As a Virtual CISO, by the very nature of our role, we work remotely–typically, from the comfort of our home office. We enjoy the creature comforts of being able to roll out of bed, and walk unkempt down to the coffee pot. A bit of Twitter and LinkedIn connection (maybe a bit too much?) and we’re ready to work.
This is every worker’s dream, isn’t it? But there’s a darker underbelly to this mode of work. It turns out that the absence of the periodic watercooler office banter can have an adverse effect on our emotions and ability to connect. Screens are a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction with other people, and technological oversaturation negatively impacts our emotions. Human beings are meant to interact with others in person, and while technology has improved access to communication by creating another avenue for it, it has severely undermined its quality. We aren’t able to read social cues, facial expressions, and gestures when we’re connecting with others through screens alone. We make assumptions, project our own ideas about what other people are intending, become offended, and in turn feel more isolated. Or we become so absorbed by our screens that we neglect face-to-face interaction altogether. This can be especially true for those of us who work remotely and rely upon our devices to get work done.
The sense of disconnectedness builds slowly. You barely notice it, and you slip into more patterns of procrastination. Your mind wanders. You question your value to the job. You marvel at the number of new Twitter followers you’ve gained in the past week, but the disconnectedness turns into loneliness, which turns into depression. You don’t know what it is, but you just don’t feel like yourself. You stop reaching out to friends, you stay in more, you spiral.
It’s helpful to remember that you aren’t in this alone, and that your experience is a common one. Brené Brown is a researcher who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has some words of wisdom regarding loneliness and the shame it can lead to:
We feel shame around being lonely (as if feeling lonely means there’s something wrong with us), even when it’s caused by grief, loss, or heartbreak. This isn’t just sad–it’s actually dangerous. We’ve evolved to react to the feeling of being pushed to the social perimeter by going into self-preservation mode: when we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. That means less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing, and less sleeping. In this state, the brain ramps up the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening–narratives that often aren’t true and exaggerate our worst fears and insecurities.
Brené’s research indicates that both loneliness and shame are toxic, and can even be lethal. Loneliness exists as a cue in the same way that hunger or thirst does; it indicates that there is an imbalance that needs to be corrected. Rather than drowning in the feeling of loneliness and allowing yourself to feel shame over it, wouldn’t it be better to meet the basic need for connection that you’re being alerted to?
In an office scenario, we are constantly surrounded by other people, and loneliness isn’t much of an issue. Interaction is expected. Interruptions are the norm. You complain that it takes time to get back to what you were working on, but you enjoy the simple task of complaining… (Come on, admit it, you do enjoy it!)
When you work alone, from home, these things you take for granted are gone. Instead, you get solitude, peace, and uninterrupted quiet in which to work diligently. Uh huh… Right…
So, let’s take a look at some of the benefits that working in an office environment can bring, and how we can tackle loneliness by emulating these in our own remote environments:
Working in an office teaches you how to communicate with people who have different communication styles than your own. Workplace tension can be difficult to navigate, but it can also teach you how to be assertive about what you need, how to manage challenging conversations and personalities, and how to remain calm and professional in the midst of frustrating situations.
Being around a group of people naturally fosters self-awareness because you’re regularly receiving feedback in the form of face-to-face interactions. You may also be provided with direct feedback about how you come across to others (perhaps in the form of a review from a supervisor) that you hadn’t previously considered. If you’re constantly working alone, you aren’t regularly reflecting on interactions with others or on how you’re coming across. Learning how to communicate well with others is an ever-evolving skill, and you only get better at it by practicing it. This is a great reason to incorporate more face-to-face interactions in both your work and personal lives.
One of the most beneficial aspects of office work is that it teaches you proper time management. Offices usually have fixed hours, which means that you’re forced to be productive during specific times. Procrastination, while still possible, is more difficult to get away with in an office than if you’re working from home and setting your own working parameters. You’ll also be surrounded by people who are also working, so getting into work mode can be easier for some when working in a communal office space. Remaining productive while working remotely isn’t impossible, but it does require resolve and determination.
If you’re working in a shared space, you’ll be able to learn from colleagues and mentors more easily. This is not to say that remote work does not facilitate professional growth, because it certainly can, but being able to consult with colleagues in person makes the process easier.
Office work also helps you to expand your knowledge and broaden your horizons. When you’re surrounded by other people, you have access to new ideas and insights, as well as different approaches. This will help you to look at problems from a new, fresh perspective. If you’re working remotely, meeting with colleagues regularly can help facilitate this.
Working in an office naturally facilitates networking within your field, because you’re constantly coming into contact with people who are likeminded, who share similar goals, and whose experience you can learn from. These people might be existing colleagues who you’ll have the chance to get to know better, or new faces in the form of people who are entering your workspace for meetings and collaborative projects. Attending networking events and conferences is a great way to meet new people in your field while working remotely.
Ensuring that you’re connecting with other people who understand the work you’re doing will mitigate some of the loneliness you’re feeling. It’s also really helpful to have regular contact with like-minded people.
Most mid to large-sized cities have communal working spaces, which can be really helpful for networking purposes, because everyone else is there to work, too. If you’re just looking for background noise or a change of scenery, coffee shops or restaurants with Wi-Fi can also be helpful places to work. Being able to see other people around you being productive can inspire you to keep your own momentum going.
Seeing others reinforces that you aren’t alone, even though it can be easy to feel this way when you’re quite literally working alone. Anything to keep contact with the outside world is helpful!
Ask/answer questions. Keep dialogue running so that you feel a sense of connection and teamwork.
Taking breaks from your work (and better yet, breaks to connect with the people in your life in person or on a phone call, rather than through a screen) reminds you that there is life outside of whatever you’re focusing on. This will help combat some of the isolation and give you healthy perspective.
It’s easy to get so in the zone with your work that you neglect your health in small ways, and dehydration and hunger will make any difficulties you’re experiencing feel worse. Staying hydrated and eating when you’re hungry—rather than putting these things off because you’re feeling swamped with work— will stabilize your mood. The result will be that any challenges that pop up are more manageable, because you’ve met your basic needs and can perform at your best.
Again, this points back to the idea of networking with like-minded people, and reinforcing in-person contact. No amount of virtual contact can replace in-person contact.
Discuss it with someone close to you, because repressing how you’re feeling, while potentially making things easier in the moment, will worsen how you’re feeling over time. Repressed feelings can manifest in myriad ways, and it’s better to address an issue rather than allowing it to compound over time. Don’t forget that other people can offer invaluable perspectives that we aren’t seeing when we’re stuck in our own patterns.
Author: Alysha McLeod Technical Writer – TeamCISO