The challenges of remote working and how to overcome them

Disclaimer: I’m a huge advocate of remote working. So, if you want to find a post against remote working to share with your co-workers, maybe you should stop reading now.

Most of my clients and friends know that I don’t accept design projects based in clients offices anymore. As a freelance UX/UI designer, I can afford to have this simple (and strict) rule – I no longer work as an in-house contractor. However, judging by my experience as a full-time designer and working with all sorts of companies in London and abroad, I believe that remote working is the future for big corporations, too. The reason – there’s no one single benefit that can’t be applied to bigger teams, as well. Better productivity, fewer sick days, no time wasting in pointless commuting, improved creativity and of course, before all, freedom.

Did you know that according to the law all employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. The only conditions is that you must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible. Of course, your manager can always refuse on ‘business grounds’, but it’s definitely worth trying if you feel it suits your role.

And while I can write an endless list of the benefits of remote working, I still face a number of arguments from people who just insist “Well, it’s not the same”. Yes, it’s not the same, it’s surely different, but it’s not worse either.

Below is the list of the main challenges that every freelance designer, remote worker or one-man business faces while working remotely and my suggestions how to overcome them.

Lack of trust

I believe that this is the main reason 85% of companies in the UK still don’t allow flexible working as a company policy and businesses prefer to work with in-house contractors instead of remote freelancers. Managers want to see their little illusional empire of reportees in front of them. “If I don’t see you working, you’re probably not” mentality is a motivation killer for most creative jobs.

Thanks to technology, this can be completely overcome without the quality of work being affected. Businesses just need strict processes and the right tools in place. As a freelance designer, I always 1) use time tracking software such as Toggle and Harvest to report to my clients; 2) use software for conference calls and online meetings such as Google Hangout, Skype and GoToMeeting to keep in touch with clients and contractors; 3) use simple and comprehensive project management tools like Trello and Asana, so I don’t need to waste time educating people how to use them and can still organise the workflow 4) agree on specific time of the day when I’m available and easy to reach, which is usually standard business hours; 5) make sure that my clients and contractor are informed when I can’t be reached for some reason; 6) make sure I meet my deadlines.

I guarantee you that this is simply enough. If not, then the issue is not in remote working, it’s deeper than that.

Less social contacts

Flexible and remote working doesn’t mean that you don’t have a team to work with or you don’t meet people. You just don’t follow the 9-to-5 + Friday drinks routine. Yes, there’s surely a charm in that, but I personally don’t need to belong to a pack in order to have useful social contacts. I just decide on my terms when I meet people and most importantly who I meet (which you can’t choose in a packed office).

If you’re a social animal who needs to be surrounded by people every day, I’d recommend a few things: 1) spread your meetings throughout the week (don’t stuff them in one day); 2) go and work from public places like your favourite coffee shop or Google Campus; 3) hire a desk in a shared office (but be ready for the distractions all day long); 4) organise regular lunches and after work drinks with friends and colleagues.

The reality is, if your work is going well you’ll have more than enough contacts and as usual you’ll rarely find time for everything you want to do, so just don’t get paranoid with this before you try it for yourself.

Less chances for promotion

This is not an issue for freelancers, but I’ve heard of many remote workers suffering promotion paranoia. If they don’t see me in the office enough and I don’t stay late with my manager, my bonus or promotion will be a distant dream.

This really depends on the company culture and each individual. If you have the urge to prove you’re a superhero by “just existing” in the office, then remote working might not put you at ease. For everyone else, just research really well what’s the company policy and if remote workers are treated differently. If I had to go back to full-time employment, I’d definitely look for a company where flexible working hours are welcome.

Home distractions

Your dining table is not a desk. Your kitchen or bedroom are not an office. And your kids running around are surely not your dream colleagues. For me having a dedicated office space has always been a must and working from the sofa is not an option. If you’re the same, the only suggestion I have here is get an office space or make your own home office, whatever works best. The smell of chicken soup just doesn’t help in the UX process, trust me.

Communication issues

Many people complain that since working remotely, they’re not on the top of things and communication with their teams has become problematic. Again – it’s all about the rules you set up with your team and/or clients. I always agree on a specific day and time when I have regular phone calls/online meetings with the people I work with and make sure I’m always available during business hours. Instant messaging tools like Slack and HipChat are a must when working in a team, so communication is smooth and quick. Well, you don’t have the regular tea break for gossips and time killing, but weren’t you worried about your team productivity?

To recap, if you don’t believe in remote working, in my opinion, you don’t believe in the people you work with. If someone wants to cheat, they’ll always find a way. So instead of wasting energy in doubts and fears, I’d focus on finding amazing talented people rather than “time clockers”.