In Monday’s post, Secrets to Working Virtually, I shared some truly great ideas. Now today let’s deep dive into the opposite … the frustrations of the virtual world. Why? After working too much through my own suffering, I had a realization that stopped me dead in my tracks and had me wondering … WTF is wrong with me? Why am I putting myself through these unnecessary frustrations? Through the eyes of building Virtually Untangled, here are some personal tips for managing frustrations for working in a virtual world …
I am such a fan of working virtually that even if I were not a virtual assistant (VA), if I worked solely as a graphic/web designer, I would still choose to work virtually. I do find I am more productive outside a traditional “workplace” environment, and I prefer to create my own schedule and determine my own priorities based on client needs and my business needs as well.
Nevertheless, I have experienced plenty of frustrations with working virtually over the past 15 months. During that time, I took my graphic/web design and VA business from part-time to full-time and have been working to grow the business. I did not always have a colleague to tell me if I was doing something “the hard way.” I did not have the benefit of learning from the experience of those who had done this before me.
Well, I did have access to that kind of information, but I did not realize it. Now that I know how to bypass these frustrations of working virtually, I want to share these insights with you. Maybe you will not find the experience as frustrating!
You could call this a “survival guide for extroverts” because if you are working virtually for the first time, you have probably never experienced such a lack of human interaction for long stretches. So, follow along as I introduce you to the 7 primary frustrations of working virtually – and how to turn those around.
My 7 Primary Frustrations of Working Virtually …
When your commute consists of walking from the kitchen to the home office, you probably do not have people on site to interact with throughout the day. This can require quite an adjustment especially for extroverts! Here is why it is so frustrating: you cannot just erase the isolation by calling friends or former co-workers on the phone. I mean, you can, but then your work will not get done or will take twice as long as it should. You will lose any productivity you might have gained by working virtually.
Solutions: Develop contacts in your field through networking groups and, as work-related questions come up, reach out to them for advice based on their experience. In a previous blog post, My Ultimate Guide to Working Virtually, I mentioned Facebook groups. If you haven’t used Facebook groups for work purposes, you may be pleasantly surprised how useful they can be.
Also, schedule calls with friends during your breaks, but keep them brief. If you call without having scheduled the call, chances are you and the friend will exchange voicemails. This will take your time without providing much human interaction! That is why I recommend scheduling your calls – even with friends – if you do not want to wait until after hours to chat. This is a solid time-management technique.
“To a certain extent, your co-workers are your social circle. Sometimes it is hard to explain to others that all your friends are online.” – Cody Jones, Zapier
- Time management
Whether you are focusing on client work or taking some time to work on your own business goals, time management skills can make or break you! This is truer for virtual workers than for those in an office because when you are virtual, there is no one around to see if you are on task or not. It is all up to you!
I am fortunate that I am a time management virtuoso, LOL. I am skilled at determining priorities and scheduling my work day so I complete the most important or time-sensitive jobs first. Where I veer into time management quicksand is balancing client work with marketing and growing my own business. I regularly schedule time to work on building my business; otherwise, I would spend almost every minute on client work.
Solutions: Schedule, schedule, schedule and make lists. Stick to your schedule! If you are having trouble determining priorities, ask those in your virtual network if anyone could spend some time coaching you on that. Even if you feel you “work better under pressure,” procrastination is not your friend! Unforeseen situations can pop up any time and prevent your completion of a task. Schedule your deliverables with some wiggle room … just in case.
For more of my time management tips, take a look at this blog post: Time Blocking Tips to Make You Laser Focused.
Distractions are everywhere but more so at home. If you work from a home office, the danger is getting pulled in to other tasks around the house. Even something as simple as pet care during the day can break your train of thought. If you walk by a pile of laundry on your way to get another cup of coffee or tea, you must resist the temptation to deal with it, even though “it will just take a minute.” What other distractions pull you away from focused work time … notifications on your cell phone, emails popping into your inbox every few minutes, unexpected phone calls?
Solutions: You can fend off many distractions by using time management techniques. For example, I recommend taking scheduled breaks. A true break, even 15 minutes, will improve your concentration during your focused work periods. If you know you have a break coming up, you can plan to feed the cat or take the dog outside during that time. That way your pet care serves as a momentary and welcome (scheduled) change of scenery rather than a distraction that throws you off track.
Of course, I recommend turning off all notifications when you need to stay on track to complete work. Let your phone go to voicemail unless there is that one all-important call you are waiting for. Other calls? Voicemail. Emails? Block out time for them in your day. As tempting as it is to respond to each email as soon as it comes in, that can be very distracting. I suggest only responding immediately to honest-to-goodness urgent emails. Others can be put on hold until your next block of scheduled time for email.
“If you don’t pay attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” – David Allen, Productivity Consultant
- Time zone differences
As someone who lives and works in one of the “middle” North American time zones, I have dealt with this frustration often. It does take some getting used to (still trying actually). Most people working virtually will run into at least the occasional problem caused by this. Sometimes the time difference is only an hour or two. But if you are in North America and working with someone in Australia, for example, the difference can put a huge strain on your ability to work together.
