Overcoming the Isolation of Remote Work

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?