Remote working, telecommuting, work from home, virtual job—these are some of the ways we call this flexible working set-up that has increasingly become popular in the last decade. As a matter of fact, just in the U.S. alone, there was a 159% increase in remote workers between 2005 to 2017. Currently, their remote workers are 4.7 million-strong, making up 43% of their workforce. By 2027, the tables will turn because the majority of workers will be working remotely.
Flexible working has become a “new normal” in the market workplace. 41% of remote workers are opting to do freelance work permanently. Being able to work outside of the company’s primary location and having a choice of work environment are now key factors for many job seekers, and it is changing the way most businesses operate in the golden era of the digital age.
The benefits of remote work have been life-changing for most freelancers. A flexible schedule is a leading benefit to remote work, followed by the flexibility of working from any location and increased time with the family. For those who used to suffer from heavy traffic and hours of commute, working from home has definitely been a great come-on. Recent world events, like pandemics, natural calamities, and other social threats, have left some business with no choice but to ask employees to work remotely, or have been critical to the decision-making process of most remote workers.
On-going innovations in technology are also leading to restructuring in the market workplace, allowing more and more of the workforce to remain productive members of the team offsite. Researches have discovered a productivity boost equivalent to a full day’s work among remote workers, as they can manage their time better and concentrate more on the job at the comforts of their home. Employee attrition can also be decreased by 50% among the remote workers as they take shorter breaks, have fewer sick days, and took less time off. Companies can save thousands by reducing the amount of office space, equipment and utilities needed to sustain a full in-house staff. These are all wonderful benefits. Remote working seems too good to be true. But are remote jobs as great as they sound?
Loneliness: A Big Hurdle for Remote Workers
Despite the allure of remote working, there are challenges that remote workers are facing that not most people know about. Tech giants like Facebook, Yahoo!, Google, and IBM, have either retracted their remote working policies or have never embraced the telecommuting trend of today. There are drawbacks to remote working that others may not know about.
At the end of the day, it is an employer’s choice if they’ll hire remote workers or not. Inevitably, there will be more remote workers in the future, as I have mentioned. But let’s dive deeper into one of the most common drawbacks of remote working—loneliness and isolation.
In a survey done by Buffer, the most common problem encountered by 22% of remote workers is unplugging from work. This problem can be corrected by setting up clear boundaries or hours of work and the like. But the second reason that came about is probably more alarming than the first—loneliness. 19% of remote workers encounter loneliness and isolation in the course of their freelancing or remote work careers.
Image Source: Google Photos
It’s not something to ignore because symptoms of isolation include increased stress levels, bad decision-making, and can lead to depression, which has taken the lives of so many. Depression has become one of the greatest epidemics of this generation, and a worker who is battling loneliness, if employers detect that at all, is very alarming especially if the remote worker is handling crucial responsibilities.
Factors Causing Loneliness Among Remote Workers
Feeling Left Out
Factors that add to loneliness is feeling left out in the team, like from updates or even relationship-building that happens more seamlessly for in-house staff.
Even perks like IT support for cybersecurity, or maintenance crew keeping the workplace clean, and even an HR department that manages your benefits for you, can be significantly diminished for remote workers, who practically have to do things on their own. Knowing trends and threats in cyberattacks are now included in their agenda, filing their government contributions, and so on.
Employers must remember to incorporate required face-to-face interaction that will involve their remote team, like yearly events or quarterly updates, depending on where your remote team is located. Communication management tools such as Slack or Zoom can also be used for facetime interactions, even to catch up with your team or conduct regular meetings. Provide tech support for your offsite staff and human resources assistance, also if they are working remotely. And it would not be a bother to you as a good boss or leader to check up on them consistently. Humans are wired to be connected, so even simple efforts such this can go a long way for a freelancer.
Networking is Challenging
With no coworkers in your living room, socializing with your peers can be a challenge and make working from home a bit depressing. If you are used to bouncing off ideas with others, this isolation will be even more challenging.
In-person connections and networking are harder for remote workers. It takes creativity and persistence on the part of the remote worker to stay connected with industry peers, get involved in the community, and keep honing their skills and building their network. If you are a freelancer, LinkedIn groups are a good way to network with other professionals in your field. Try browsing some Facebook Groups in your locality and check out events they may have like expos and social gathering where you’ll get to participate and widen your network.
