If you’ve read about remote work, you likely know the stream of amazing promises advocates make. If only you could work remotely – you’d have no more awful commutes, you’d be a productivity wizard, your hair would be shinier, your dancing wouldn’t make people uncomfortable and your pants would fit perfectly, always! What a life you would have!
I’m not going to pretend that we’re not a little guilty. We really do believe remote work can have a positive impact on people’s lives. But there are real downsides and we want to talk about them.
Differences In Working Remotely
One important thing to distinguish when talking about remote work is the difference between fully distributed teams and individuals working remotely. There are different downsides if you’re the only one who’s working offsite. According to a Gallup report, more people are working from home. However, the majority of employees will still spend at least one day in the office.
1. Development and Advancement
For those working remotely between >20-80% of the time, the remote-office divide can disadvantage remote employees’ advancement opportunities. A Stanford University study done in partnership with Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, found that employees who worked from home were promoted at half the rate of those working from the companies offices.
A study in the MIT Sloan Management Review shows similar results. Researchers found that management was 9% more likely to describe in-office workers as “dependable” and “responsible.”
Those who spent time with management outside of working hours got a even greater benefit, with bosses being 25% more likely to describe them as “committed” and “dedicated.”
So how can you take advantage of remote work without putting yourself at a disadvantage? There isn’t one correct answer to this question, however, there are strategies you can use to make sure your work is still noticed.
One major action you can take is measuring your work. Keep a weekly record of everything you’ve accomplished. By tracking your time and showing your progress, you’ll have a demonstrable record of what you bring to the company. For employers, standardizing performance reviews for all employees can help equalize evaluations and ensure that you’re looking at actual performance and outcomes.
Remember when I said your pants would fit better if you were a remote worker? Yeah… that was, unfortunately, not quite true. In a survey done among Toggl employees, we found a lack of movement was a significant concern for our staff.
While office work, in general, fosters a sedentary lifestyle, remote work can have a particular impact on how much time you spend moving in a day. As a remote worker, it is completely possible to spend an entire week without ever leaving your home. If that becomes the norm, your threshold for exercise can be brought down significantly.
To increase your movement, take advantage of your flexibility as a remote worker. When you take a break, go for a walk around your area. You can also do mini at-home workouts throughout the day. If your schedule is flexible, look for fitness classes in your area. Mid-day classes tend to be less full and some studios even offer discounts for less popular time slots. The same goes for gyms; fewer people means you won’t have to waste any time waiting for equipment to free up.
3. Mental Health
Much like medications advertised on television, remote work can too have side effects of depression and anxiety. Loneliness and isolation are two major drawbacks often cited by remote workers. Feelings of isolation or loneliness can be made worse by a lack of strong support systems or social groups outside of work. When individuals feel acute isolation, there is a greater risk of developing depression.
Anxiety is another major factor. Many anxiety disorders feed on the unknown. Where you don’t have information, your mind uses guesswork to patch in the worst possible scenario. Since so much of human communication is done visually, through body language and facial expressions, switching to primarily written communication can exacerbate worries about missing important information. Does your boss really think your doing well or is there just something you not picking up on?
There isn’t just one strategy to deal with anxiety and depression. Learning coping strategies to handle both conditions is important. Reaching out to a trained professional in the mental health field can help immensely. Within the scope of work, there are steps both you and your employer can take to alleviate undue burdens.
Communication is always key. By over-communicating and seeking out the best methods to convey information, you can help clear up misunderstandings that may arise. Establishing relationships with coworkers through chat and video communication channels can help develop bonds and reduce feelings of loneliness.
There are few certainties in life but death and taxes, even if you work remotely. This is business as usual for those who have filed taxes as a freelancer, but if you’ve spent most of your working life at a company that handled your taxes, it can be an overwhelming process.
The difficulty of taxes is dependent on where you’re living or working. Some countries have simpler tax systems. For example, 95% of Estonians receive and pay their tax bill online with only a few clicks. On the other end of the spectrum, the US maintains a needlessly complicated system where people must calculate their own tax bill rather than the government sending a ready return.
Taxes also become increasingly difficult if you start switching locations.
If you’re on a working holiday or temporary work visa, you may end up having tax obligations to both the country you’re a resident of and the one where you’re working.
There can also be issues when changing jobs. Belle Cooper, a former remote worker, ended up owing over $20,000 in taxes after getting a higher paying job but was still taxed through the U.S.’ pay as you go system at a lower rate.
There is good news: taxes are one of the easiest things on this list to fix. Start doing your accounting the second you get paid, always set aside more than you think you’ll need, and learn how taxes work in your are. I would also recommend hiring an accountant, especially if this is your first time filing taxes as an independent contractor or small business owner. Chances are it will save you money in the long run.
When you’re a young worker, mentorship can be a huge aspect of work. If you’re still learning the ropes of a new job, experienced workers passing on knowledge can make or break your experience at the company. Through teaching, employees are able to develop skills and networks that will help with career development.
These connections are more difficult to form when one or both parties are working remotely. It can be hard to develop the rapport and trust involved in a good mentor-mentee relationship. Timing can also be difficult, especially if different time zones are involved.
Meeting in person can make a huge difference in the development of these relationships. Even if you’re a fully remote company, making sure your staff meet and spend time together can aid in the performance and development of culture. If you’ve started a mentor-mentee relationship, it’s important to create a schedule. Having a video call at a set, say time twice a month, can help ensure that bonds created stay strong.