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I Love Working Remotely, Even Though It Sucks at Times

I love and hate remote working. I have a battery-life, and as time marches on I run low, needing human interaction to recharge my social battery. I used to love working at Vonage, because it had a London office and being a remote worker they'd pay for my expenses to get on the train and have face time with my colleagues. My old manager (Hi, Martyn!) once said that he believed I was the type of person that was happier being in the office.

I am, he was right. But, I live in the arse-end of nowhere and also want to work on cutting-edge technology like that we get to work on at Deepgram. I can't have it both ways, and I'm comfortable being uncomfortable for the benefit of being able to give my family the start I didn't have (IYKYK).

Not just me, but more people are working from home than ever before. Thanks, COVID (I was working from home before COVID, to be fair). This change has lots of benefits like no commute and being able to wear what you like. But it's not all perfect, as the truly toxic downside is the loneliness of missing the faces of your colleagues and work friends.

Despite its advantages, remote work isn't without its problems. During the pandemic, the sudden shift from bustling office environments to quiet, sometimes solitary home offices left a lot of us (I couldn't visit our offices anymore - or anyone) feeling adrift in uncharted waters. While we'd eliminated the daily commute, we also lost the spontaneous conversations that spark ideas and the unplanned encounters that often led to innovation. For companies across the globe, the task became to not just to facilitate remote work but to reinvent the collaboration that once took place naturally in physical places.

This collaboration was crucial not only for productivity but for the emotional and social wellbeing of colleagues. Understanding this is essential in allowing people to connect. Not just digitally, but emotionally and professionally as well.

The Rise of Working from Home

A lot of people want to keep working from home after trying it. A survey by Buffer shows that nearly all remote workers would like to continue working this way at least some of the time (Buffer's State of Remote Work 2021). While the perks are great, there's a big downside: feeling isolated.

As companies worldwide adapted to public health requirements, remote work transitioned from a nice-to-have to an essential status almost overnight. This not only transformed how businesses operated, but also prompted a reevaluation of what constitutes a productive work environment. I remember my wife sitting at our kitchen table for 6-7 hours with a headset, answering angry calls from members of the public as she worked for a local government agency. Not exactly a productive work environment, but it meant she could work - then, the only requirement I guess.

Previously, remote work was often seen as a perk offered by tech-savvy and trendy companies. However, now it's recognized as a normal and sometimes preferable way of working in all industries. Even my good friend, who works for the local Police service, works from home on his very encrypted and serious laptop.

This widespread adoption has led to innovations in digital tools and communication technologies, pushing companies to invest in better software and hardware to keep their teams connected and productive. As the dust settles, it's clear that the landscape of work has been permanently altered, with remote work proving its value and sustainability beyond the circumstances that necessitated its rise.

What Does Loneliness in Remote Work Look Like?

When you work from home, it's easy to feel left out. You might miss out on the quick chats and office news. According to a report by Igloo Software, 70% of people working from home feel they're not as connected to whatโ€™s happening at work (Igloo Softwareโ€™s 2021 Remote Work Insights).

This feeling of disconnection isn't confined to missing out on social interactions or chats; it permeates the daily work routine. Remote workers often find themselves working odd hours to accommodate time zones or personal responsibilities, which can further deepen the sense of isolation. Without the physical cues and environmental context of an office setting, interpreting tone and intent in digital communications can become challenging, leading to misunderstandings or a feeling of being out of sync with the rest of the team.

These challenges are compounded for new hires who have to integrate into teams without ever meeting their coworkers in person, relying solely on virtual introductions and online meetings to build relationships that once developed naturally in shared physical spaces.

The Effects of Feeling Alone

Feeling lonely isnโ€™t just about feeling sad or left out. It can seriously affect your health. Research shows that being very lonely can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Health Resources & Services Administration). It can make you stressed, anxious, and can even make it hard to think or make decisions.

The result of these feelings of isolation extend beyond just the individual. They can ripple through an entire company, affecting team dynamics and overall performance. Remote workers who feel disconnected may struggle with motivation, finding it harder to get started on tasks or to prioritize their workload effectively.

Overall, lack of engagement can lead to decreased productivity and can even influence team morale, as the disconnection felt by one member can subtly impact the group's dynamics. Furthermore, the psychological stress of loneliness can lead to increased absenteeism and higher turnover rates - Yes, people will leave if they feel lonely.

Companies must recognize these potential risks and work to create a work environment that fosters personal connections and a sense of community, regardless of physical location. This is even more important when companies are both remote, and co-located.

As someone with ADHD, it's critical - for me personally - that I find motivation in my work. Any occurence of this dysfunction can be crippling, and has risked my entire career on more than one occasion.

How Can We Talk More?

Talking and connecting with others is really important, especially when everyone is working from different places. Snatch every opportunity to meet in person, budgets/finance permitting.

To counter the effects of isolation, our company employs a few different ways to encourage communication and foster a sense of community among team members.

Slack serves as our most central hub for both immediate and asynchronous conversations, allowing team members to share updates, ask questions, and engage in light-hearted chat throughout the day.

Slack reported that users are nearly twice as likely as non-Slack users to report that their sense of belonging improved while working from home (Collaboration tools can help remote workers adapt - Slack).

