Duncan Fenning
Dec 9, 2016
7 mins reading time

Remote: The drawbacks and how to overcome them

4 months of remote working gives you a good idea of what you enjoy about it. It also gives you a better understanding of the challenges working remotely creates. If you have been following my last few posts, you will understand some of the benefits I have discovered from working remotely. However, despite its positives, remote working does pose different challenges and does have it’s drawbacks. Lets dive in to some, that myself, as well as my colleagues in Sofia, have discovered in our time working remotely.

Collaboration

Collaborating with others when you are remote is always more difficult than if you are physically with the other person. Quick chats, whiteboard explanations and group meetings are an everyday activity in the HX tech team. Ensuring these work as well remotely requires organisation.

Getting the basics right makes remote collaboration a lot easier and more bearable for remote workers. Using the appropriate tools and ensuring the meeting is hosted in an appropriate environment solves most problems. Trying to listen in on a meeting that is being drowned out by background noise is a remote worker’s nightmare and ensuring this doesn’t happen is fairly straightforward.

However, you can’t always plan for the impromptu meetings, in which finding an adequately equipped meeting room is not the top priority. For those physically in the meeting, this isn’t a problem. For the remote workers, it can be tiring and lonely, not being able to communicate as effectively.

There are, however, lots of great tools at our disposal, all of which can improve remote collaboration and improve productivity. I’ve managed to categorise the best practices into the following.

Equipment

Choosing the right equipment very much depends on the type of collaboration you are attempting. With multiple parties involved, I have experienced 2 types of meetings. One, in which I am the lone remote member, and the rest of the team are joined in a room together, and two where every member of the meeting ‘dials in remotely’. Both of these techniques work well, as long as the equipment is adequate.

For group meetings, a high quality microphone is a necessity. Being able to hear everyone in the meeting clearly is a must when there is only one remote member. Often using a low quality mic, you can pick up the people nearest the microphone, but those further away get lost in the background noise filter. This makes it very hard for remote workers to concentrate and understand everything that is being said.

For completely remote meetings, I always recommend purpose built headsets. These are cheap and readily available in most office environments and the difference in quality between a purpose built headset and a pair of phone earphones is unbelievable. They drown out background noise and pick up all the conversation. Again, using a non purpose built set of headphones or earphones picks up a lot of background noise.

Environment

Picking the best environment for a remote meeting depends on the type of meeting. Group meetings are best set in a quiet room, away from background noise, with a decent microphone that enables everyone on the call to be heard. For those one on one meetings, using a purpose built headset usually drowns out background noise so the environment is not as big a factor.

When in a busy environment, the discussion can often become drowned out whilst you listen to the people in the background having another conversation. This is very distracting and ruins the productivity of the meeting.

Tools

There are countless tools at your disposal to make remote collaboration easier. Examples include Hangouts, Slack, Screenhero. Using these tools reduces the barrier between remote workers and can in fact increase productivity. Have a read of my post on how to be a productive remote worker to find out more!

Practice

I think a lot of the time it comes down to awareness and using the right tools for each situation. The more practice your team has with remote meetings, the more it becomes second nature. The question you should be asking yourself is this. If you put yourself in a remote workers position, would you be happy with how you collaborate with the rest of your team?

Isolation

One of the biggest differences when moving from a shared, open plane office, to working from home, is the lack of social interaction. This is something that takes some adjustment to overcome. Whether or not you prefer a quieter environment very much depends on your personality. Some find working from home can improve productivity, whilst others shudder at the thought of being alone all day.

However, working remotely doesn’t have to mean working in isolation. Many towns and cities offer shared working spaces. These are places that remote workers go to feel more involved with working life. I guess it works the same way as going to the gym. If you surround yourself with likeminded people, you will be more motivated to get your work done. If your local area doesn’t offer these shared working spaces, libraries and cafes can provide similar environments.

I’ve also found myself regularly having video calls with colleagues in the office. This is mostly work related, such as morning stand ups, and other agile meetings. However, I’ve also had the chance to catch up with some colleagues and have ‘watercooler’ type conversations with them. This can help overcome the feeling of isolation and means you don’t miss out on anything that’s happening in the office.

Missing out on social activities

Something you will have to accept when you are a remote worker is that you won’t be taking part in all the social activities that take place in a shared office. These can be easily taken for granted when there is something taking place every week in a bustling office. However, when working from home, you miss these social events.

Since I have moved to working from home I’ve missed multiple events including BBQs, leaving drinks and meals for ex colleagues, halloween activities and more recently the annual fireworks night. To combat this, I have tried to find social activities outside of my working environment. I’ve joined a football and basketball team and this keeps me busy 3 nights a week. Even so, there is no real substitute to seeing off a close colleague in person, but those sacrifices are usually few and far between. Unfortunately, this is a trade-off that comes with the freedom remote working offers, and that is something I have come to accept.

The final weigh in

Even though remote working brings new challenges and has its negatives, there are often ways to counter them. With a little organisation and awareness from both the remote worker and the wider team, integrating new remote workers should only ever get easier. With the tools we have accessible to us today, there are countless new ways of collaborating with colleagues, ensuring remote workers are as involved as those in the office. Despite this, there are still some occasions in which you can’t make up for, which have to be accepted by those working remotely. For me, the benefits of working remotely heavily outweigh the drawbacks. Although, I’m sure this varies based on everyone’s unique situation. Still, you don’t know until you try!

Tags Remote, Drawbacks