Remote Working Isn’t Always Fun
The truth behind the glossy exterior
Social media is full of people who share their latest piece of content from some exotic location or hipster coffee shop. They paint a world of remote working as stress-free, flexible and fulfilling.
But as with almost all things on the internet, the truth for the 99% of us is not so rosy. Instead of lying on a beach, watching the dollars roll in as we check emails, remote working can turn from fantasy to nightmare almost overnight.
The Fantasy and the Benefits
On the surface, remote working appears to come with lots of benefits.
- Increased Flexibility of time and location
- No commuting
- No Dress code
- Great for introverts
- Increased Family time
- No boss looking over your shoulder
Every one of the above-being something attractive to anyone considering remote working. Truth be told in many cases, the worker does benefit from some of those benefits, at least some of the time.
However, each of these shiny things soon starts to lose their sparkle over time. Some of them faster than others.
The Reality and the Pitfalls
Apart from the 0.01% on Instagram who seem to do most of their work in a beachfront villa, the rest of us face the reality of working at our kitchen table, or if we are lucky a spare room or study.
We may venture out to another location in the beginning, but soon the hassle of carting your equipment around becomes more of a chore and you’ll decide it is just easier to stay in the house. If you do go to your local coffee shop you will soon realize that what seems cool on Instagram, soon becomes annoying as you endure the constant noise, shouting children, crashing plates and over loud laughing.
The time flexibility portion also turns out to be less flexible than you hoped. Most jobs expect that you still work normal office hours regardless of your location. Your dream of working the schedule of a hermit soon evaporates as you receive meeting invites for 8 am on a Monday.
It can seem fun in the beginning, to join the weekly conference call in your pyjamas, but the novelty soon wears off when you spend all day and even all week in the same sweatpants and hoodie. The motivation to get up and get dressed soon disappears when you don’t have work clothes to change out of at the end of the day.
The lack of clear definition soon goes beyond just the dress code. When you are not doing a commute, your day loses a clear start and endpoint. You seem to be in a position of never really switching off, in either a physical or emotional sense. A bad habit that develops of leaving the computer running and just checking emails at 7 pm, then 8 pm, then 10 pm and so on. This always-on mode soon starts to impact on family life as you begin to accept meeting invites that run later into the afternoon and evening.
The Untold Impact on Your Mental Health
Going beyond all of the above, the biggest danger to remote workers is loneliness, isolation, and paranoia, leading to increased stress. When you work in an office full time, it can seem great fun to work from home. However, that novelty soon wears off when you do it day after day. No-one real to speak to, grab a coffee with, walk to the canteen with and so on.
The loneliness sets in and builds gently over time. Humans are social creatures and thrive on interaction and relationships. Sure it is great to get some headspace sometimes, but remote working alone doesn’t take long to seem a bit like solitary confinement.
With no-one on hand to break the day up, it can become a very depressing environment of sameness.
I have only spent one long period working from home in my career, for about 6 months. I had chosen to do so because the commute was about 90 mins in each direction and the price of fuel was becoming a burden.
It did seem a great hoot for the first couple of weeks, but cabin fever soon set in. I missed the buzz of the office. Getting support became more difficult and I felt I was intruding by ringing colleagues and asking for help. This left me feeling more isolated. Rather than being able to dive into deep work, I found my performance starting to slip. I lost the social and scheduling queues from colleagues and started to miss meetings, or dial in late and unprepared. This led to a feeling of paranoia that my boss would soon be calling my number and my job would be at risk.
In the end, I decided to leave and find an office-based job in another company with a much shorter commute. It came as a great relief and I didn’t mind at all closing the curtain on my remote working experiment.
I won’t rule out doing it again, but I feel more prepared this time and a lot more realistic about what remote working means for the vast majority of us.
Thanks for reading.