The Three Killers of Remote Work

By: Laurel Farrer

We’ve all seen in the news and our social media feeds that some companies are giving up on remote work. Team sizes from 5 to 50,000 are being called back into the office because the flexible work schedules and locations “aren’t working.”

This raises the question: how do we make remote work work? What are the thriving distributed companies in our community doing differently than these companies that are regressing to be back on-site?

After our collective 40 years of remote work experience, we’ve tracked three blocks that are the most common hurdles for distributed companies. Luckily, we know the symptoms to watch for and the antidotes to use, so your team can thrive with location-independent workers.


Killer #1: Isolation

Not surprisingly, working away from a centralized team every day can lead to feelings of loneliness, stagnancy, and disconnection. Be warned that this is the most silent and subtle killer of remote work because a lack of engagement means a lack of opportunities to notice the problem.


The Symptoms:

Signs of isolation are easiest to spot in a team’s daily or weekly standup. If anyone is consistently speaking more than usual, they might be subconsciously trying to attract your attention. If they are speaking less than usual, they might feel ignored or under-appreciated, then are self-confirming by retreating further into the shadows. Sometimes, isolated employees are very well-connected within their team, but not with the right people, leaving them logistically isolated instead of emotionally isolated. If anyone is consistently asking a lot of questions during standups or they don’t know where to find answers, it can be a sign that a different support network is needed.


The Antidote: The Three C’s - Coworking, Culture, and Communication

A virtual office can and should be just as busy and exciting as a brick-and-mortar space with just as many opportunities for interaction. The team’s synchronous communication tools should be used often and can include channels for casual conversations. Every employee should be closely and actively engaged with a collaboration team, and companies should be hosting retreats to encourage in-person bonding. The cherry on top is to supplement virtual connectedness with physical relationships, so remote workers can work from local coworking offices or adopt a group-based hobby if they’re feeling socially isolated.


Killer #2: Burnout

Most employers worry about their employees abusing a remote work agreement by binge-watching Netflix or going on a sailboat joyride during business hours. Surprisingly, the opposite is true: most remote employees feel so desperate to prove their productivity and dependability that they overwork, resulting in a tired, overworked, undervalued, and unmotivated employee.


The Symptoms:

Burnout is the easiest killer to recognize. During standups, meetings, and collaborations, employees who once were eager, creative, and excited, suddenly act frustrated, unenthusiastic, or unresponsive.


The Antidote: Work-Life Balance

When a pendulum swings so far to one extreme, it will take many hands to pull it back into a balanced position. The employee can be more strict in their self-management strategies. The team can encourage group conversations and activities unrelated to work. And, the manager should always be asking about energy and availability when new projects are assigned.


Killer #3: Micromanagement

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Trust is crucial in making remote work work. If the manager, workflows, resources, and other co-workers feel stifling, then employee output and professional progress are limited. Finding and fixing micromanagement begins with the manager, who is usually part of the problem. Therefore, the resolution will require a bit of honesty, humility, and patience from the whole team.


The Symptoms:

Signs of a constricted employee will usually show up during the planning phase of a project. As a manager is giving assignments for a new project, too many requirements about the “how” of the future tasks may lead to the worker feeling demeaned, unmotivated, or defiant. Also, watch for warning signs in other rituals, such as consistently being late to standups, too much managerial involvement during a workflow, abrupt rejection of new ideas during brainstorms, or pure submissiveness during phone/video calls.


The Antidote: Trust

The opposite of too much control? To let go. If employees feel trusted and independent, intrinsic motivation, loyalty, creativity, productivity, and accountability will all increase. Better yet, the manager will also have more time and energy to focus on bigger-picture tasks that can fuel the growth of the company. Refer to this article for some great strategies on how to manage by leading, not pushing.  

It is crucial that managers, co-workers, and employees in distributed teams all recognize that remote work is inherently different than co-located work and requires updated strategies to inspire creativity and productivity.

What do you think makes remote work "work"? Tweet us @yonder_io to share your #remotework story with us.