Remote but not alone

Building quality relationships and combating loneliness while working remote

Working remotely is becoming commonplace among today's technologically saturated workforce. With giant steps forward in technology and infrastructure providing mobi-workers with free (or nearly free) high-speed internet access virtually anywhere on the planet it's now easier than ever to work away from work.

The prospect of working from home has become wildly attractive in recent years, especially to millenials. And why not? Who could have predicted a time when you could literally get paid - well, I might add - while sitting on your sofa, resting your feet on a pizza box rocking your latest MeUndies acquisition?

While I'm not convinced working remotely is for everyone, you'd be hard pressed to argue that some of the aforementioned carb-rich and modal cotton perks aren't alluring. However, there is a facet of remote work that often doesn't get brought up until you're seven slices in for the sixth month running and that is despite being 'connected' at all hours in dozens of different modalities with your employer, remote workers often find themselves overwhelmingly and inescapably alone.

I can hear you saying already - as you contemplate that new position with a Miami-based tech startup from your couch in the Bronx - "but I love it here in my tiny apartment!" "I have Slack and Facetime and Skype and my Boston Terrier Frank. What more could I possibly need!?" And maybe you'd be right. Maybe DM-ing Louise at the home office week-in-and-week-out and calling in occasionally to a 3-hour deep-dive into last weeks TPS reports will be enough to keep you happy. In my experience however, that is not the case.

As a digital nomad in every sense of the word having run my business everywhere from the back of a tour bus in the deep-deep south to a 900-year-old rooftop apartment in sunny Barcelona I have experienced it all in terms of leveraging technology to do my work from all points away from home. Despite being really good at it and managing to be very productive and successful the one thing I've felt more than anything else has been a pervasive sense of loneliness.

It's difficult not to feel left-out or somehow on the perimeter-marginalized. This sensation leads many remote workers to bum out hard. While Sara and Sue are chatting it up at the water-cooler or the whole team is gathering for snow-cone day to celebrate the latest big sale you're still on your couch - with Frank - click-clacking away on your keyboard and sending celebratory emojis to the office in hopes someone will just notice you're alive.

While your in-office co-workers are building rapport, networking and strengthening relationships, indulging in after-work cocktail hours and developing frowned-upon intra-office romances you are on you own, watching Springer or catching whatever version of The Bachelor comes on when you punch out for the day. Mellow officially harshed.

According to the State of Remote Work 2018 published by technology company Buffer, loneliness is the number one struggle remote workers combat day-to-day, and they aren't the only ones saying it. As the popularity of long-distance collaboration continues to grow, this among other issues facing remote workers will continue to take center stage.

Never fear, all is not lost.

Despite being 'alone' there are a number of ways to improve your outlook that do not include you and/or Frank taking a header out the window of your 6th-floor walkup. In my many years of working remote and abroad I've come up with a few simple solutions for you that have as much to do with where you work as how you work remotely.

Office visits

One thing you can do as a remote worker to keep things copacetic is… Go to the office. Of course, this modality may be at odds with your remote-working lifestyle but the fact of the matter is an occasional drop-in can do the body good.

In a Harvard Business Review article entitled Helping Remote Workers Avoid Loneliness and Burnout they cite Joe Granato, the Chief Supply Chain Officer at Mountain Equipment Co-op in saying "Face-to-face time builds quality relationships, thus enabling trust and speed in communications. Having opportunities to be together (in the same space, not virtually) is a quality investment."

To that end when seeking out remote work opportunities keep an eye out for for companies who promote 'bring your body to work days' or who build in budgets for remote workers to pop in on occasion. The positive aspects of human interaction and putting faces to names will help you to excel from your squishy, sofa-based post and allow you to be more human to those communicating with you in return.

Public places

Another popular tactic of the remote-worker elite is getting your booty out of the house and heading out to your local office-du-jour-AKA Starbucks-or for the pinky out, your favorite local roastery or tea grotto. Well, actually anyplace with semi-usable wi-fi will do the trick.

I have spent many years on the coffee-shop-circuit glomming free wi-fi and imbibing in caffeinated goodies but the purpose of working out of a place like this isn't the buzz or the gross-bathrooms-it's the people! By getting out of the house and surrounding yourself with people it can take the edge off the loneliness you would otherwise be experiencing at home. For me, I don't even really need to talk to anyone-except for the barista's who will know you by name. Engaging in a little people watching or tuning into an occasional gossip sesh is all I need to feel like I'm an actively engaged and contributing member of society. Going out also makes you put on pants-generally speaking-and that's pretty good for society too.

Coworking

The premium version of working from an aforementioned public space is co-working. Despite having been around for more than 40-years in one form or another, co-working for those new to the concept is essentially flexible working space where you can come and go freely and surround yourself with a community of like-minded independentists.

Co-working facilities come in many shapes and sizes including a broad swath of amenities and many tailoring their service offering to different types of workers. That said a basic offering might look something like this:

  • $200 or less per month - Basic membership and access to public areas and amenities.
  • $300 to $500 per month-Private desk or working space, some ability to store or leave office supplies, monitors, etc.
  • $600 to $1000 per month - Lockable private or enclosed office space, usually with room for more than one employee/person.

Of course these numbers can vary greatly as can the level of service everything from absolute no-frills facilities to places that include full-service reception staff, kitchens, podcast studios and meeting rooms.

For me, the value of working in a space like this is multi-faceted but as it relates to conquering loneliness in remote work I like these sorts of places as they are generally chock-full of people just like you! They are often full of small businesses (solo operations), startup companies, venture capitalists and others working remotely for larger companies. Most of the people you'll find working in these environments will be able to relate to your struggles and help you to overcome with the power of like-minded community.

You are not alone.

The struggles inherent in remote-working can be tough, no doubt. Beyond just loneliness, many experience difficulty in collaborating and communicating, overcoming challenges of distraction and motivation and of course there are the ever present technological issues. Each of those are other articles in and of themselves, but despite all that in my humble opinion the built-in freedom and flexibility of working on the run is totally worth it. Whether you are self-employed or a cog in a larger machine I suppose the key takeaway here is that you are not alone and your experience isn't unique. Seek out others who can relate to the challenges you're facing and you'll be back on the couch in your choni's a happy and healthy remote worker in no time.

How do you deal?

How do you handle the challenges of working remotely in your own career? Are there tools, tips or hacks you've found particularly helpful in the work you're doing? Share them here or find me on the socials and let's continue this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved - I am @ryanroghaar here on Medium, Twitter and Instagram and click here to for my LinkedIn.

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