The 10 Mistakes All Remote Workers Make and How to Avoid Them

If you feel like you and remote work aren't meant to be, you might be unknowingly committing these mistakes. Find out how to collaborate more effectively online today.

Working remotely comes with its unique set of advantages...and challenges. From managing Zoom fatigue, to nurturing company culture, to keeping your productivity up–remote work can be quite a handful, especially if your transition was abrupt. 

If you’re feeling like you and remote work were just not meant to be, you might be unknowingly committing these 10 mistakes. In fact, nearly every remote worker does (yep, even the experienced ones!). The good news? We have just the right tips on how to nip those mistakes in the bud.

Mistake #1: Thinking you can do it alone

Just because you’re not in the same room with your colleagues physically, doesn’t mean you should cut yourself off and assume it’s flying solo from this point onwards. Unless you want loneliness and isolation becoming your new best pals, you need to account for the difference in remote vs in-person environment. 

If you’re thinking it’s not a worry for you, as you’re a more introverted type–think again. Working in an office has you interacting more than you realize. Whether it be just hearing “good morning”, sitting next to a colleague completing work or a quick exchange of ideas at the coffee machine. Being in the same working space with your colleagues also makes you more likely to collaborate on working tasks.

Just because your colleague is not sitting right across from you anymore, doesn’t mean that you can’t exchange ideas with them anymore. Going remote means you have to put more effort into actions that were effortless in the office: like looking over to your colleague and saying “hey..quick question..” or bouncing off ideas for a project near the coffee machine. But if you eliminate them altogether - you’ll isolate yourself fully in no time. 

It’s not just about feeling lonely (though that sucks too), it’s about staying present with your team. If you zoom in on your task too much and forget to get involved in the usual team workflows, you’ll end up isolating yourself: your achievements won’t be recognized, you’ll struggle to get the information you need, and just feel cut off from business as a whole.

Our best advice for this? 

  • Make a point of checking in with all the colleagues from your direct team at least once a week. 
  • Be intentional about involving your colleagues in the decision-making process. Running a remote design sprint is a great way to do that!
  • Take part in the remote lunches, happy hours, and calls - yep, those things can be cringy, but they will also keep you connected.  

Mistake #2: Thinking TV in the background is a good idea

Especially if you’re working from home alone, having a soothing background noise– like a TV or a podcast might seem tempting. Ahhh, feels almost like an open-space office on a  Friday afternoon. 

But here’s the thing:

By reaching for the remote, you’re doing yourself a disservice: instead of creating a focussed work environment, you’re adding in distractions and making it much harder for yourself to concentrate. 

As Cal Newport, the guru of productivity and author of the Bestseller “Deep Work” puts it:

“The key is to add routines to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

Cal Newport

And by increasing sensory stimulation you’re doing just the opposite. 

If you insist on having a background noise to increase your productivity, we’d advise to opt for non-distracting playlists. Here are some of our favorites:

The same is true for any other type of distractions. Stop grabbing your phone every 5 minutes unless it’s your work that requires you to do so. 

We all know that the office environment keeps us in check: an unspoken peer pressure of looking productive stops us from mindlessly scrolling through instagram for hours, but as soon as there’s no one to witness you? A 2 minute update can easily turn into a missing hour without you realising. 

Our secret tip for those whose hands are glued to their phones: the Forest app. It will help you curb the phone usage, AND you can use the credits you earn from the app to plant REAL  trees around the world - double win! 

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Mistake #3: Thinking digital tools are all you need

It’s tempting to think installing Zoom and Miro automatically equals being ready for remote work. Don’t get us wrong–remote work would be near to impossible without these, but you might be missing a crucial step in your prep sequence.

Setting expectations, availability norms, ground rules for remote communication, or in other words–learning remote facilitation principles,  should be the first thing you do. Just like setting expectations before a live workshop will make sure you’re on the same page with the participants and increase your chances of running a good meeting, setting expectations with your team will do the same.

Downloading shiny new tools won’t make you a remote work hero if the entire team is misaligned and no one knows what’s expected of them.

This is normally something reserved for the management level of the company, but if you’re weeks into the remote grinds and everyone is still clueless on whether it’s ok or not to slack message someone at 8 PM - you need to take the matter into your own hands. Suggest to your team lead that you talk the structure over. We can guarantee it will make things that much easier.

Mistake #4: Overcompensating to look productive

When you’re not physically in the office it can become difficult to show your manager that you are being productive. They can’t see you sitting at your desk churning out material, they can’t see when you’re working overtime, and they can’t see if you’ve totally abandoned your tasks to cook a 4-course meal instead.

A lot of remote work comes down to trust - trust that you know what is expected of you and will deliver by the deadline. This anxiety of proving that you are working can lead to overcompensating and can become a task in and of itself.

The best way to combat this?

