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Summary:

We’ve all read the news stories that identify social implications of a world increasingly conducted electronically, rather than in person. It seems that in an environment where individuals and organizations can manufacture themselves new personas, and nothing’s real until we broadcast it across a network of […]

solitudeWe’ve all read the news stories that identify social implications of a world increasingly conducted electronically, rather than in person. It seems that in an environment where individuals and organizations can manufacture themselves new personas, and nothing’s real until we broadcast it across a network of contacts, many web workers are feeling increasingly isolated.

It’s definitely true that it can be difficult to be heard among the clamor of communication online. The volume of information, insights and self-expression can be overwhelming, but those who work remotely also face the added challenge of physical isolation. Sometimes, it can be difficult to believe that you can have much of an impact when you operate remotely. Within this context, those who thrive in a remote web work environment have a strong sense of self, of perspective and of contribution.

The Opposite of Isolation

The antidote to isolation is participation. Participating provides an opportunity to develop self-awareness and respect, perspective, and of course, a sense of contribution. It’s also fun. But it seems that many of us forget the importance of participation from a personal standpoint. With deadlines, busy lives, exciting goals and work or family commitments, we can unconsciously replace willing participation with obligation. And that’s often a lot less fun.

Whether you choose to participate online — in a social network, work-related committee or team, community, interest or activist group — or offline through a club, charity, class or community group, you’re making a willing choice, which for some of us is a bit of a luxury. And the benefits of that participation can be considerable.

When I first moved to a new country town, and was working remotely, I felt pretty isolated. My colleagues were 100km away, and when I looked out the window, it was at a foreign landscape, apparently devoid of human life. So I became a volunteer for the local firefighting group. Bingo! I met a load of new people, made one or two close, lasting friendships, developed skills I never knew I’d have, and felt a whole lot more involved and less isolated.

Participation is Not a Life Sentence

Not all participation takes great commitment, so you can suit your level of involvement to your changing interests, time commitments, and desires. Joining your work social committee, organizational sustainability team, or taking part in corporate sports are just a few ideas for participating more within your work sphere. The key is to give something a try. No single friendship, workplace, or hobby club could hope to meet the needs of one individual, so diversify, and experiment with your interests in a range of different arenas.

A writer friend of mine who was unable to work had a growing interest in literature and books. He took a course in literature, had some of his work published on a few sites, and was then offered the position of managing editor on one of these. He grew the site, then decided to use social networks and online community tools to create a dialogue around the site, which would enable authors and readers to communicate with each other. By pursuing his interest, he’s made a lot of new friends, valuable contacts and deepened his passion and sense of contribution.

Perhaps over time you’ll find, as my friend did, that you prefer online participation. Alternatively, perhaps you’ll get so involved with your local sports club that you decide to stand for a position on the club committee. You never know where your involvement in a group or community may lead — and if you’re not happy with where it’s going, you can always take a break to try something new.

Have you ever felt isolated as a remote worker? What have you done to change things?

Related research

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By Georgina Laidlaw

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  1. Hey guys, I just saw this article Tweeted by @Colinismyname and think I could help. I made a list of the best mobile workplaces for entrepreneurs hope you get something out of it

    http://unstrappd.com/2009/11/04/the-best-mobile-workplaces-for-entrepreneurs

  2. For more years than I’d like to admit, I worked in corporate settings at AOL, Citrix…sometimes teleworked a day or so but with NTRglobal, I am working with virtual teams everyday…more than a 6,000 mile telecommute! Key tools include skype for instant communication, a Webcam is nice (most of the time except for the 4am calls! :) and collaboration tools for meetings and techhical support. I know I can get instant access to resources when they need me. So how do I manage? I do enjoy visiting with my teams face to face…it’s the ultimate creativity and relationship builder…and I seek friends and activities I’ve always wanted to do outside of work…what I concept! Life is Good…thanks to NTRglobal’s trust in our virtual teamwork.

  3. Though I use all possible communication tools sometimes I feel lonely while working remotely, especially when it is a long project. I’ve got Skype, webcam, radmin and so on, but these tools can’t transfer people’s emotions. That’s the trouble.

    1. I agree and feel the same way. The social networking tools on the web will never replace face-to-face interaction. To combat the isolation I try hard to get out of the house and participate in social activities out side of work (biking with a neighbor, etc).

  4. Jelly, Casual Coworking in a City Near You Friday, November 6, 2009

    [...] you’re feeling a bit isolated at home (or perhaps you just want to brainstorm some ideas) and would like to try out the coworking [...]

  5. You know, when I first started working at home I enjoyed being all alone. That didn’t last long (lol). I find now that connecting with people via Skype and over the phone makes a lot of difference. It takes out the impersonal nature of email, but at the same token I still have many people I’ve worked with and for over the last few years that I have never met, and have no idea what they look or sound like.

  6. Project Nights/Jelly/Casual Coworking « OurSpace Fort Wayne Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    [...] you’re feeling a bit isolated at home (or perhaps you just want to brainstorm some ideas) and would like to try out the coworking [...]

  7. It is nice to know I am not he only person who feels isolated working from home. I have worked remotely for 8 years and at first it was great. But now I quickly get to the point where I have to get out of the house …. I try to work out of the house at a library or coffee shop at least once a week ..but even that is proving to not be enough since I don’t really talk to other people too much in those settings. Working from home is great if you are able to work part of the week face-to-face with your co-workers … otherwise as the years go by ..the isolation gets worse. I am trying hard to find acivities outside of work that get me out of the house and talking to people face-to-face ..it take time and effort but it is worth it.

  8. Well, all famous (and not famous) writers were telecommuters. Very often they worked away from people surrounded by family-members only.

  9. Secrets of Successful Self-directed Work Saturday, January 16, 2010

    [...] shock. Above all, as we’ve heard here many times, it can leave you with a pervasive sense of isolation. But as a corollary, you may feel as if you’re swimming around in your own little pond, [...]

  10. Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner or Secrets of Successful Self-directed Work « Saturday, January 16, 2010

    [...] shock. Above all, as we’ve heard here many times, it can leave you with a pervasive sense ofisolation. But as a corollary, you may feel as if you’re swimming around in your own little pond, rather [...]

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