Remote work refers to working online from anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night. It is at the top of the employees’ benefits wish list. To ensure that remote working can really be considered a benefit in your company, we outline the most common mistakes in remote working in the following article; and tell you how you can do it better and set up remote working systematically.
Note: For a more detailed definition or remote working have a look at our separate remote work glossary page.
These mistakes in remote work should be avoided
As an employer, you should be aware of and avoid the following mistakes when working remotely in order to send your employees into the remote workday well-positioned and motivated and to prevent absences due to illness, burnout, isolation, and resignation:
1. Inadequate equipment of the remote workplace
In theory, remote workers can work from anywhere: at the beach, on public transport, in a café … this is supposed to bring pep into everyday life and boost creativity. For most, however, the path inevitably leads to the home office, where there is often no real workplace. The only option is to switch to the sofa, bed, dining table or kitchen counter. These are not particularly suitable places to work. And not at all ergonomic.
Thus our remote working mistake number one: Equipping your remote workers with a laptop and charging cable, perhaps with headphones and an additional screen, without taking the spatial conditions into account under which your employees work beyond that.
Better: Enable ergonomic remote workstation
If a workplace is permanently outsourced, it is the employer’s duty to create ergonomic working conditions at the remote workplace. Support your employees in setting up an ergonomic remote workplace by, for example, providing ergonomic office chairs on loan or providing everyone with a small budget to purchase suitable furniture or accessories.
2. Not defining clear daily/weekly goals and priorities
An equally common mistake is not setting clear daily or weekly targets for remote workers. If this is the case, it can go one of two ways: either your employees approach their tasks in a too relaxed and casual manner and urgent work is left undone. Or there is a lot of pressure and stress for nothing, and unnecessary overtime is accrued for rather unimportant tasks.
Either way, a lack of clarity about deadlines and priorities creates stress and complications. If your employees just work into the blue without knowing their goal, they simply cannot be productive — but they might get frustrated very quickly.
Tip: Have daily or weekly stand-ups
Successful, organised and productive remote working requires a high level of discipline and routine. Help your remote workers develop this by introducing regular meetings. For example, having teams conduct regular stand-ups (daily or weekly) to discuss project status, prioritise tasks and define goals in a realistic and achievable way.
4. Missing communication strategy for remote work
At a central workplace with fixed working hours, it is relatively easy to quickly coordinate with colleagues and clarify questions in real time. But what if you work remotely and your colleague’s working hours are staggered and do not overlap? Then productivity quickly suffers because uncertainties and queries cannot be clarified promptly. At the same time, it must be ensured that remote employees will not be constantly interrupted.
Suitable communication strategies must be developed in advance for such cases. Otherwise, remote workers quickly feel left alone or get the impression that they have to be permanently available for questions. This also causes enormous stress and frustration, which can lead to burnout that could have been avoided.
Tip: Implement guidelines for proactive communication
To prevent this, it helps to have a comprehensive, well-structured method of communication that, for example, prescribes self-explanatory tasks as well as fixed procedures, tools, contact persons and availability times for queries. The more well-thought-out the guidelines, the more seamless communication can ultimately be. At the same time, there is no need for employees to be available at all times.
5. Communication limited to emails/chats only
Emails and chat programmes like Slack are practical, easy to use and very popular for remote communication. In some companies, however, their use does not go beyond written communication and thus often remains very impersonal.
This is a small but significant detail, because it is the lack of personal and verbal contact with colleagues and superiors that prevents the development of healthy and trusting working relationships. As a result, a feeling of isolation and loneliness quickly spreads where there should actually be a sense of community and team spirit.
Better: Schedule video calls on a regular basis
How can friendships and team spirit develop if you never see or speak to your team colleagues? Take the initiative for a video call (using a tool like Zoom) and encourage your employees to take virtual coffee breaks or lunches together, where they can chat and get to know each other. This ideally happens across different specialist teams.
6. Too much supervision
Remote working is based on the principle of flexible working and is also popular because this working model is a sign of trust on the part of the employer. However, many companies still practise the idea of “trust, but verify” and tend to set core hours, demand constant status reports and time sheets, and regularly remind employees of certain tasks.
Again, a vicious circle is in progress, because control is known to be the opposite of trust, creates pressure, reduces performance and is particularly damaging to the relationship with the employee. After all, trusting cooperation works differently.
