or distracting co-workers for that matter). Plus, as a remote worker, you have the option to set your own schedule and work in the comfort of your own home, at your favorite local café, or even abroad.

But while many people do well with this type of autonomy, for others it can be quite a challenge. Even for seasoned pros, remote work can be difficult at times.

If you recently negotiated a remote work arrangement — or hired a remote employee — it’s important to be aware of some common pitfalls you or your staff may experience and what to do to avoid them.

How to Avoid the 3 Biggest Pitfalls of Working Remotely

1. Settling Into Complacency

Perhaps the biggest fantasy about remote work is that you can “get away” without actually working too hard. This is akin to the “senioritis” phenomenon affecting high school seniors in the few weeks to a month preceding graduation: they presume their diploma is inevitable, so their work ethic starts to slide. For many people working remotely, this could look like: sleeping in super late, arbitrarily ending the work day early, procrastinating, failing to set an appropriate work schedule, and so on.

The obvious drawback to this slide toward complacency? Your work and your job security can easily become compromised. Customers and clients expect high quality products and services, and your boss expects productivity and competency (at the minimum). Failing to organize yourself and maintain a decent work ethic can mean decreased customer and employer satisfaction — let alone shoddy work.

The Solutions

Hold yourself to realistic but tough standards. In a way, you have to become your own boss. Set specific deadlines and daily work schedules to avoid the stress of scrambling to get things done in the last minute. The more you organize your own schedule, the more freedom you’ll actually have, since you won’t be bogged down by chaos and distraction.

Don’t just “punch out” early and go to the gym or a matinee — at least, don’t make it a habit (clearly, that kind of flexibility certainly is one of the benefits of remote work). You don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to, but don’t stay in your pajamas all day, either. Remember integrity: do the right things well, as if someone was watching (even though nobody is).

How to Avoid the 3 Biggest Pitfalls of Working Remotely

2. Missing Human Connection

Call it occupational FOMO. If you’re super social by nature, then being on your own a lot may cause you to have a fear of missing out on face-to-face interaction with your colleagues and clients. The frequent alone time may also be a breeding ground for paranoia about what others may be thinking about you (reality check: you almost definitely have nothing to worry about).

While technology makes it easier than ever to speak with people literally all around the world at any given moment, sometimes a text, phone call, or FaceTime just isn’t the same as sharing a cup of coffee or grabbing lunch with your work friends.

The Solutions

If possible, schedule periodic check-ins at your company’s physical office (your boss may even require this of you, anyway). If you’re a freelancer, aim to schedule a face-to-face business meeting or lunch with a colleague or client at least once or twice per month. Stay in touch with your company’s antics by going to office parties or arranging happy hour get-togethers.

Attending industry events is also an excellent way to connect with fellow remote workers and other people within your field of practice (beyond the obvious networking benefits).

Lastly, remember that you always have the option to increase your off-the-clock socializing. Having a flexible work schedule affords you more freedom to volunteer, join a club or gym, or simply spend quality time with your friends. You can use a social outing as a “treat” after a day of focused work, or feel free to break up the day by taking a buddy to lunch — as long as you have the discipline to get back to work after.

How to Avoid the 3 Biggest Pitfalls of Working Remotely

3. Assuming You Can Work Anywhere

Yes, having a remote job does give you the freedom to be mobile and essentially work wherever you want. What it doesn’t do is magically confer upon you the ability to work “anywhere.”

Some people need absolute quiet to focus on their work. Others need the lull of background noises, like a coffee shop or restaurant. Even the comfort of your own home, while wonderful, can be a huge distraction. The kitchen, the kids, the chores, the dog — any of these can easily draw you away from your work.

The Solutions

Set clear boundaries, both physical and temporal. You wouldn’t want people interrupting you in the office so why should you allow friends and family to interrupt you out of the office? Dedicate a room in your home (with a door) where you can perform the bulk of your remote work. Establish certain hours during your work day when you truly need to be left alone. Your loved ones should understand that even though you’re home, you’re still “at work” and on the clock. So, unless there’s an emergency, you shouldn’t be bothered.

If you choose to spend time working out of the house, then you need to have a clear and honest idea about what kind of ambient environment is best for you, and commit to seeking out those environments. Don’t choose a busy restaurant to get some work done if the people watching and one-too-many glasses of wine will keep you from focusing on your job.

Lastly, if you choose to go super remote and move out of the country, you need to consider the impact of being a different time zone. While living as an ex-pat in Europe or Asia sounds romantic and adventurous (indeed, it probably is), it may not be quite so appealing if you frequently have to get up at 2:00 a.m. for company meetings with your counterparts in America. Keep this in mind if this type of relocation is available to you.

Is Working Remotely Right for You?

Perhaps the most important way to hedge your bets when it comes to taking on a remote job arrangement is to simply know yourself. Do you have the requisite discipline and independence to produce high quality work, even without someone “checking in” on you and without the social setting of an office?

If you do, congrats: remote work may be a valid and flexible choice for you. On the other hand, if you do better when you’re held directly accountable to someone (or if the thought of alone time makes you cringe) or when you’re motivated by a team environment, consider it an important tell. You may do your best work — and enjoy your job better — if you can stick to a brick-and-mortar type environment.

But for an increasing number of people, working remotely is the right choice and provides not only lifestyle benefits and opportunities to the employee, but also increased productivity and happiness for the entire company.

Do you work remotely? Have any tips for your fellow out-of-office pros? Let us know about them by sharing in the comments below.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.