March 17, 2019

The Problems in Remote Working

For over five years Product Hunt has operated as a distributed company. It’s given us access to to the world’s talent and a global perspective within the team. Today we have 18 teammates across 10 countries from India to Canada.

I live in San Francisco but am spending most of March and April in Los Angeles where I asked Twitter a question:

There are so many benefits to building a distributed team and more than ever, people are eager to adopt a remote working lifestyle. But remote working introduces many challenges.

Over 1,500 people replied (so far) to my question with their gripes and concerns. Clearly my questions resonated with many people.

Remote Life Problems

I read through hundreds of responses and noticed a few patterns. Here are some of the most common challenges expressed by remote workers:

Loneliness might be the most common issue expressed by remote workers. Working from home can be empowering: No commute. No Rebecca Black blasting on a Friday afternoon. No open office distractions. But it can be isolating to work an entire day or week without face-to-face interaction, especially for more extroverted personalities.

Disconnecting is hard when your home is your office. This is challenged further when teammates work 24/7 across different timezones. Helpful “team players” are often compelled to reply in Slack to support their teammates at all times of the day or agree to late night video calls. Occasionally this is unavoidable but consistent 14 hour workdays aren’t sustainable for most people.

Distractions occur in the office but it can be even more challenging at home, especially for those with kids (or cats… although they can also be a great thing 😸). Traditional co-working can be even worse, especially those with glass walls, 5pm music-bumping happy hours, and overly social neighbors.

Watercooler serendipity can inspire the next big idea. In-person communication is better suited for “shower thoughts” and unplanned ideation. Some people refrain from sharing ideas in Slack where text is permanent and public to the entire team. Translating half-baked thoughts – that can lead to fully-baked brilliance – also requires more effort, reducing peoples’ level of participation.

Communication remotely remains a challenge. Video chat tools like Google Hangouts and Zoom have improved tremendously, but they continue to suffer from connectivity issues, background noise, and “the loudest voice in the room” dynamics. They’re also not designed for ongoing collaboration between more than two people. They were designed for 1-on-1 meetings.

Respect is a less obvious issue for remote workers, especially in companies that have a “face time” culture. It’s true that some people use “WFH” to procrastinate at home. This meme combined with a lack of transparency into one’s current focus can make motivated, honest people worry about the judgement of their remote work.

Remote Life Opportunities

Fortunately, problems = opportunities. As more people join distributed teams and work remotely, the demand for solutions to these problems will grow.

Remote working from home among the non-self-employed workforce has grown 140% from 2005 to 2018. Today, 63% of U.S. companies have remote workers.

This is a space we’re actively looking to invest in at Weekend Fund. To date we’ve invested in a few companies building for this future, including a peer-to-peer network of neighborhood co-working spaces and a company building the future of video communication for distributed teams.

If you’re solving these problems or know of a startup that’s building a solution for the growing remote workforce, please let us know here. ☀️

If you’re a remote worker, we’d love your feedback on a new thing we’re building at Product Hunt. Join here. 😸

P.S. Of course, products won’t solve all of the problems above. Proper leadership and process with today’s tools might be all you need. My former teammate, Andreas Klinger, wrote this crash course for those building remote teams.

More Writing by Ryan