Over the past six months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to remote workers. Being a remote worker myself, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the most common con of being a remote worker I kept hearing from them was one that had little to do with the actual work. After all, when you’re a remote worker, you're more often than not getting to choose who you work for, when you work — and most significantly — where you’re working from, so how much can you complain and still be taken seriously? Remote work allows you the freedom to do what you want, but that freedom isn’t going to do the work for you (or decide when you choose to “turn off” for the day) — that’s your job.
So what is the biggest con of being a remote worker, according to nearly every one of the 15 remote employees I interviewed for Remote.com?
Simply, physical community — or rather, the lack thereof. There's no social aspect to work if you work from home. I know, you’re thinking that’s ridiculous. When you have the flexibility to be wherever you want, whenever you want, how can that be a lonely endeavor? Well, you’d be surprised: As it turns out, having absolute freedom comes at a cost. Fortunately, it’s not one that can’t be fixed with a little perseverance and restructuring (like all good things!).
Your Work Social Life Is Different When You Work Remotely
Coleman Molnar — the co-owner of Li et Co who travels Canada with his girlfriend while simultaneously working remotely from an ‘83 Volkswagen Westfalia — put it rather accurately when he told me, “For sure, [my and my girlfriend's] social lives are not what they used to be.” And he’s right, because there’s a huge difference between being with your coworkers everyday and being by yourself everyday.
Even if you hate going in to your nine-to-five (or more realistically, nine-to-six-seven-or-eight) job, there’s a sense of office camaraderie when you work in a common space during regular hours. Ever heard the saying that your coworkers can make or break a job? There’s a lot of truth to that.
When you first go remote, you’re likely to be excited to be on your own, and at the prospect of not having to report back to your cubicle or open-office desk station. But usually after a few weeks, it can start to feel lonely. You’re eating lunch by yourself instead of at the local lunch spot with your desk mate, you’re sleeping in and staying up late to finish assignments that you know your coworkers have already completed for the day, and you’re staring at a computer screen for hours at a time without anybody stopping by your workspace to say “hi.” Add that all up, and it really does seem like community shrinks when you go remote. So, how does one resolve this?
How to Fix It (Because Being Lonely Sucks)
While structuring your life might not feel like the usual first-step as a remote worker, it can actually be a huge community-saver in the field of remote work. Joining coworking spaces (and trust me, there are some pretty cool ones), becoming a regular at a coffee shop with free wi-fi, and digitally connecting with other remote workers in your area are great places to start.
Coworking spaces are amazing because they provide you with all the pluses of working in a common office sans the pressures of having your boss looking over your shoulder all day long. This is what Gerardo Guijarro, an Android software engineer living in Chicago, did to find community after he left his company's home office to travel the world for a year with Remote Year. Though he was traveling to different countries every few months, coworking spaces were provided at each of them, helping him to find community no matter how new he was to the local community.
If you get a membership to one, you can still set your own hours and work at your own pace, but you’ll also get to know the community of other remote workers in the space at the same time. It’s like having a special band of coworkers who can still help you with your work and connect you with new clients without having the same streaks of competitiveness and jealousy you usually find in offices.
If you’re too broke to join a coworking space, not to worry: Coffee shops with free wi-fi are a great alternative. I’ve been working remotely from Brooklyn for the past three years, and I can tell you that the more you visit local coffee shops, the more you’ll realize that there’s a whole slew of remote workers regularly visiting them too. Plus, being surrounded by the scent of caffeine-fueled beverages is never a bad thing, right?
Social Media Groups
One of the remote workers I talked to, Andrea Valeria, a travel blogger and digital nomad, said that she found community through digital nomad meet-ups. She explained how there are hundreds of Facebook groups and social media hashtags that bring together digital nomads, expats, and solo travelers across the globe. Remember Coleman Molnar (the remote worker traveling Canada in an '83 van)? Turns out he found a community of like-minded remote workers and travelers in a Volkswagon Westfalia Reddit group.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
Well, to put it simply, the future is remote. Along with helping to shrink the gender gap in the tech industry, remote work options are also becoming a major factor for millennials who are now entering the workforce. In fact, a recent Gallup survey reported that 43 percent of Americans were working remotely in 2016, even if only part-time.
The idea of a future where people can work from wherever they want is an exciting one, and so long as there are ways to make up for the social aspects that get lost when leaving an office behind, it seems that the future of remote working is bright and blazing.
Image: Jiri Wagner/Unsplash