According to research published by Global Workforce Analytics, the number of people working from home has increased a stunning 173% since 2005. That number will grow substantially by the end of 2021. However, while over 80% of workers, given the opportunity, would choose to work from home, it is not without its challenges. These challenges must be addressed to ensure work from home success. Here are a few of those challenges, ways they can potentially derail employees' success, and how to address them.

1. The Missing Human Element

Social isolation is one of the most severe struggles, according to people working from home. It makes sense — working from home means giving up water cooler chats and 30-second elevator pitches. Scheduled check-ins on Zoom and Slack aren’t as organic as simple walking past a co-worker's office or cubicle on the way to grab a coffee.

However, while isolation is a challenge, there are ways that companies can help their workers by fostering both structured and casual social interaction. The most obvious is to set up a Slack channel just for casual conversation. Some companies are also hosting project show and tells where different verticals share what they are working on. Others create open spaces for employees to share challenges and find solutions to problems. And of course, there are always virtual pubs, trivia, or movie nights for more casual gatherings and interactions.

2. Technical Difficulties

The great migration to working from home in the spring of 2020 left many companies struggling with a host of technical problems. The problem was far worse for employees who were left to figure out connectivity and software issues without the same access to technicians they enjoyed in their workplaces. In fact, one survey revealed that nearly 75% of workers had experienced technological challenges in working from home. There isn’t much a company can do to address problems stemming from internet connection issues, but there are ways to alleviate other technical issues.

Pop-ups can be useful for some workers, but they can annoy others, so know your audience. Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven virtual help desks are available from several vendors and are especially helpful when dealing with enterprise software. Ensure everyone is well-trained on the software they’ll need to use, don't just assume that they understand it. Consider creating a collection of videos and technical support documents.

The bottom line? You won’t be able to eliminate every technological challenge your employees encounter, but you can mitigate the stress with ongoing training and support.

3. Distractions

While there definitely are distractions at the office, distractions at home can be much more disruptive. From pets to neighbours to dishes left undone, diversions abound for at-home workers. There is no way for you to stop them, but helping your employees learn to deal with them can mitigate the challenge. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Offer training in how to avoid being overwhelmed by distractions
  • Provide funding to help workers set up a private at-home office space
  • Encourage schedules and rest breaks
  • Check-in with employees to ensure everyone is on task
  • Consider leaving cameras on in meetings. It gives the message that everyone is, and should be, paying attention.

One cautionary note, though — do not let the meetings themselves become the distraction. Many workers complain that managers, eager to ensure productivity, chip away at it by insisting their people attend too many meetings that lack purpose.

4. Blurred Lines

Avoiding the commute is an obvious perk of working from home. That should translate into more time for family and leisure activities, but research suggests that is not what is happening. In fact, according to a study by the United Nations, people working from home are at risk for working longer hours and at a much more intense pace.

The blurred lines between work and home can be a good thing, but they can also lead to burnout if employers and workers aren’t careful. There are a few things both employers and employees should do to merge home and work successfully.

  • Embrace flexibility for those who thrive with it, but understand that some people work better and are far more comfortable with clearly defined lines.
  • Recruit middle managers who are empathetic to the challenges of working from home and help them to support employees.
  • Respect boundaries by creating policies that encourage people to shut down email and other communication channels in the evening.
  • Create guidelines that encourage managers to set an example by avoiding communicating with their teams outside of regular business hours, creating an expectation that employees should be "on call" at all hours of the day.
  • Provide training on time management for home workers and the importance of work-life balance. Show that it matters to you.

5. Communication and Clarity

A feeling of disconnect when it comes to communication is another top challenge faced by remote workers. In fact it is tied with loneliness as the biggest challenge of remote work. The loss of casual work conversations is one reason, but another common complaint is the lack of visibility. It’s a tremendous challenge to be noticed when communications are restricted to online venues. Text or chat-based communications also have a higher potential of being misinterpreted or misconstrued, adding to the problem.

There is also the danger of overcommunicating turning into micromanaging. Your people need to be in the know. However, managers who are anxious to help or to check in on employees can and will interrupt workflow and productivity if they insist on too frequent check-ins. It’s hard to let go, but the vast majority of workers are at least as productive if not more productive when working from home. Except, that is, when they must respond to frequent interruptions from managers checking up on them. Here are a few tips to help your remote workers with communication challenges:

  • Consider creating a single channel for global announcements so that everyone in the company is aware of critical moves and is operating from the same page.
  • Keep meetings short, no more than an hour, and hold meetings when necessary. Consider avoiding lengthy daily check-ins altogether.
  • Overcommunicating is good. Micromanaging is not.
  • Focus on high context modes of communication, such as face-to-face video chats, when there is a danger of being misunderstood.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to showcase their work (perhaps through an open space) or receive the visibility that is critical to their career and their engagement with your company.

Despite the numerous benefits of working from home, there are challenges. Helping your workers streamline their process benefits everyone.