Once upon a time I would sit with a newspaper and read it through from front to back with a steaming mug of coffee and my feet up – mainly to accommodate the newspaper on my lap! These days, the coffee remains, but the reading is on the go and on my phone. The bonus is I can do it anywhere, the downside – I am reminded that I am getting old as I reach for my reading glasses!
So, I was scrolling and swiping through my news app, digesting the days’ events, when I came across a video all around a young man creating a robot that could be his eyes and ears remotely when he was unable to travel. This robot enables experiences that he, and many others, cannot physically travel to, and yet the piece that stuck in my mind was that it enabled continuation of a work life.
I asked myself, why, when you are ill or impaired and unable to experience some of the fun aspects of life would you worry about maintaining work life? I quickly corrected myself. A close family member has an illness which meant their employer exercised their retirement option, and as a result they have lost that feeling of value, usefulness and have lost a whole social interaction on a regular basis. THAT is why people want to carry on work when ill.
But, if we can be lonely when not able to work, what about that isolation of being a remote worker (whether ill or not!)?
Day 1 of becoming a remote worker for the first ever time goes along the lines of : Get up 5 mins before working hours begin, remain in your PJ’s, make coffee and decide where you are going to work. Try the sofa, but something is missing. Pop the TV on. Look back at your laptop and realise that 40 mins have past – but you have seen the highlights of the latest pre-schooler’s cartoon series and have recited the alphabet out loud despite being an adult. Decide that this is far too informal and move to the kitchen, laptop in tow, and make another coffee, grab biscuits and go to dining room – after all there is a table and chairs that vaguely resembles a desk set up! Finish coffee, finish biscuits, and realise that it’s a glorious day so you will sit in the garden and work. Change into shorts, find a lounger and a sunny spot, and then spend 10 minutes trying to see the laptop screen in the sunlight. Next door’s dog starts barking whilst you are on a call so the great outdoors is abandoned in favour of the study. Get settled into the study and realise this is really where you should have started as you are behind and are going to end up working late to catch up. By now though, you are hungry and end up back in the kitchen for another coffee, plate of sandwiches and more biscuits.
This day does not become habit. It is almost like that first day when you were left home alone by your parents when they go to the shops for ten minutes and you feel that enormous sense of ‘grownupedness’ before jumping on the sofa and ticking off the list of things you aren’t allowed to do!
Day 2 onwards and you settle into routine, you have found where – and when – you are most productive and normality resumes – although the frequent trips to kitchen for coffee and biscuits means that the belt notch is being loosened as the weeks go by. Until, you realise that you can go literally days without a conversation with another human that isn’t around work (next door’s dog doesn’t count – if you are speaking to Fido then you really need to get out more!).
We are social creatures (well, most of us), and interaction is important for our creativity, our sharing and our mental health. As a remote worker for literally years now, here’s how I combat isolation:
• Leave the house! I purposefully don’t have food in the house for a full week’s lunches so I have to walk to the shop to buy lunch – and say Hi to people.
• Hit the gym. I book a trainer once a week so I have to turn up. The poor chap gets a week’s worth of chat from me for that hour though! Also helps burn off all those biscuits that seem to be a big part of remote working.
• Be human. A dozen calls a day can be tough going – so say hello, ask how their weekend was, wish them happy birthday (only if it actually is their birthday ….).
• Use the technology. Don’t be faceless – go on video, see people’s reactions as you converse – body language is powerful so don’t miss out on it.
• Pop into the office. As often as you need to in order to maintain relationships, stock up your stationery and have a coffee WITH someone.
• Have a virtual social group. Use the technology, such as circuit conversations, to build a group / community to share social activities, bounce ideas around, and share experiences. We aren’t robots, so let’s not act like them.
Simple daily activities such as the above can really help focus and productivity. Next time you grab your coffee ready for a call – hit the ‘video’ button. Maybe an idea to not be in your pyjamas for that one though 😉
This blog inspired by this video from BBC News, published online 13th August 2017: Click