  • Trust in the fact that your employers know your intentions and believe in your ability to deliver on time.
  • Have a way to communicate that doesn’t feel like it depletes your focus and has you bouncing around - if that means a video call every evening before you sign off work, or a short Slack message to your boss with all the things you ticked off today, or an Asana board wiped clean.
  • Mute Slack messages and take the time you would usually take to reply to emails. Wrap your head around the fact that just because you are remote does not mean that you are ALWAYS available.

While communication (and over-communication!) is massively important while working remotely - check-ins do not have to be scattered throughout the day, and utilizing over-communication in allocated times will help you work your way into targeted focus zones much easier.

Mistake #5: Always being available

Working from home sure does blur the borders between work and..well, the rest of your life. When you’re working from your couch, you don’t see your colleagues checking out of the office one by one, you’re not pressured to catch the bus home, or make it to the grocery store before it closes. In fact, you can just keep on working without even noticing.  If you found yourself answering Slack messages and emails well past the working hours during your evening meal - it’s time for an intervention. 

Make sure to correct others (kindly) when the assumption pops up and don’t fall prey to persuasion. The more you bend the rules and don’t follow the schedule you have set for yourself, the less likely those around you are to understand that your work is a priority.

While it’s important to be proactive and dedicated - it is not good to remain at your computer day in and day out because you’re working from home and can’t make the separation of where your working day ends and your relaxation begins.

A handy tip? 

Create a ritual to signal the end of our day really helps, after which work will be off-limits. Whether it be a 15 minute walk after our final task, a cup of tea or packing our laptop away in a drawer for the evening.

Mistake #6: Not trying new things out

If you’ve been trying really hard to make remote setting work for you, but haven’t had success with it yet, it might be very tempting to just throw in the towel, say that “you’ve tried it all”, and accept the fact that you’ll never be as productive as other people. 

But here’s the thing…

What works for other people might not work for you, so don’t give up too early–there are always new strategies and tips you can try out to stay productive while working remotely

More importantly, what worked for you a year ago might not work for you today. Our lives constantly change. We need to adapt our habits and routines to what our life looks like today. 

Mistake #7: Shying away from video

We get it, sometimes we don’t feel like smiling cheerfully in a Zoom meeting, or cleaning up the mess of a living room, and just use this as an excuse to leave our team mates hanging with a still photo at best.

While you might feel like you can get away with just using a mic, we’re sorry to say–it’s going to make your remote work harder. Human interaction is packed with hundreds of non-verbal cues and real connection comes from being able to see people and read them and vice versa.

So if you want your colleagues to pay attention to what you’re saying, and stay engaged yourself–turn that camera on. Seeing each other’s faces will make the world of difference when it comes to connecting, communicating and understanding each other.

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Mistake# 8: Concentrating on the obstacles

So yeah, remote work can be..cringy. Video breaks, calls freeze, and it’s harder to build rapport with your colleagues over video calls. It’s easy to just throw your hands up in the air and proclaim that “I’m really not cut out for this!”

The thing is… in-person work has drawbacks too. Remember that chatty colleague that would ALWAYS stop by your desk and rip you out of your concentration zone, or the morning group chatter, or the loud music that made deep work nearly impossible. Every working scenario has pros and cons, and remote work is no exception. 

But concentrating in the obstacles is the one thing that is sure to drag you down. 

It’s normal that you don’t jump head over heels for remote work all of the time. Are brains are wired this way - all new quickly gets labeled as ‘difficult’ and ‘dangerous’ until proven otherwise. But instead of entertaining these thoughts, try to deliberately concentrate on the good parts of remote work.

We can guarantee you’ll see how this change in perspective will positively affect your work.

Mistake #9: Creating To Do lists that don’t work

Prioritization is not an exclusively remote topic: A well-formulated and prioritized To Do list is the foundation for productive work.

Don’t let your To Do’s expand beyond what you can really manage. Just because you don’t need to factor in the commute from office to home into your schedule, doesn't mean you should set unrealistic goals. This will just leave you feeling drained and unaccomplished.

Instead, try this:

  • Use a simple impact/effort scale to organize your tasks in order of importance.
Impact Effort Scale
  • Try the fixed schedule productivity method by Cal Newport. Choose a timeframe during the day when you work, and schedule all your to do’s for the day within this time frame. There’s a caveat to this strategy though: you HAVE TO stick to the schedule for this system to work. Similarly to the Timeboxing technique in workshops, this allows you to go straight into work mode instead of procrastinating, ruthlessly remove inefficient habits, and actually start working in the things that matter most.

Mistake #10: Not having a back-up plan

Power lapses happen, internet connections get lost, but these small inconveniences shouldn't send your day into a tailspin.

Frankly, it’s not a question of if you encounter tech difficulties, but a question of when. Don’t let technology trip you up and prepare a plan B for everything. 

Have a mobile router ready, a pair or replacement headphones, a second charger get the gist. Be fully prepared for any tech hiccups that might happen.

And there you have it - our best advice for tackling the biggest working from home challenges. Implement these and watch remote working go from that thing that you are able to do to the thing that you thrive at. And remember that while keeping as close as you can to your typical routine will get you through to the other side - adding these tips will have your productivity rocketing.