I’m done with remote working.
Ten years is a long time. A three year sabbatical, three startups (one only one of which involved working in an office with others for 7 months). The rest of the time, bar sales and delivery meetings, was working from home. Or a cafe. Or both.
The advantages of remote working
Sure. There are many. Ask those who are enslaved to an office, and most would love the odd day working at home. Cutting the commute, saving money, an extra hour in bed, what’s not to like? For employers who are cash strapped, offering remote working saves money, at least in the short term.
However… remote working is not nirvana.
Remote working can cause anxiety
The very act of removing ourselves from our coworkers is an act of isolation. The dictionary gives the following definition for the world isolation; “the process or fact of isolating or being isolated. Examples include the fact that isolation from family and friends may also contribute to anxiety”.
Remote work is isolating. That’s not good.
This a problem. A big problem. The headlong rush towards remote working will have very strong negative effects on our health (physical and mental), and life expectancy. “I don’t think a lot of people recognise that our relationships can have a physical impact as well as emotional,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate psychology professor at Brigham Young University and co-author of a study, published online July 27 2010 in PLoS Medicine (1).
Researchers analysed results from 148 studies—which included a total of 308,849 participants—going back to the early 20th century. Most studies assessed survival in contrast to mortality from all causes, although the authors rejected studies that focused on suicide or accidental deaths., in unabated, risks the risks dying way, way earlier.
Recent research comes to the same conclusion. Watch Susan Pinker’s TED talk (2) about how our social interactions is a greater moderator of how long we will live than smoking, drinking, exercise or any other healthy living aspect.
Want to live longer? Relate more!
And don’t for one second think that because you’re more introverted, you can get away with it. The statistics don’t care – you need meaningful connection. Daily interactions. Meaningful and less so. Asking others about their day, and they you. Discussing problems. Getting outside perspective. Jokes and laughter. Even a good old whine can help.
Don’t let remote working kill you
For remote working to work successfully, a strong social network is needed.
Having a family at home is very beneficial though, for those who have tried it, also brings its challenges. Positively, we engage in daily interactions before and after work. We might be grumpy and not talk much, yet the fact that someone is there who cares for us is very important. Other challenges that work from home mums and dads have to contend with is holidays, school hours, and under school age children – “but why can’t I speak to mum/dad?”. Yet, with these meaningful interactions we are likely to live happier and longer lives. Remember that next time you moan about how hard it is to be a parent.
Friends are critical. It might take a while to educate them that working from home does not mean you are on holiday. We have to be firm with the “can you help me with…” or general catchup phone calls. But without a good friendship circle, who we see often, we will struggle.
When reviewing the Gallup Q12 engagement survey one of the twelve questions is “do you have a best friend at work?”. They know from their research that having a best friend will help motivate you, and give of your best. It is difficult to have a best friend at work if you’re rarely meeting colleagues.
The bigger challenge is for those who have no strong close family bonds or friends. Maybe recently divorced, moved to a new area… or just more of a loner. In these instances, remote working long term increases your stress and reduces your levels of motivation. Worse, it can literally take years off your life.
My own experience shows me that if I have not had any meaningful interactions for just 24 hours, I become withdrawn, demotivated, insular and too caught up with my own thoughts. Call me crazy, but ten years on, I’m ready to work in an office again.
How to ensure remote working doesn’t kill us
Remote working can be a godsend. But we need to ensure it remains positive over time. Here are some pointers:
- Ensure there is a daily catchup by phone. Ask about life as well as work.
- Arrange regular real life meetings. Allow for some social time (ask colleagues to share something about themselves not known to others).
- Plan regular social gatherings. This increases the chance for colleagues to make (best) friends at work
- Be aware – team members who have a weaker social circle are more at risk.
- Check in with colleagues/managers daily
- Meet friends – regardless of how you feel – prioritise meeting with friends/coworkers for lunch/coffee and/or evenings
- Meet new people – join clubs, sports, walking groups, hobbies etc. to extend your social circle
- Shoot the breeze (to pick an american phrase) – talk to colleagues about things outside of work. (That guilt thing is normal, kill it)
- Mix it up – find a quiet cafe to work from (the low ambient noise within a cafe can boost creativity) and engage in conversation with the baristas or the person next to you.
- Be aware – if you currently have a weak social circle remote working might not be a good idea for you. Speak to HR, or find a place to work where you are guaranteed meaningful daily interactions.
As for me – I plan on living a happier and longer life by working with others. Sure they may give me headaches, but still better than working on my own.
Are you a remote worker? What has your experience been? Comment below.
- (1) Social Ties Boost Survival by 50 Percent, American Scientific
- (2) The secret to living longer may be our social life, TED 2017 talk by Susan Pinker
- 7 Reasons Why Connection With Self and Others Is So Important, Huffington Post
Mark Bateman has been in leadership, or worked with leadership, his whole life. A successful entrepreneur, with a Masters in Leadership Coaching and post grad qualifications in human psychology, he helps leaders be more personally effective, as well as their teams and organisations.