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Remote working - How to stay sane

Up until the start of this year I'd been working 100% from home for over a decade as a remote software developer. The key to staying sane whilst never leaving your home? Not feeling isolated.

It's great at first, longer in bed as you've no commute, you get to wear what you like, start preparing your evening meal at lunchtime, get some washing on, all of this whilst doing way more than you'd normally get done in a busy office.

However all these 'great things' don't make up for the isolation. You send emails and IMs but don't feel connected. You wait for the phone to ring but it doesn't as you've no meetings that day. You wonder what your co-workers are up to but for some reason you struggle to pick up the phone. 

Isolation (or 'cabin fever') hits ALL remote workers when they transition from an office-based job to 100% at home. Working at home one day a week is not 'working remotely'. Visiting the office three times a year is.

So how do you get over this? You need IM/Skype/Slack/Microsoft Teams/etc. You need to be able to see your co-workers as little green dots of community! You now can 'see' who is in the office (green). Who is getting a brew (yellow). Who is off sick today (grey). You can even see when meetings are happening (red). The worst thing in the world is having the phone number of all of your colleagues but not knowing if calling them now will result in them answering. Just seeing those greens dots means that you know there are other people out there just like you.

When the skype connection broke I felt completely cut off. I knew inside that I could just start calling people but without those little green dots I felt completely alone. Isolated. Cut off from the outside world. All alone.

If you are thinking of asking your workforce to 'go remote', make sure you have a messaging system in place so that people can see the 'little green dots'. Slack is awesome, I prefer it over all of the others, but as long as it's got 'little green dots' you are good. Also, remember the green dots mean that you know you have co-workers out there. Make sure you actually talk to them! Email or IM conversations do not count as talking, you need to pick up the phone/headset/etc. and actually verbally talk to someone each day. And not just about work. Ask them how they are? Are they OK? Everything going well? Can I help with anything?

I realised that as a remote worker you don't get the coffee break chat, the water-cooler talk, the casual interactions that office workers take for granted, you as a remotee need to MAKE THESE HAPPEN. Call someone else up and chat to them about general stuff for five to ten minutes, you will feel better, and they will feel better – guaranteed. With fast internet, laptops, VPNs and cloud computing, going 100% remote is easier than ever but that doesn't mean it's easy.

The key to successfully being a remotee is communication. You MUST over-communicate and you MUST reach out to your other remotees. So, get a good messaging system in place so people can see the 'little green dots', and ensure that everyone has the ability to easily talk to each other and that verbal communication is encouraged. It's the only way that you will be successful with remote working and that you and your co-workers will not become isolated.

That is the key to staying sane remote working.