PART 4: 10 Common Remote Work Challenges (Maximising productivity & Overcoming distractions)

Studies have found remote workers are more productive, healthier, and enjoy a more positive work-life balance.


Challenges for remote teams

  • Managing projects

  • Remote collaboration

  • Tracking tasks and productivity

  • Working from different locations, time zones, etc.

  • Dealing with language and cultural differences

  • Building/maintaining trust

Challenges for remote workers

  • Maximising productivity

  • Overcoming distractions

  • Staying motivated

  • Unplugging after work

In Part 3 we looked at Dealing with language and cultural differences as well as Building/maintaining trust. In this post, we will focus on Maximising productivity & Overcoming distractions

#7: Maximising productivity

I can say from personal experience that poor productivity is the worst thing for remote workers and also one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.


The longer it takes to complete tasks, the more they eat into your personal life and the less effective you become as a team member.

If you’re an unproductive remote worker, things quickly start to fall apart and working from home (or anywhere else) feels more like a curse than a perk.


How to solve this problem

Productivity isn’t only an issue for remote workers and there’s a lot of scientific research going into this topic these days. There are also plenty of tools designed to help businesses, teams and individuals maximise productivity.


So let’s take a scientific approach to solving this problem. Here are some key findings from studies that look into the most common productivity killers:


Multitasking reduces productivity by up to 40%

[source: https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask]


Humans lose focus on a single task after 5-20 minutes

[source: https://journals.physiology.org/doi/pdf/10.1152/advan.00109.2016]


It takes up to 23 minutes to regain focus after being distracted

[source: https://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/chi08-mark.pdf]


So, based on those scientific findings, here’s a simple three-step plan to maximising productivity:


Avoid multitasking: Set a single goal for each day and focus on achieving that target.

Work in short bursts: To keep focus at a higher level and increase motivation with multiple short deadlines.

Remove distractions: Stop unnecessary distractions from killing your productivity.


If you’re anything like me, though, actually implementing that three-step plan is surprisingly difficult. You have to reprogramme your mind and develop new working habits, otherwise you’ll instinctively revert to multitasking and other bad habits.

Thankfully, there’s an app for that. I’m not particularly good at self-discipline but I am good at responding to gentle encouragement and Serene prompts me to set a single goal for the day before I get started. This keeps me focused on a single objective throughout the day so I don’t get caught up in distractions that can wait for another day.


It then asks me to break this objective into multiple work sessions for the day and these are the individual tasks that will help me hit my target by the end of the day. Now, what’s really great about this feature is you can set timed work sessions of between 20-60 minutes. These short bursts make it easier to keep focus and take regular, short breaks after each session.


Something I’ve also found by using this app is that the timer showing me how much of the session adds this kind of pressure for me to get the task done in time. As soon as the session has passed the half-way margin, I get this burst of incentive to make sure I complete everything before the timer hits zero.


So, now, I’m working harder to meet multiple deadlines throughout the day, instead of just plodding my way through tasks. But I’m also taking more breaks and getting more done throughout the day and I feel validated enough by this that I now instinctively ignore anything that might distract from the task at hand.


#8: Overcoming distractions

Distractions are another productivity killer that can turn remote working into a nightmare and compromise team progress. Distractions at home were the fourth most common problem reports in Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Working report and I understand this problem very well.

Some will argue that working from home isn’t technically remote working but, as someone who spent years working remotely around the world and now predominantly works from home, I can say this problem is equally common for me in both scenarios.


If anything, there are more distractions at home than in a hotel room.


How to solve this problem

When I was travelling year-round, my best solution to overcoming distractions was working in cafes. There’s free WiFi everywhere and you can spend hours in a cafe nursing a single drink without seeming like a freeloader (even if it is the case) - Also, the coffee always rocks!


The problem is cafes also come with their own distractions but they were always the better alternative to hotel rooms. I still find the odd two-hour sessions in a cafe helpful for breaking up the day but I’m now in a position to enjoy my home office.


A workspace that helps you focus is the best way to block out distractions – something minimal, tidy and practical. Ideally, this should be a separate room dedicated to work and nothing else. This isn’t somewhere you work and then later sleep or occasionally play guitar.


This is where you come to get stuff done and the place you leave when the day’s target has been hit.


That takes care of the real-world distractions but you also have the digital distractions to take care of. You know, those quick Twitter checks that turn into an unscheduled break or email notifications that grab your attention and bring progress to a halt.


Good news: there’s an app for that, too. In fact, it’s the same app I talked about in the previous section, Serene, which also comes with a website and app blocking feature that allows you to create a list of rogue distraction apps or specific web pages. These are automatically blocked during work sessions and Serene will also silence your phone to stop those pesky notifications coming through. Another app I use is Daywise, which allows you to schedule notifications, essentially blocking them during unwanted times.