Regular Catch-ups

One good way to keep everyone connected is to have regular video calls. These can be every day or once a week. It's a chance for everyone to see each other and talk about how things are going, not just work stuff.

Our use of Roam as our virtual office space enables us to maintain the semblance of an office environment. Here, individuals can pop into each otherโ€™s virtual offices for quick face-to-face chats, or collaborate in real-time on team projects, maintaining a level of spontaneity and interaction that traditional remote work setups might lack. I love that my skip-level makes us move to a meeting room, as our individual offices don't have the option for video (What's up with that, Roam?!).

Virtual Hangout Spots

Setting up a place online where people can chat casually, like they would in an office kitchen, can help too. This could be a chat channel where no work talk is allowed. Just a spot to share a funny picture or talk about your weekend.

I hoped our Discord channel could extend this community beyond just our team members, to include our customers. I created a vibrant forum where we (some team and customers) exchange ideas, and immediate feedback can be sought to improve our products. This platform not only helps in supporting our products but also in building a more connected community of users and developers, and helps team members feel more connected to humans using our products.

Meet as Often as Possible

Our commitment to communication and community is further enabled by our annual in-person company offsite (Two trips to Mexico in 14 months? Yes please!). This event provides a unique opportunity for team members to connect, discuss company-wide strategies, and strengthen our relationships away from our projects and webcams. Additionally, we organize team offsites that, while less frequent, are immeasurably valuable for deeper team bonding and strategic planning. All these offsites are crucial in aligning our goals, refreshing our spirits, and breaking the monotony of talking into a cube of plastic, glass, image sensor, and circuitry.

Through these varied channels and opportunities, we aim to create a comprehensive communication ecosystem that not only addresses the challenges of remote work loneliness but actively promotes an inclusive and engaging work environment.

Turn Your Camera On

Gentle encouragement on camera use during meetings can significantly enhance the feeling of connection among team members. Seeing each other's expressions and gestures can make communication more natural and engaging, helping to bridge the gap that physical distance creates. It can also help neuro-divergent folks understand your tone, and people with hidden disabilities such as hearing loss lip read. As, just like written communication, audio can miss a lot of physical cues about tone and emotion. But, itโ€™s always important to approach this practice with sensitivity to individual preferences and circumstances.

Recognize that not everyone may be comfortable having their camera on at all times. Factors such as personal comfort, the environment at home, or even internet limitations can influence this decision. To accommodate this, be flexible. Encourage having cameras on to foster a more connected and inclusive meeting experience, but also emphasize that it is entirely optional.

This approach ensures that all team members feel they can choose to engage in a way that feels most comfortable to them, without feeling pressured. By prioritizing comfort, create a supportive atmosphere that respects personal boundaries and promotes a positive experience.

Conclusion

Talking to each other is super important in remote work. It helps everyone feel part of the team and stops us from feeling too lonely. Companies need to think about how they can help people keep chatting, not just about work but about fun stuff too. This keeps everyone feeling happy and connected.

And let's face it, working alone at home can make you do funny things. I've started talking to my child's toy as if it's my colleagueโ€”lost my rubber duck, so now I'm rubber duck debugging with a plastic peppa-pig! Turns out, it's not only good for coding problems, but a great punishment for naughty 3-year olds. Peppa's coming to work with Daddy today.

Full transparency, my own words have been occationally enhanced by the use of GPT because I have the writing skills of a 12 year old. So sue me.

Top comments (2)

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linkbenjamin profile image
Ben Link

I think the biggest reason for feelings of isolation stem from companies who don't do remote work well.

Many places are still trapped in old mindsets - that being around people more is better. But a truly remote-first approach is to provide quality time in-person rather than quantity. Being at a week-long event with my team once a year is a more energizing experience than being around them 8 hours every day. The novelty of the time together makes it sweeter. (Personally I think this is something employers who are embracing RTO are missing!)

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

My old manager (Hi, Martyn!) once said that he believed I was the type of person that was happier being in the office.

I think this is something people are required to say if they have "manager" in their job title. Possibly it's out of fealty to Big Landlord. Really, I think it's because managers are much more likely to have extroverted, gregarious personalities themselves and we all have a tendency to imagine others see the world the same way we do ourselves.

What Does Loneliness in Remote Work Look Like? When you work from home, it's easy to feel left out. You might miss out on the quick chats and office news.

That's true, but in my experience I missed out on all that in the office as well. Most gossip took place between friends, or out on cigarette breaks and so forth, which I didn't have.

Somewhere I worked, the director said that they thought working in the office was better because you got to have ad-hoc chats in the hall or make decisions on coffee breaks. My (silent) response to that was to think that ad-hoc chats are exactly the kind of distraction I take pains to avoid, and that if your company makes important decisions based on kitchen conversation which excludes the rest of the team, then it's a bad culture to be in.

Snatch every opportunity to meet in person

I don't want to meet people in person... and I don't equate "loneliness" with "feeling left out"; I think they're entirely different things!

I like your section on camera use, and how we should consider the individual's comfort before pushing it. I've been in meetings where they've mandated camera use even though it was another one of those, "should've been an email" meetings, because aforementioned Managers Reasons.

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