A woman feeling frustrated

How to deal with feelings of frustration while working remotely (because it’s hard going right now)

Posted by for Careers

Technological problems and communication issues leaving you frustrated with your colleagues while working from home? We asked an expert how to cope with these feelings – and what we can do to resolve the situation.

Let’s get real a second: working from home this year hasn’t always been the dream we thought it would be, has it? While at first we revelled in the opportunity to wear comfy clothes all day long and enjoy an endless stream of snacks throughout the day, as time has gone on, the less convenient sides of remote working have become more apparent.

The problem? An arrangement which initially seemed like an ‘only a couple of weeks’ thing has now gone on for around five months. And although some people may be returning to the office, for others, working from home – with all the technological mishaps and motivational struggles that come with it – will remain the norm for some time yet. 

Perhaps one of the biggest problems many people are facing as a result of working from home is communicating effectively with their colleagues and team members. Not being able to walk over and speak to someone face-to-face is harder than most of us imagined it would be, and the importance of those little conversations had on the walk between meetings or while making a cup of tea in the kitchen has become all too clear. 

A woman working from home
Feeling frustrated with one (or more) colleagues while working from home? You're not alone.

Add to this the odd technological drama, WiFi mishap or people ‘forgetting’ to check their emails, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. For many people, working from home has become a series of frustrated follow-up emails and passive-aggressive Slack messages; as the weeks drag on and people face even more time separated from our colleagues, cracks are beginning to show among some of the most cohesive teams.

If you’re feeling frustrated or angry at one of your colleagues as a result of working from home, you’re not alone. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than having someone ignore or misinterpret an idea or message you’re trying to get across. But letting these frustrations bubble away in the background is only going to make the situation worse in the long run.

With this in mind, we asked Alexandra Lichtenfeld, a business mentor at Client Matters, for her top tips when it comes to handling frustration with a colleague or team member. From simply picking up the phone to thinking about what preconceptions you’re holding on to, here’s what she had to say.

1. Prioritise verbal conversations

A woman on the phone to her colleague
Don't underestimate the value of a verbal conversation.

When we’re relying on digital platforms to do all our communicating, it’s all too easy to neglect phone conversations in favour of an instant message or email.

Clear and consistent communication continues to be more vital than ever when we’re all in lockdown, particularly with colleagues and furloughed employees,” Lichtenfeld explains. 

“Manage your emotions, and importantly – pick up the phone. Speaking directly with a colleague is often much more effective than a series of WhatsApp messages or emails.”

She continues: “In addition to the technical aspects of virtual communication, remote working reduces the opportunity for informal communication. Impromptu chats, or water-cooler moments, where news is shared, or queries quickly resolved are key in building relationships and trust.”

2. Think about the assumptions you’re making

When you’re not speaking to someone in real life, it’s all too easy to make a series of assumptions about what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling towards you, especially if you’re already feeling frustrated about your work.

“When co-workers sense that you have negative feelings toward them, you’re facilitating conflict. So, work on checking your own preconceptions and treat people as a blank slate,” Lichtenfeld explains.

“Communication is one area in remote working that commonly generates, or exacerbates, conflict. The mechanics of virtual communication are different to office-based dialogue. 

“We tend to use emails and messaging platforms more and it’s easier to misconstrue someone’s meaning in an email or not realise the impact of a hastily typed message.”

Being unable to read body language over a virtual call means we’re also more likely to misread what someone else is trying to get across.

“Who hasn’t struggled with video conferencing recently?” Lichtenfeld adds. “Reading body language is much more difficult when we’re not physically face-to-face. Missing these vital visual cues often leads to misinterpretation of others’ intentions.”

3. Understand that virtual communication can be frustrating

A desk with a laptop
Virtual communication is stressful – don't beat yourself up if you're feeling frustrated or fed up.

Speaking to someone over platforms such as Zoom and Slack may be the only options we have right now, but it’s still important to understand that these forms of communication can and will be frustrating.

“If we feel we need to make a point, it can be hard to break into the video conversation or our connection slows down and the discussion has moved on,” Lichtenfeld says. 

“We can be left with the wrong impression, or give up, leaving us frustrated and disengaged. It’s easy to see how conflicts can then arise or existing disputes grow.”

Many people are also finding video calls to be particularly exhausting – so it’s important to be aware of these feelings in the moment and try to rationalise feelings of frustration or anger. 

4. Express your concerns

If you’re having trouble with a particular colleague, the best thing you can do is sit down and express how you’re feeling.

“The most productive solution is to simply pick up the phone and talk,” Lichtenfeld says. “Express your concerns and ask for help if you are struggling.”

She adds: “More importantly, if you think your colleague is struggling, find out how you can help them, by asking them.”

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.