A virtual reality: Remote workers reflect on life after the office
There are definite benefits and challenges to working from home
As technology improves, more employers are saving money on overhead costs by forgoing an office and giving employees the opportunity to work from home.
This not only lowers the cost of running a business, but allows companies to pick the best workers available with no concern for where they live.
One task can easily grow into multiple tasks and before I realize it I've lost control and I'm working longer than I anticipated.- Leigh Sheppard
Different industries are taking advantage of the chance, as is exemplified by the three Islanders that spoke about challenges and benefits of working from home.
Joshua Biggley is an engineer based in Charlottetown, Leigh Sheppard works in technical support for an accounting firm and Angela Douglas works for multiple environmental groups.
Finding a balance
Achieving a good work-life balance is a challenge for many people whether they work in a workplace or from home, but it seems to be an especially difficult aspect of working from home.
"When you're at home I think it's really easy to kind of slip back into work mode when, maybe you should be you know being a dad or being husband," said Sheppard.
"Because my office is just down the stairs and I know certain things will only take a moment, I tend to kind of escape and start working on those things."
"One task can easily grow into multiple tasks and before I realize it I've lost control and I'm working longer than I anticipated."
Douglas said that she deals with the same problem with her work.
"I don't leave the office at five and forget about work until the next morning," she said.
"I'm usually answering emails and working on project proposals at all hours."
Out of sight
Biggley said that making sure he isn't letting work bleed into his personal life is difficult, not because he is working from home, but because he isn't in the workplace.
"Unfortunately you almost have to overachieve compared to your in-office counterparts because they are seen, and the only thing that you are is you're heard and the results from your work are there, so that's a challenge," he said.
"Those who tend to work remote, we tend to be overachievers, we tend to push very hard and so the danger of us working an excessive number of hours is a very real challenge for us, it's a very real risk."
Battling perceptions of what a remote worker is also contribute to Biggley's determination to be productive.
I almost feel like I'm the family pet that they need to take me out and exercise me just a little.- Joshua Biggley
"Remote workers have the challenge of working too much, than the rumoured, 'Hey you know I'm at home watching CNN or ESPN with my feet up, eating chocolate cake and not wearing pants,' or something."
Sheppard said that being out of the office is also tough because you don't interact with colleagues.
"You can feel isolated, and I think that's another thing you struggle with at the beginning," he said.
Douglas said that aspect of remote work is particularly tough for her.
"A lack of co-workers is a challenge for me as I'm a very social person," she said.
"My hamster doesn't laugh at my puns."
Sheppard said that the company he works for has been trying to alleviate some of this with online meetings that are not focused on work.
Biggley said that he works hard to stay connected with communities online through various social media platforms.
He also makes a concerted effort to bring his personal life into work whenever he can.
"I will always try to share some personal tidbit about myself," he said.
"Those are things that people look for when you're in the office, and as a remote worker you have to make sure you share those things with people understanding that they're not going to ask you because you're not sitting next to them."
Biggley said that another challenge is making sure to get out of the house so his wife will often ask him to run errands with her.
"I almost feel like I'm the family pet that they need to take me out and exercise me just a little," he said.
You know I can close the door, I can put my headphones in and no one's going to come knocking at my door … stick their head over my cubicle wall and want to interrupt me to talk about the latest episode of whatever show was on TV last night.- Joshua Biggley
Sheppard said that getting out of the house is even more difficult during the winter months, when going outside is less appealing.
"You can get a little stir-crazy," he said.
On the plus-side
Among the benefits of working from home are the lack of commute, and the flexibility of schedule.
Douglas said that even though she has to stay connected she can run out and get groceries, or work on dinner while at work.
Sheppard agreed, and said he had just returned from a working vacation in Halifax where he was visiting family.
Biggley thought that being out of the office was beneficial to his productivity because colleagues can slow down the pace of work sometimes.
"For those who enjoy putting their head down and getting some serious technical work done there's a great advantage to that," he said.
"You know I can close the door, I can put my headphones in and no one's going to come knocking at my door … stick their head over my cubicle wall and want to interrupt me to talk about the latest episode of whatever show was on TV last night."
Never going back
Douglas said that because she works for NGO's, she doesn't think she would be returning to an office anytime soon because of the cost to her employers.
For Sheppard, who is nearing the two-year mark of working remotely, going back to the office is not something he sees happening.
"Not purposefully, no I don't think so," he said.
Biggley is a little more open to going back to working in an office, but thinks that remote workers will become more popular among companies.
"There may be an opportunity that will arise in the future that will demand that I go into the office," he said.
"But I think that employers of the future will learn how to measure their employees and trust them in such a way that we don't have to go into the office everyday of the week."
"If people embraced that type of culture … I think a lot of people would be a lot happier and probably a lot more productive as well," added Sheppard.
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