There exists a lot of literature about performance management and how to motivate employees in the office. But times are changing. More and more employees are working remotely, which comes with a set of unique challenges. How can managers motivate, engage and encourage employees when they aren’t on site? How can they monitor performance and ensure that their remote employees are excelling and continually improving?

Remote work can be beneficial to employees and organizations alike, resulting in increased levels of morale and productivity — but it isn’t a walk in the park. At times, working remotely can be difficult, stressful and lonely. Successful remote employees, and forward-thinking organizations, are aware of these obstacles and actively work to overcome them.

Below are five of the most common barriers to productive remote working, along with tips on how to turn them around.

1. An Inability to “Switch off”

For many, the beauty of working from home is they can choose when they work. Remote employees can start working at 7 a.m. or 10 a.m. — whenever suits their productivity rhythms and preferences. As long as employees attend meetings and accomplish their goals, tracking hours isn’t much of a factor, which means employees can work when their motivation is at its peak rather than struggling through times when they are disinclined to work.

For some, however, the trouble comes when it’s time to clock off. In a 2019 survey by, 40% of remote employees said that “unplugging after work hours” is their biggest challenge. When your office is in your house, you can work all hours of the day — so it’s harder to draw a firm line and step away from your desk, especially for perfectionists or high-performers. They feel compelled to keep going, but their working continuously can cause problems.

Employees need downtime. They need to disconnect and give their brains time to rest. They need to sleep, to eat, to exercise. Making work a priority at all times isn’t realistic or desirable, yet some employees have a hard time saying “no,” which means work-life balance becomes nonexistent.

Here are a few tips managers can use to help their team members “switch off”:

    • Encourage employees only to work their contracted number of hours each week. Some companies opt to use software to track these hours. Employees should be able to decide when they work — but managers shouldn’t let employees work too much.
    • Encourage employees to remove their work inbox from their phones and to silence work communication platforms after they are finished for the day.
    • Help employees prioritize their work to complete the most important tasks first. If less important work remains at the end of the day, they will feel more comfortable leaving it for the next day.
    • Encourage employees to stick to a daily routine — one that suits them.
    • If employees have a physical space — like an home office — they mentally associate with work, it will help them to switch off at the end of the day when they close the office door. It’s best not to make a family hub, such as the kitchen, the remote office.

2. Difficulty With Self-motivation and Task Prioritization

Not everyone thrives as a remote employee — you need a tremendous amount of dedication and motivation to keep working when you know you don’t have a manager looking over your shoulder or urging you on. You don’t have the buzz and chaos of an office to remind you it’s another busy workday; you simply have your own drive. Remote employees need to know what needs to happen every day and what the most important tasks are so that they can attack them head-on.

The following tips will help motivate remote employees and keep their performance at its best:

    • Be realistic about what you can achieve. If you set too many tasks for yourself, you will likely fail, and you’ll end up feeling disappointed with yourself. You’re only human, so don’t give yourself a robot’s workload. When you complete your allocated tasks successfully, you’ll experience a sense of accomplishment that will motivate you to perform the following day.
    • Try to stick to the 1-3-5 rule: Each day, plan to do only one difficult task, three moderately difficult tasks and five smaller tasks.
    • Anyone familiar with motivation and task-setting will have heard of the concept of “eating the frog”. The idea comes from Mark Twain, who once said that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you know the rest of your day will be easy in comparison. Similarly, you have been dreading a task but must do it, prioritize it and complete it as soon as possible. Then, you can move on to other things without having that task hovering over your head.

3. Constant Distractions

Distractions can be a significant problem for remote workers. When you work from home, you’re subject to a million small distractions that all threaten to disrupt your flow of work. Distractions are a particular issue for people who are prone to procrastination. The temptation, for them especially, is to put off work until the house is clean or the office is tidy. There will always be an excuse to delay work — but practiced remote workers know if you go down that road, you will never get anything done.

Encourage employees to overcome distractions with the following tips:

    • Set a daytime routine, and stick to it. If you’re meant to be working, don’t become distracted with housework or recreational activities.
    • Avoid social media while you’re working. It’s a rabbit hole that’s hard to dig yourself out of.
    • Have a morning routine to put you in the right mindset for work. Take a shower, have breakfast, get dressed for work and head to your home office. Close the door to shut out distractions.

4. Poor Communication

Remote working can’t be successful without effective communication. Employees need to be able to talk to one another, but they also need to know they can speak to their manager. Unfortunately, not all organizations are equipped for the real-time communication necessary for remote work, which will cause off-site employees to feel disconnected, isolated and frustrated, especially when they don’t receive the feedback they need.

Thankfully, there are a number of tools available today that facilitate in-the-moment communication in teams. Incorporate these strategies to use them well:

    • Use a tool that enables instant communication and engagement within teams and projects.
    • Don’t forget the importance of face-to-face communication. Even if an employee is entirely remote, he or she should still be able to put faces to names. When possible, use video conferencing software to hold meetings.
    • Managers and employees should have regular check-in meetings to keep up communication, to exchange feedback, and to monitor progress and assess whether employees need any new training.
    • Let employees know that managers have a virtual open-door policy and are there for them when they need them.

5. Feelings of Isolation

For some, working remotely is great in theory but, in practice, proves to be isolating. We’re sociable creatures, and we need a degree of social interaction to get us through the day. For most of us, our co-workers are an important part of our social circle. We spend eight hours a day alongside them, we support each other through difficult times and we encourage one another when we need a little added motivation. When employees don’t see their co-workers on a day-to-day basis, they might feel like you’re missing out, especially if they don’t have family or friends living with them. They can start feeling lonely, which can impact their engagement, morale and motivation.

To lessen the impact of isolation, encourage employees to:

    • Take breaks for social interactions with colleagues during the day. Water cooler conversations are important; they encourage the development of social bonds, but they also allow for brainstorming sessions that can result in big ideas for the organization.
    • Take part in virtual social engagements, such as quiz or game nights.
    • Spend time with friends and family outside of work hours. They are important relationships, and having a healthy and happy home life can make a big difference to work performance.