Pass the Remote: The Pros and Cons of Being a Full-Time Remote Employee

 In Blog, Business Trends, Human Resources, Leadership

Much has been said about the future of work, the gig economy and the increase in remote employees. As organizations grapple with their growth and the finite nature of physical space, more creative solutions are emerging or are re-emerging depending on who you talk to. Shared work spaces are becoming more prevalent and generally the acceptance and encouragement of remote work is growing. Yet there are still many individuals that are on the fence about working remotely.

I for one, being a recent convert, wasn’t really a champion of remote work until a few years ago simply because I had never done it before. When I did start working from home a couple of years ago it was typically two days a week and it required some getting used to for personal and philosophical reasons.

Two Days a Week Remote: Personal Challenges

On a personal level, I was easily distracted and found it hard to get into the zone. The reason for that was more about mentally recalibrating my view of my home as an office. Yes, I did have an office chair and desk in a designated spot in my living room but the proximity of my “workspace” to my television, couch and entertainment system were jarring juxtapositions.

My other personal challenge was my need for social interaction and belonging. At the office, I would have busy days but the occasional question from a colleague or a quick huddle to address an issue on a project were good disruptions that would help to reinforce my oneness with the team. It was that main element that pulled me into the physical office, Monday to Friday, opting out of using my available remote days.

Two Days a Week Remote: Philosophical Challenges

Philosophically, I saw remote work as more of an exception than a norm. The cliché “out of sight, out of mind” invoked a sort of anxiety about missing out on some important decisions at the office that could affect me directly. I think someone coined the term FOMO – the fear of missing out, to address this feeling of not wanting to be left out of something important. Change is good but it’s even better when it’s change you are aware of and can influence. Physical presence, I thought was always the gold standard. But what about the daily commute? While many would lament an hour-long bus ride to work, I found the experience satisfying. I would catch up on some reading, mull over some ideas in my head for some process improvement and also do a bit of brainstorming for ideas to handle a difficult project. The commute for me set the tone for the rest of the day.

Perks of Two Days a Week Remote

Being able to work remotely did have its perks. While I didn’t always use the opportunity to work from home, I did appreciate at least having the option to do so, especially with a young toddler in day care. I also enjoyed the savings on gas (although one could argue the cost of my monthly bus pass negated the gains in that area).

Working Full-Time Remote

Fast forward to today and I am now a full-time remote employee with the same company. Physically located in a different city, the option to forgo remote days and head into the office aren’t available any more. Out of necessity, I now choose to focus on the benefits that full-time virtual work affords me (rather than reminisce on the benefits of being physically present in the office).

If adapting to two days working from home took some getting used to, then working full-time remotely was somewhat of a culture shock.

Full-Time Remote Week One

The first week, I was excited about the new arrangement. I had enough work to keep me occupied and I had grown to appreciate the absence of distractions. The economic savings on time and gas were also noticeable. I no longer needed my monthly bus pass and my car was mostly used for short trips.

Full-Time Remote: Week Two

By week two, the novelty waned slightly but I was still able to find my rhythm and have a fully productive work day.

Full-Time Remote: Month Two

By month two, however, I was just shy of acting like Tom Hanks in Castaway minus having deep conversations with inanimate objects. I had my first virtual meeting with my team and I admittedly felt a little disconnected. Before going remote I was a regular in the office and pretty much knew what was happening with my colleagues on a personal and professional level. I benefited from relational osmosis; being physically present with my peers enabled me to get to know them personally with very little effort on my part. We are in fact a very close team but that first meeting did remind me that I was now separated from the others and would not benefit from the casual conversations and bonding that I had grown accustomed to.

I also noticed that I was feeling fatigued. I didn’t notice at the time, but I was approaching a state of burnout. Any online search engine will provide you with quite a few studies and articles stating that remote workers are susceptible to burn out. Once you become remote, especially after previously being in the office daily, the tendency is to try to overcompensate for your lack of physical presence by upping your productivity. It’s a latent drive to keep in step or even a step ahead of your peers in order to justify that you are still valuable to the team as a virtual contributor.

Thriving at Full-Time Remote

So where was the turning point for me from being burnt out to thriving in a virtual role? The answer is partly due to both external and internal factors.

Externally, my employer placed priority on increasing the connectivity with remote workers and the mothership (head office). We invested in our technology to facilitate higher quality video meetings and increased the cadence with which these meetings took place. Social events, including some of our casual get-togethers, added an option for remote staff to Zoom/Skype in and join in the festivities from their own pub, coffee shop or home. Greater emphasis was placed on using our existing instant messaging tool, Slack, so that persons could be kept in the loop in real time. The management team, led by our CEO, emphasized the importance of virtual contributors to the success of the organization in most staff and all-team meetings. This helped to reinforce the sense of belonging that I was afraid of losing in a remote role. Generally, there was a sense that remote employees were just a regular part of our organization. It became very clear that remote work was part and parcel of our company culture and not a foreign practice.

Even with the intentional actions taken by my organization to keep me grafted to the tree, I had to choose to engage with the process. Yes, the tools were available to me but if I did not make an effort to use them and connect with the team, then I would still feel that sense of disconnect. Building and maintaining professional relationships takes effort, even more so in the remote world. Availing myself to a reach out from a colleague, initiating a conversation around a difficult project, or requesting assistance from colleagues all helped to maintain my connection with the team.

Take Aways

As we grow more global and virtual, organizations and employees must fully engage with each other to enhance the remote experience. Yes, there are challenges to remote work but these challenges are not insurmountable. All it takes is a little creativity and commitment from all the players involved.

About the Author

Richard Jaggon joined Business Sherpa Group in 2016 after earning a post-graduate Certificate in Human Resources Management from Algonquin College. As a BSG employee, he consults with business owners and leaders in small to medium sized enterprises, assisting them with their HR needs. Richard’s expertise lies in recruitment and people management and has supported clients across several industries. He has a degree in Sociology and completed ten years of military service prior to embarking on his HR career.

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