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It is no secret that the world of work is changing; I’ve read a couple of things recently that have reminded me of the shifts in the way we’re working and add fuel to the fire that many of our educational systems just aren’t keeping up with these shifts. The evidence is already mounting…

  • There are far fewer jobs for life – no more starting a job at 18 or 21 and retiring from the same company (or even industry) at 60 or 65.
  • Contract work is on the rise – even in formerly ‘stable’ careers and industries – with permanent positions fewer and farther between.
  • AI and technology have the potential to replace hundreds of job types in the very near future.

It means that we and the generations after us are going to have to…

  • Be far more adept at managing our own career paths, actively seeking out new opportunities rather than working our way steadily along and up already well-carved paths.
  • Understand that making career moves will likely involve going upwards and sideways in order to sustain career longevity and keep our skills and experience relevant.
  • Cultivate and improve skills such as brand building (of our own personal brands), networking (but possibly of a very different kind than many are used to), and marketing (of ourselves and our achievements/projects/businesses) that we’ve never really had to think about much before.

But it is not all bad. Alongside the seemingly dwindling opportunities, there are also greater opportunities we have access to that we’ve never had before, thanks largely to the rise in remote work and the increasing number of companies pursuing this route, because it’s not only possible but now also necessary.

While on the surface remote work might seem like the ideal answer, for many it comes with its challenges too. As someone who has essentially worked from home for the past 10+ years I agree that…

  • Working in one’s tracksuit trousers day in and day out is awesome.
  • Not having to sit in commuter traffic improves my emotional and physical health.
  • Not having to deal with office colleagues I don’t connect well with hugely improves my mental health.
  • Having the flexibility to do household chores in between periods of work is a plus.

But, there are downsides too and challenges that I believe will need to be acknowledged, addressed and ideally overcome if this is going to be an increasingly common working option for more of us…

What about the extroverts?

As an introvert, I can think of nothing worse than having to traipse into an office every day, surrounded by people! But extroverts – those who find being around others energising and not draining – come alive when (physically) around other people.

Sitting at home, alone, does not cut it for those who need social interaction to thrive – professionally and personally. Sitting on Zoom or Slack can meet some of that need, but once you switch the laptop off you’re still usually home alone with no-one for company, not even a water cooler to go hang out around. Co-working spaces are a great antidote to this and yet there’s still an element of alone-ness. How do we overcome this for those who feed from the energy of being around others?

What about the creative sparks?

There’s nothing like physically sitting around a table while shuffling things around on the table in front of you to generate creative sparks that seem to come from nowhere. Digital tools don’t invoke quite the same response that the physicality of touching paper, books, etc. does – it’s like not being able to replicate the physical sensation – of touch, smell etc. – you get from reading an actual book versus reading on a Kindle.

It’s usually much harder to create in a vacuum and while remote team meetings/brainstorming, co-working spaces and the like have their place, how are we going to replicate those moments of creative sparks that come from connecting physically with people, with places and with things?

What about human touch?

You can’t physically reach through your screen to give someone a comforting touch on the arm or put an arm around their shoulder if they need it. Sometimes a human touch is all that’s needed, when words just don’t cut it.

What about constraints and boundaries?

While the freedom that working from home provides is alluring, it also requires discipline and focus. The separation of leaving one’s house and going to work provides natural boundaries and structure for those who struggle with self motivation.

When you work remotely – especially if your hours are flexible or you work for yourself – it can be helpful and necessary to put some artificial constraints in place to re-create those boundaries and give your time some kind of structure and form.

What about the spontaneous, impromptu moments of connection?

Let’s imagine you head off for a toilet break and find Sarah from another project having a cry in the toilets, when you walk in. That’s a spontaneous, impromptu opportunity to connect with someone more deeply, on a human level that just isn’t replicable when you work remotely. This possibility for an unexpected, impromptu, spontaneous moment of connection just can’t be replicated on Slack or Zoom, or can it?

What about intuition and body language?

For those of us who rely heavily on intuition, ‘sense’ and reading peoples’ body language as important prompts and pointers in our interactions with others, working remotely can be extra challenging.

While I do most of my coaching online, I find my sessions much easier to lead when I’m in person. I can read and respond to a person’s body language far more accurately when they’re sitting in front of me, and it’s far harder for them to hide what’s really going on for them from me when they’re not behind a screen!

You can’t always see the slumped shoulders of a colleague who’s having a bad day nor the uncomfortable fidgeting of someone who’s struggling to focus that day. It’s harder to sense the mood and the energy of a person when you’re both behind your respective screens. How can we better read people when we’re so physically remote?

What about being fully and properly seen?

When you work remotely it is much easier to hide – both yourself and the parts of you you don’t want to be seen – behind your screen. It can be easier to hide the bad days, the struggles, the depressive states and all the ‘flaws’ you don’t like about yourself.

And yet, in our quest for greater and deeper connection it’s these ‘flaws’, this shadow side of ourselves, which reveal the most and around which we can often find the deepest points of connection. Hiding behind our screens, showing only the instagram-worthy aspects of our life is doing us all a disservice.

How do we make sure we’re fully and wholly seen, when we’re connecting primarily from behind our screens, day in day out?

The world of work is changing fast – remote work is, I believe, only going to increase. I am a HUGE fan of remote work. I am also a huge fan of what makes us human – no matter how painful this can sometimes be to acknowledge and face, personally.

I think we have some fantastic opportunities opening up because of the changes we face but we also have some challenges to be mindful of which threaten our already fractured, disconnected society.

How are we going to overcome these challenges to connect more deeply, show up fully and be seen, when we’re likely to be working behind our computer screens, all day every day with fewer and fewer opportunities to physically connect? (Answers on a postcard from somewhere suitably…remote!).