The Loneliness of the Long Distance Worker
The advent of technology has dramatically changed the working landscape in the western world. There are more and more jobs these days that do not require you to be in the same place at the same time every day. Whereas working from home used to be viewed by many people as equivalent to skiving, nowadays many workers are home-based by default.
At Xcite Digital we speak from personal experience here. Whilst we do have a core office-based team, many of our employees are based elsewhere, including some who work from home. For us the main advantage of this is that we can find the right people with the expertise that we need to grow our digital marketing agency: even if those people do not happen to live within in a commutable radius of the office.
But we are also aware that working remotely can potentially be a lonely existence so would offer the following tips for those who either work remotely or employ people who do:
- Keep an eye on the time
We’ve put this first because it’s so important. We referred above to the fact that in times past, the odd occasion when someone was working from home was often seen as skiving. The term “working from home” tended to be used with finger quotes, with the assumption being that actually that person had other plans for the day so had engineered the need to be at home.
In fact our experience shows quite the opposite. People who work regularly from home are more inclined to overwork than not do enough. Many people find it very difficult to switch off from work. There is no commute to work: work is always there. It is easy to slip into the habit of checking emails at all hours of day and night, or suddenly remembering something important late in the evening and deciding to do it there and then instead of setting a reminder to do it first thing the next day.
The best thing to do is to decide the core hours that you plan to work, then if anything urgent arises that means you work outside of these on any particular day then do cut yourself a bit of slack the next day, or as soon as possible after that.
- You are allowed to take a break
This leads onto our next point – that it is ok to take a break during the day. In fact most working environments are so frenetic now that we could all learn from this. Gone are the days when workers had a fixed lunch break and were expected to disappear for an hour at a certain time even if they didn’t particularly want to.
Nowadays many of us don’t pause for lunch but stuff a sandwich into our mouths with one hand whilst still typing with the other. This may seem super efficient and diligent but is actually counterproductive. Our brains can only focus for so long before they need a break. You are likely to achieve more by taking a short break then coming back refreshed to the task in hand.
People working from home can often feel guilty if they take a break but are just as entitled to it as office-based workers. So take that hour at lunchtime – get out for a walk, pop out for lunch or do some shopping. A change of scenery can be particularly helpful to recharge the batteries.
But if it’s a particularly busy day then build in several short breaks during the day instead. Take a few minutes to sit and enjoy a hot cup of coffee, paint your toenails or have a quick leap around to your favourite music: anything just to relax you before you get back to the fray.
- Dress for the working day
Another thing that can really help you to focus when working remotely is to dress for the working day. We don’t mean fully suited and booted, but get up and showered and put on something that is comfortable yet presentable. Get into the mindset that you are at work, so should expect to interact with clients or colleagues at any point and need to be dressed accordingly. Yes ok most of the time they won’t know if you’re sitting there in your pyjamas, but you will honestly feel better and more in control if you have made the effort to scrub up a bit.
- Create opportunities for social interaction
We’ve mentioned interaction with colleagues and this is another key ingredient for successful remote working. As our title suggests, it can be a very lonely existence. Yes an office environment can get very annoying at times, particularly if you are desperately trying to get something finished and keep getting interrupted. But remote working is the opposite extreme: there is no ongoing banter or daily update on the saga of someone’s kitchen refurbishment or latest domestic disaster. But this also means that there is no-one to share ideas with or celebrate the little successes of everyday team working.
So if you are working remotely – or employ people who do – then make sure there is regular interaction by whatever means possible. This needs to include verbal as well as written interaction as misunderstandings can arise and grow when you can’t physically see each other and communication is not reinforced by body language. So make use of technology such as Skype and other types of videoconferencing like GoToMeeting as well as chat/messaging services such as Slack and Google hangouts. And do try to meet in person as often as logistically possible.
Some remote workers find it helpful to go and work somewhere else from time to time, just to be around people. Many local libraries have well-equipped working areas, or you may just want to decamp to the local coffee shop for a while. Any of this is fine as long as it fits in with operational needs: sometimes working alone can begin to feel a bit dehumanising and it is good just to move somewhere for a while where there is a bit of everyday life and background noise going on.
- Remember you have a career not just a job
Last but not least, it is easy for remote workers to get stuck in a rut in terms of the job they are doing. The logistics may all work so well that as a worker you settle for what you’ve got – it seems too much effort to change anything. Employers too can be guilty of overlooking the potential of remote workers, and not giving them full consideration for any development opportunities that may arise in the company.
So as a remote worker you need to take responsibility for your own continuing professional development. Keep up to date with information and developments in your area of expertise. Network with others as much as possible, including going along to networking and training events whenever you can. Be forward-thinking in terms of your career, and make your ideas, plans and preferences known to your employer so that you are still on the career development radar.
As an employer of remote workers you need to guard against falling into the trap of “out of sight, out of mind”. When new needs or opportunities arise in the company, don’t just immediately consider those that happen to be around you at the time, but think whether one of your remote workers would be best suited.
You should still conduct performance appraisals or reviews for remote workers as well as office-based staff, and be aware of the training that these workers need to become more effective, and the kind of development opportunities that they are interested in.
So whether you are a remote worker or employ remote workers in your digital marketing agency or other type of business, we hope that this article has provided some ideas for ways that you can all stay more connected and work together more effectively as a winning team.