6 Challenges and Opportunities of Long-Term Remote Work
Some nice unexpected effects of my 9+ years of working from home.
Most articles about remote work focus on finding a remote job or making the transition to distributed work.
These are great topics, but the thinking is short-term. It’s like those initial quality tests car-makers trumpet: how well does the car run in the first year?
Making big decisions requires longer-term planning. Car buyers should consider how well the car will run a decade from purchase, just like how workers should think about what distributed work provides and prevents over the longer term.
Loss of Networking
Let’s start with the negatives, all of which involve other people.
The typical remote worker meets less people over their years of working from home than they would in an office. If you work from home for ten years, you might be working with the same literal number of people but won’t meet as many in person and therefore might not consider them part of your professional network.
This is compounded by the tendency for remote workers to “cave” and stay at home in situations in which they used to go out frequently. Once you get used to not driving every day, a party that’s 40 minutes away suddenly feels like a waterless hike through Death Valley.
Both of these issues can be remedied by putting in the effort to network outside of work. Your coworkers might not become friends, but you can certainly attend user groups, go to more parties, and introduce yourself to everyone at the coffee shop.
Slower Rapport with Teammates
Related to the previous point, remote workers tend to have very different relationships with coworkers than those in a traditional office environment. Casual small-talk, exchanged smiles, high-fives, or other typical social graces simply don’t apply to coworkers that you only talk to over Internet chat or perhaps video.
In a typical in-person job you might feel as if coworkers are something above a loose acquaintance, but in a remote job they’re just helpers or obstacles. Unless you take the time to establish rapport, there isn’t anything to see.
But this isn’t to say that you can’t build relationships with your coworkers—you just have to do it differently. There’s no law saying that you can’t send an instant message to one of your coworkers on Monday asking them how their weekend went, or if they saw the game on Sunday, or any of the other safe small-talk mechanisms you would use in person.
Loss of Promotion Opportunities
One of the primary fears of someone starting a remote job is turning off the Interstate onto a nice quiet road, full of a few miles of pleasant views that eventually become dead-ends. Fear of missing out on a promotion because you’re “out of sight, out of mind” is a legitimate long-term concern. Much of the risk here has to do with local vs. global currency.
Local currency is how valuable you are to your current company, and global currency is how valuable you are in the market. Seeking promotions at a large company where most workers are in-person and you’re remote puts a focus on local currency, or how much value and visibility you have at one company.
If you’re early in your career and expect to shift jobs a few times, loss of promotion isn’t as much of a concern. It probably won’t bother you that remote-friendly companies have lots of competition for the same promotions.
In both cases, there are ways to over-communicate or let your work speak for itself. As with in-person work, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your reputation reflects your work. Remote work does not mean that you can’t establish the sort of close relationship with those above you in the management food chain, it simply means that you might have to work at it differently.
Take the extra hours remote work provides to build local and global currency. You used to spend almost an entire other weekday (30 minutes x 2 times a day x 5 days a week) in your car, so spend some of this time getting ahead or reflecting on what you can do better.
Perhaps this could be spent building more local value by preparing extra reports for your boss, or by providing visible global value by attending or presenting at a local technical conference.
Part of Your Community
Remote work isn’t all sunny skies, but it’s also an incredible opportunity. Having more time to spend in your community provides many benefits for your personal and professional lives.
Before I began my ten-year remote work career, I had a traditional office job in a suburb of Atlanta 45 minutes from my house. I spent about 10 hours a day in this other suburb between commuting, eating lunch, and staying late at work.
Over five years of working there, I gained a lot of knowledge into the best restaurants, the ideal spots to ride my bike, and who worked in my office building.
Despite my familiarity with the suburb I worked in, I didn’t know much about the one I lived in as I only spent Saturday and parts of Sunday exploring it. My evenings there were spent indoors recovering from a long commute.
But once I shifted to working from home I became part of the community in which I lived. The people who I met at coffee shops, the post office, bank, and car wash were my neighbors. People I ran into during the day were either retired, worked close by, or worked from home. I met more people and established relationships over time.
I didn’t know anyone at the local coffee shop when I started working from home, but now I can’t walk in without saying hello to a few people. I even find myself reading my local paper and caring more about local activities such as a new library, a new amphitheater, or a local brewery.
None of this would have been possible if I worked elsewhere for 10 hours a day.
Express Your Priorities Over Time
My priorities have shifted to caring for my local area, but they have shifted even more dramatically in my family life.
Being at home during the day means my kids see me more, a powerful benefit to remote work. Extra time to eat lunch with them and take them to school has brought us closer together. I know their schoolmates and can even call out neighborhood kids by name when they aren’t behaving.
It’s also meant me being more present in their school lives—I know their librarian, P.E. coach, and principal. I’m not sure if they know me as the father of the two sweetest girls in school or simply as the man who wears shorts every day. But in either case, I’m there.
Invest Your Extra Time
If you transition to working from home from a typical commute, you can gain almost an entire additional workday of free time. My 45-minute one-way commute added up to a lot more time and less need to visit dry cleaners or gas stations.
An entire additional day is an amazing thing — no modern diet, get rich quick, or productivity hack gives you more time like remote work can. This can be a massive gift if you choose to be productive with it.
I’ve used the extra time for obvious things like precious sleep, working more, keeping up to date with my industry, and enjoying downtime. But it’s also contributed to more subtle, powerful changes including:
More proactive forward-thinking work.
Starting a side career as a writer.
Learning about some things I’ve always wanted to try: drawing, making music, meditation, hiking.
Riding my bike, a form of exercise I never used to have time to do.
Spending more time with my wife and kids.
These regained hours can add up to something truly great and would never be possible with a traditional office job.
Remote Work Is a Give and Take
Remote work over the long term comes with opportunities and obstacles. Compared to in-person roles, remote workers must grapple with a loss of networking opportunities, slower building of relationships with teammates, and different positioning for promotions.
But in exchange, they’ll be able to become part of their home community, put certain priorities first, and get back hours in the day to recharge and improve.
As with anything in life, it’s up to you to determine if the perks outweigh the challenges for your goals.
If you’re ready for a new challenge, find your next job on AuthenticJobs.com!