The journey is the destination.
The remote working model is a results-oriented working model where everyone should work in his or her own way. Give your employees the promised space to develop freely and focus more on the goal. Those who are not constantly controlled and pressed into a mould are significantly more efficient and perceive the working atmosphere more positively.
7. Neglecting teambuilding
Another sticking point where remote work often fails: when company culture and team building simply fall to the wayside. The values, customs and beliefs are at the heart of the work community and a motivating and appreciative company culture connects employees and drives them to achieve results together. What otherwise happens naturally in the office, unfortunately, doesn’t happen easily in remote and therefore needs to be promoted all the more.
Tip: Establish regular virtual team events
Even if an on-site meeting is not possible due to long distances or other restrictions, team events do not have to be cancelled. In fact, there are many great ways to strengthen team spirit virtually – for example with online escape games, workshops, bullshit bingo, after-work beers or mixed lunch appointments. With a little creativity and a stable internet connection, a lot can be achieved here.
Lack of appreciation and valuation
When working remotely, the fact that no one really sees what you do as an employee and to what extent you contribute to achieving the company’s objectives gives many employees the feeling of invisibility. Especially then, employees simply need to hear that their efforts are seen and appreciated and are not in vain.
However, if there is no feedback at all from the employer, ambitious employees, in particular, might feel the urge to prove themselves and do even more, which often ends in burnout. If only negative criticism comes, the employee’s motivation justifiably goes down the drain and frustration arises. Both end sooner or later in the termination of the employment relationship by the remote employee.
Better: Give regular feedback to remote workers
The fact that no one sees the employee at work should not mean that his or her achievements are overlooked. Employees who work remotely should also be made aware of this – in a completely positive sense, of course. And what could suit better than a regular feedback meeting in which you analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the last week(s) and/or month(s) together, reward good performance and motivate to continue? Giving feedback regularly can have a positive effect on your working relationship. Criticism can also be included here, but please be constructive!
Too late/too tight remote onboarding
For most companies, it is natural to start onboarding on day 1 and declare it finished after the last onboarding appointment. Unfortunately, it is not that simple, because onboarding is complicated and time-consuming — even if it takes place entirely in the office.
Remote onboarding, in particular, requires a little more lead time and longer support because the “newcomer” does not have the opportunity to settle into the company culture on-site, to get to know the team and the contact persons and to familiarise himself/herself with new tools and processes in a proper and routinised manner.
You can do better by giving the new team member the technical equipment as well as the necessary account access and an overview of the existing company structures and team members as early as possible. This way, they can better concentrate on the essentials from day 1. But most importantly: Make them feel welcome, appreciated, and looking forward starting the day they sign the contract.
Tip: If possible, enable hybrid onboarding
If your company does not work completely remotely (hybrid work), a hybrid onboarding is recommended, i.e. one with home office and presence components. This way, your new hire can get to know team members directly in person and become better acquainted with the team dynamics, the usual processes and the corporate culture.
Not asking for feedback / ignoring given feedback on remote work
We have already explained extensively that remote work and remote onboarding can be tricky. We also explained how important feedback is for your employees. However, it is important to remember that feedback is also enormously useful for you as an employer to become aware of mistakes or problems, to learn from them and thus to improve the corporate culture. Therefore, it is a big mistake not to ask for feedback or to ignore voluntarily giving feedback from employees. Especially the latter can quickly lead to your employees feeling disregarded and left alone.
Better: Give and take
If you are in feedback talks with your remote employees or actively onboarding new employees, take the opportunity to receive feedback and suggestions for improvement. You can do this either verbally or with a well-designed evaluation form (also online). If the points of criticism are implemented, this sends a positive signal and demonstrates on the one hand the appreciation of the feedback and on the other hand your will to do better.
Final conclusion on remote working mistakes
Remote working offers great flexibility for your employees – but unfortunately also a lot of opportunity for mistakes and management gaps for your company. All mistakes have one thing in common: they might not be a big deal in themselves, but in sum, they very quickly have a very negative effect on the bond between employer and employee. You now know the most common mistakes in this context and can prevent them in a targeted manner. We wish you good luck and hope that this article helps you to optimise your remote concept. For more tips on adapting your business to remote working, read our article on supporting employees working from home.