We all have challenges and struggles working from home, and some of us adapt more easily than others. If there’s something preventing you from doing your best work, it’s good to know how to approach the problem and let your manager know. Here are our tips for how to talk to your manager about the sensitive subject of having difficulty working remotely.
Although many U.S. workers have been working from home for a number of months, many still feel hesitancy and anxiety about raising issues to their manager if the remote setup is not going well. However, in order to work productively and maintain work-life balance, it is important to identify and verbalize issue to your manager and team when appropriate.
A study from the Harvard Business Review carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that a substantial number of managers struggle with efficiently managing their remote employees, resulting in many employees feeling untrustworthy and micromanaged by their supervisors. With the onset of social distancing measures, managers have needed to quickly develop new delegation and empowerment skills to give their team more control and flexibility, which in turn encourages employee engagement, wellbeing, and efficiency.
If you or your teammate is facing one of the work from home issues below, it is in your best interest to raise this problem to your manager (or even higher, if necessary) in order to maintain your efficiency and sanity. Each issue below includes tips and strategies for how to frame the issue to your boss, even if it might be a bit awkward.
There is no clear distinction between work and personal time
When you use the same physical space for your job and your relaxation time, you also don’t get a physical signal that it is time to “leave” the office and stop working. This makes it difficult to separate your personal time from your working time.
When you are always connected to Wi-Fi, it is easy to continue checking emails, chat with co-workers, and do little “busy work” items that you didn’t get to during the day. As a result, it’s easy to lose track of time and continue working through the night, long past the time you said you would finish. Furthermore, many employees might be concerned that because you work remotely, the boss assumes you're not working, so workers feel they must over-compensate to appear busy.
It is important to unplug at the end of the day, or you will feel like you're on standby 24/7. Get off Slack, sign out of your work email, and really encourage yourself to stop working for the day once your “log-off” time hits.
However, if you are still getting “urgent” messages at all hours from team mates—or worse, if your manager is the one late-night messaging—it is in your power to change this dynamic. First, try a solution just with yourself and your teammates before getting the manager involved in order to show you are proactive.
Communicate openly and honestly with teammates to problem solve together, such as setting up accountability mechanisms. Perhaps coworkers can ping each other at 6PM when it’s time to log off, or perhaps coworkers are “shamed” for late-night emails with a silly meme or by having to complete an embarrassing challenge. Your manager can even set the tone for the team by being the one to keep everyone accountable.
If your manager is the one sending late-night emails, ask your teammates for their advice and perspective first. Then, approach your manager by reaffirming that you are committed to the success of the team, but will be able to better deliver on your work if you have time to unplug and refocus each day. Be honest and firm, bringing your ideas for solutions to the conversation and show that you’ve already been proactive in solving the problem on your own first.
Team communication feels awkward or tense
When the team is working remotely, you will miss out on the spontaneous moments that would normally bond people together like impromptu lunches, coffees, or desktop brainstorms in the office. A fragmented team can mean communication becomes awkward or even tense over time without small bonding moments and casual opportunities for quick questions/conversations.
Sometimes just need a quick yes or no, which could be acquired in minutes by stopping by the person’s desk but could turn into hours waiting for an email or Skype response. If your team needs a system for quicker communication than just email, talk to your manager about and internal message board like Google Hangouts or Slack. Slack is a messaging platform where coworkers can n chat in real time about issues as they pop up, or trade documents so everyone can collaborate. Video calls are also a reasonable solution for quick answers, especially when cameras are on to encourage active participation.
If team communication has become tense, talk to your manager about an ongoing team bonding strategy. This should include one-off experiences as well as weekly (or even daily) opportunities to get to know each other better and form connections. Team bonding has shown to improve collaboration and communication, which is worth the investment for your manager even if they are not naturally inclined to plan something themselves.
Your work setup is “set up” to fail
In an office building, there is often an IT team on call to support with technical issues. However, your home internet, monitor, and desk set up may not be as reliable, leading to delays in work delivery and communication.
Check if you have the correct hardware, such as an extra powerful Wi-Fi router, to enable communication. It may sound like a minor problem, but many remote employees have struggled and failed to try to operate from areas where the job's requirements cannot be met by phone coverage and internet speeds. Before settling on your remote location, make sure to inspect your service providers and even run the necessary tests.
If your Wi-Fi is the issue, share this proactively with your manager in order to avoid miscommunication later on, especially on a time-sensitive project. They might know more about your company’s policies on remote work during the pandemic and help you navigate the system for extra funds or hardware to solve the problem. They can even advocate for you to the higher-ups if you are in a sticky situation.
Many remote workers also do not realize that their desk space can lead to long-term health issues, lapses in focus, and bad attitudes. Staying productive is more than a computer and fast WiFi connection. A person's working chair and desk can play a monumental role in your productivity. Productivity is optimized if you have a well-arranged work station, such as a standing desk to optimize for blood flow and movement breaks, or an ergonomic chair for better posture and back support. Check out the Autonomous blog for tips about selecting an ergonomic chair or automated standing desk for your particular needs.
If your work station is leading to headaches, back and shoulder pain, wrist and elbow aches, or eye strain/fatigue, it is time to self-advocate to your manager. Your boss may know about a reserve of unused furniture back at the office which you could borrow or help you advocate for funds to purchase a long-term solution. Your manager is also in the position to spread important—often free!—tips about setting up an ergonomic office space to your team to maximize health and productivity.
Most employees working remotely right now are navigating new territory, and that includes managers. Although it can be awkward, this is an important time to self-advocate to your boss and alert them to issues they may not know about. These conversations may not only help you, but support your team mates as well. After all, your manager’s job is to set you up for as much success as possible, which they cannot do until they know what unique issues you face while working from home.
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WRITTEN BYMolly Stoneman
Freelancer passionate about design, travel, and innovation.
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