The loneliness of the long-distance worker

By Andy | 10 June 2016 Blog home

“Remote” doesn’t have to be “home”

We live and work in the second digital age, where the consumption of digital services from any provider on any platform and on any device at any time is “the new normal”. How ironic, then, that all this connectivity – what’s made it possible to work remotely in the first place – can’t fix the sense of alienation that comes with working alone.

“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” is a short story by Alan Sillitoe, published in 1959, about a working-class teenager who turns to long-distance running to escape – physically and emotionally – his bleak situation.

The same could be said for many people who telecommute (work away from a central office, using the internet, email and phone). The idea presents itself as a form of escape (which it is – from noise, distraction, company culture, and so on), but it also comes with its own confinements, perhaps principal among them loneliness.

Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway, writing in 2015, argues that without a real sense of shared enterprise, it’s hard to convince yourself that what you do matters, and it’s also difficult to learn from others. “Teleworking is fine for some of the people some of the time. But for most of the people most of the time, it is the most backward progressive policy that has ever been invented,” she says.

Similarly, Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer made headlines in February 2013 when she canned the company’s popular work-from-home policy on the grounds that “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”

With 9-to-5 office work at a central location on the one extreme, and working from home on the other, the advent and increasing popularity of co-working spaces that cater to the needs of digital nomads – people who don’t need a fixed or dedicated office but are tired of working from home – is hardly surprising.

These spaces offer a sense of community and inspiration in energised environments where individuals who prefer an independent, flexible lifestyle can plug in, concentrate and connect. They’re also attractive to small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to save on start-up costs without compromising their professional image.

They come at a price more costly than a home office space (Bloomberg went so far as to headline a February 2015 news article: “Co-working spaces – an expensive cure for loneliness”) but perhaps it’s worth it, as the best of both worlds… For now, anyway.

Do you have employees who work remotely?
What are you doing to keep them feeling connected in ways that count?

Blue Moon has first-hand experience in this not-so-obvious but rather important space.
We’d love to share our insights and recommendations with you (and your telecommuting employees)!