Myth: There Will Be Fewer Distractions

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Updated September 6, 2022

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Despite favoring remote work over an office environment for reducing distractions, many people who work remotely end up managing a whole set of surprising new distractions. Barking dogs, construction next door, family or friends wanting to visit, door-to-door salespeople—they can be just as frustrating or disruptive as colleagues tapping you on the shoulder, especially when you’re on a video call with a group of people. A few consistent examples include:

  • Family and friends. It’s important to set strong boundaries on your availability with your loved ones—just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean they can turn up any time for coffee, or treat you as an emergency babysitter. Having a separate office space where you live helps significantly with this, though we realize that’s not always possible. That said, getting the balance right with friends and family can be excellent for your mental health. As with any other possible work distractions, balance is what really matters.

  • Digital distractions. While these are an issue for office workers as well, digital distractions (social media, e-mail, IMs, et cetera) can be particularly tempting when you’re on your own and don’t have as much built-in social interaction as you would in an office. We’re big fans of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which helps people set aside distractions and get into a flow-based focus mode. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) also has a set of helpful tips for managing your digital appetite, and Zapier lists a few apps you can try as well.

  • Environmental distractions. That pile of laundry in the next room, a sink full of dishes, weeds popping up everywhere outside—home offices are full of unique ways to get off-track and waste time. The sections on Time management and Productivity have concrete suggestions for managing your time, while still giving yourself space to take some breaks and knock out a few chores or the like.

I have a dedicated office, which cuts down on a lot of distractions. I know that when I go into my office, there’s nothing to do but work! If I’m feeling really distracted, I’ll give in to that. If there’s something on my mind, like an urgent errand I know I need to run or a huge pile of laundry that needs to be folded, I’ll take a break and take care of whatever needs to be done. I’ve found that if I try to work while I’m distracted, I usually end up getting very little actually done. It’s better to just address it head on and then come back to my computer feeling more relaxed.Jenn Leaver, Senior Manager of Product Documentation, GitHub*

Myth: Less Management Oversight and Fewer Meetings

In a healthy remote company, there is no “out of sight, out of mind.” Remote teams have to have high levels of trust, and individuals need to be able to work autonomously without constant oversight. But that doesn’t mean there’s no accountability. Most remote workers still have clear reporting structures, goals, meetings, and so on. (In fact, many companies unintentionally overcompensate for the lack of in-person interaction and end up having far too many video-call meetings.)

cautionRemote work makes it harder to communicate and collaborate with the rest of the team, with 20% of respondents of remote workers saying it’s their most important issue.* Whether or not your company addresses this problem with more meetings or more emphasis on asynchronous communication depends heavily on your company’s philosophy and communication practices. If fewer meetings are the default, be prepared to trade off that time for more writing and documentation. Although managers and supervisors have a part to play in cross-team communication and collaboration, it also requires individuals to take the initiative.

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