Solutions: First, make a chart showing which time zone each of your clients is based with the time difference. Do the same regarding your team members if you have a virtual team. The more clients you have, the harder it will become, eventually, to remember each one’s time zone. Keep this chart pinned to your wall or somewhere nearby so you can see it at a glance without having to search for it.
Second, make it a habit to clarify, in pretty much every conversation you have with a client or team member in another time zone, which time zone you are talking about. Make that every time you talk or email about setting a deadline or meeting. Part of communicating effectively includes eliminating uncertainties. No one wants to hang up the phone and later think, “I wonder if she meant 5 pm her time or my time?”
Trust me, I have done that “wondering” way too many times.
Finally, if you are working with someone who will never have office hours that overlap with yours, you may have to make the effort to speak with them during your off hours. Save this solution for those times when you cannot wait until the next day for a response by email.
- Technology issues
Technology is great when it works like you think it should, am I right? While the frustrations of dealing with technology issues occur in the traditional office, too, the difference is you likely do not have an “IT” support person to call when you are working virtually. I can actually hear the Ghostbusters theme song right now: “Who You Gonna Call?”
It is a fact of life that technology will fail once in a while. Some days/weeks more than others. You cannot predict when it will happen. What you can count on, though, is that technology will fail at the most inconvenient times, usually when you are facing a project deadline or preparing for a video conference. Haven’t we all been there?
Solutions: First, try to become as familiar as possible with each new app you start using. If the company’s website offers tutorials, schedule some time to review them. If you have questions, make a point of searching YouTube for instructional videos. If YouTube does not have what you are looking for (which is highly unlikely), try searching the internet as a whole … yes, Google it. I have found many life-saving technology tips that way!
Second, establish a relationship with a technology guru who also works virtually. If you do not know anyone who fits that description, return to your networking group and ask for referrals. You are not the only entrepreneur with this need, so you should not have to figure this out on your own. Remember: do not hesitate to use the resources that are available to you.
“The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”
– Warren Bennis, Organizational Consultant and Author
- Being stationary for hours upon end
Regardless of what kind of business you have, if you are working virtually you probably spend a lot of time seated at your desk, computer or drafting table. In a traditional office, you likely would have to walk farther to a printer, coffee pot, restroom or cafeteria than you do when working from a home office. Covering shorter distances is a time-saver, but the result is when you work virtually you will probably not move around enough. Too much sedentary work is a proven health risk.
Solutions: Yes, the obvious answer is … get up and move around when you can. But what happens? You get busy and forget. Set a timer for this purpose. And remember those scheduled breaks we talked about in the discussions of time management and distractions? Incorporate some movement into your breaks. Pace – or actually go outside and walk around—while you talk on the phone. Play some high-energy music for a few minutes and dance like no one is watching! If you have room in the budget, try one of those sit/stand desks. They actually do keep you more active. The point is, you will have to make a conscious effort to increase your activity while working virtually, but it can be done.
- Working too much
I have saved the biggest frustration – for me, at least! Having your office in your home makes it way too convenient to pop back in and work for just a few minutes later in the evening. Those minutes can turn into hours quite quickly. I know this! There is always more work to do and it will encroach on your personal life in an unhealthy way if you let it … especially if you live alone. Working long hours will be necessary once in a while, but the problem arises when it becomes a habit.
Solutions: As with being more active during the work day, you may need to make a conscious effort to transition from working to not working at the end of the day. Your first line of defense is your schedule! Plan an activity for the time immediately after work. If you are disciplined enough, this activity could be something you do on your own like yoga, taking a walk or running errands. If you need to implement the buddy system to get yourself out of the home office, then make plans to cook dinner with your other half or go out and meet a friend. Also, turn off work notifications on your phone or tablet so you will not be tempted to keep checking emails “after work.” Sometimes you will need to make exceptions if you work with clients or virtual team members in other time zones. But, there is a huge difference between occasionally making an exception and developing an unhealthy habit of working too much day after day.
In summary, this is how you can sidestep the frustrations of working virtually:
- Build a network and use those members as a resource when you have questions or a problem. But be sure to reciprocate.
- Make a daily schedule (not just a to-do list) and use it faithfully.
- Do whatever it takes to eliminate distractions.
- Communicate effectively.
- Find a technology guru you can call upon.
- Get up from your desk and move around during breaks or while on the phone.
- Set a time to stop working each day and adhere to it (most of the time).
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
– Michael Jordan, Basketball Player
If you found today’s blog post informative, I would be very grateful if you would help it spread by sharing it on social media or emailing it to a friend. You never know whose life you might change. Also, have any topics you’d like to hear more about on my blog? Feel free to drop me a line or post your comments on Virtually Untangled’s Facebook page. Thank you!