As the coronavirus swept across the globe, businesses told employees to work from home and help slow the virus’s spread. If that sudden, haphazard switch introduced you to remote work, remember the murky arrangement: Would you return to the office in a week? A month? Ever again?
The coronavirus has been with us for nearly a year and remote work is clearly more than just an experiment or a temporary solution. Even as vaccines roll out, the work-from-home (or work-from-anywhere) model continues as the defacto for office work. Thankfully, remote tools like Slack, Zoom, and Freehand smoothed this mass transition and helped preserve productivity and collaboration in trying times.
Last year, we touched on the immediate challenges new remote workers face and provided solutions to isolation, lack of structure, and burnout. But now that you’ve finished your rookie year of remote work, new hurdles are bound to pop up. To pinpoint these challenges we reached out to our distributed workforce partners and our own InVision employees. Here, the three most common struggles you’ll come across in your second year of working from home (and how to push past them).
The problem: Not feeling like a part of the team
When connected to your team — and you feel like your coworkers see and hear your ideas — you gain momentum, which fuels productivity. But when you work remotely, some interpersonal connections drop off and you may feel disconnected from your team.
Caitlin Wagner, a staff product designer, felt a dip in motivation following her first year working from home. At the time, she was part of a hybrid workforce. Though the product team mostly worked in the New York City office, some members were remote. (For the past three years, though, she’s been with a fully remote team at InVision). In the hybrid scenario, she found it tough to align with her co-located colleagues and felt isolated as the sole remote design team member. “I questioned whether remote work was the right choice for me,” she said.
The solution: Schedule time for camaraderie
When you work remotely, you realize just how much camaraderie naturally happens in the break room or as your team gathers for a stand-up. Doubling down on conscious connection with her coworkers helped Caitlin push past a dip in motivation. She also made sure she had a fulfilling schedule outside work (more on this below!)
“I started to ensure every meeting started with a few minutes of chat and banter, and scheduled 1:1s to have a virtual coffee or lunch,” Caitlin says.
Caitlin’s team also started incorporating activities into the workday. You can easily do this too using Freehand templates to run icebreaker games or Crazy 8s brainstorming session.
“This helped make me feel like I was part of a team, that I was connected with my coworkers, and that being a remote worker doesn’t have to be a barrier to feeling like you’re participating,” Caitlin says.
The problem: Maintaining your mental well-being
As we move into the second remote-work year amid continued uncertainty, many struggle with maintaining their mental wellbeing, says Liz Wood, an experience designer with Publicis Sapient, a digital business transformation company.
Liz also leads the company’s wellness group for North America. Mental health care becomes a special challenge for those living in a cold climate. That walk, breaking up the day and re-energizing you, is less appealing in frigid temps. Less sunlight, gloomy weather, and all this time inside makes waking up in the morning harder, Liz says.
“Anyone living with Seasonal Affective Disorder might be especially feeling the effects with the added isolation while cooped up at home,” she says.
Plus, at home, we often plow through the work day and only take short breaks when refilling coffee in the kitchen. In a regular in-office day, however, breaks naturally occu: A coffee run, grabbing lunch with a coworker, an informal conversation by the water fountain, etc.
The solution: Make wellness a team focus
Embed some small but mighty wellness practices within your team, Liz says.
“For example, why not add a three-minute guided meditation to your daily standup?” Liz says. “Not everyone can take a meaningful break during the day, so making this part of your team’s routine can be a nice reminder to take a breather.”
Her best advice: make the meditation short, optional, and encourage everyone to turn off their cameras. Apps like Headspace provide short meditations that encourage deep breathing and mindfulness. It may seem silly at first, but can provide huge benefits for your team over time.
The problem: Missing social connections
Becoming close friends with a coworker. Playing on a company-wide softball team. Simply enjoying the friendly break room conversations with your co-workers.
Eli Woolery missed this built-in social network during his second year of remote work. Eli, design education director at InVision, is a long-time remote worker — he’s been doing it since 2006. Admittedly, social distancing measures mean more difficulty socializing and developing new friendships. But we’re rounding a new corner with the vaccine’s distribution and there more opportunities than ever to connect online.
The solution: Build up your network
Eli found it crucial to maintain activities outside work. He’s on the West Coast but works East Coast hours. He’ll often signal the end of his work day with an afternoon beach trip to surf. He recommends building connections with others around a shared interest, which could be an art class or a continuing education course.
Also, conferences are still mostly digital gatherings in 2021, but they can still be a great place to socialize. Organizers this year have built in fun extras like karaoke, yoga, pet parades, and digital talent shows to maintain the events’ social networking component.
Want more tips on how to revitalize your remote work?
We wrote a book compiling the most important lessons we’ve gleaned from years of scaling InVision into the company we are today: one with 500+ employees across 30 countries—and zero offices. We also pull from our experiences building digital collaboration software as a distributed organization and working with remarkable design teams around the world.
Illustration by Loz Ives (IG: @idleletters)
Brittany Anas is a Denver, Colorado-based freelance writer. She is a regular contributor to publications including Apartment Therapy, Forbes and Men’s Journal and previously was a reporter at the Daily Camera in Boulder and The Denver Post. She worked three years as a federal background investigator before transitioning into a full-time freelance role.