You can also go to a co-working space once or twice a week just for a needed change of environment, or maybe work at a friend’s or family’s house for half a day, once a week, so you can also share time with them once you are done.
Coffee shops are okay, but you will typically keep to yourself when you are in a public space. Better to take a proper lunch break, meet up with a friend while you’re at it, before going back to work whether at home or somewhere else.
Have a right mix of social time added to your work commitments. You are a human being, a social being, not a bot that keeps working without needing interaction.
There’s Not Much “Free Time”
Most people think that remote workers get to slack off at work because they are at home and nobody sees them. Actually, surveys show that remote workers spend more time working, take fewer vacation leaves even if they may have unlimited vacation leaves, and are less likely to enjoy their rest days from work religiously. The convenience of opening a laptop or mobile device and instantly getting connected at work is a culprit.
As a result, remote workers tend to get burned out a lot easier than traditional workers. High-paying remote jobs are not even worth it once loneliness hits, the reason why you hear of remote workers that jump from job to job, project to project.
But this can be avoided entirely by setting a specific schedule for yourself on when you are working, for how long, and when you will have your breaks, off days and leaves. These things can be scheduled and planned. Discipline yourself not to work when you are sick, or not to miss important family events, even to eat dinner together every night as a family.
Remember the reasons why you chose to do remote working, and stick to the values, work ethics and discipline you have even if you no longer work in a traditional office
Employers who have remote workers in their team should also be careful not to treat their freelancers as if they are at your beck and call. If you have to craft a unique measurement of productivity for your online workers, do so. Experts even say that remote workers are more productive if they do not follow a singular work schedule, just like in a traditional office. Different people are wired differently, and one remote worker you have maybe at his best while working at night, but since everybody in the office comes in at 9 am, you require that freelancer to do the same. It’s not the same. Maximise the potential of hiring a freelancer by allowing them to work at the time they are most productive. Set weekly targets and release them to do their jobs well, instead of micromanaging them. This kind of management, even in traditional settings, reduces workers productivity, so why do it with your remote workers?
In everything, there is a balance, and so is the same with remote workers you bring in to your team. Figure out the best way to manage both in-house and offsite staff so that you can maximise the potential of your team ion entirety. HubSpot gives more tips in the following video for employers and workers alike:
Video Source: Stop Managing Your Remote Workers as if They Are Onsite / HubSpot © 2018
Conclusion: Remote Working Isn’t for All—And That’s Okay
Whatever the reason, not everyone is meant to work remotely, and that’s okay. If remote work is doing you good, by all means, keep going at it. But if you are going through a terrible time and you are regretting your decision to shift from the office to working remotely, assess if you should go back to a more traditional work setting or not.
If you are like me that, by gut-feel, know remote working is the path to take, encountering hurdles along the way is not and should not be a reason to quit. Again, remember the reasons why you shifted to remote work. For most people, it’s to finally have a work-life balance and quality time with family that was more difficult to keep as an office worker clocking 9 hours a day, chugging to and from work for another couple of hours or more. I also realized that skill-building for me became faster as a remote worker, and the potential to earn more for my family and give them a more exceptional quality of life also got multiplied. Keeping these in mind, it guides me whenever I meet drawbacks such as isolation and loneliness. Both are not exclusive to remote workers, as it can hit anyone, even those that are deeply-entrenched at traditional jobs.
Reach out to others when you are going through something like this, whether you are an offsite staff or freelancer. If you’re an offsite staff, go to your company’s HR or even talk to your supervisor, so that you are not alone as you find solutions for this challenge you are facing. If you are a freelancer, find people who can drop a word of advice or two to help you overcome. It can be a family member or a friend, or even a community you recently joined. The steps indicated here can be the beginning of the solution, but it’s up to you, remote worker, to hurdle past these challenges for a more meaningful, vibrant and long-lasting career as a remote worker.
Ramon Francisco loves to write about technology trends, entertainment, and gaming ever since he left the busy world of corporate HR Tech behind. Ramon currently writes about software and user experiences for Softvire Australia – the leading software e-Commerce company in Australia and Softvire New Zealand.