How to Prevent the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Remote Worker

How to Prevent the Loneliness of the Long-Distance Remote Worker

By
Tim Barry

At the Dawn of the Fourth Industrial Age, where more companies are adopting new technology and ways of working, they are also able to give their employees the opportunity to work remotely.

Some of the benefits of remote working are that companies can reduce their overhead costs and carbon footprint, as well as helping them attract the millennials & even Gen Z’ers who are beginning to enter the workforce and prefer the flexibility of being able to choose whether they are office-based or work from home.

On the one hand, working remotely can improve employees’ productivity by preventing them from being distracted by colleagues, eliminating the time spent commuting, and it also enhances their work/life balance. However, on the other hand, it can lead to employees feeling cut off and isolated from their colleagues as well making it more difficult for them to collaborate on projects and seek assistance and reassurance from management.

Last year I was head-hunted by Thomas Schilling, a professional contact from the UK, to work for his HR Technology consultancy Tugela People, who are a Global Preferred Partner of Sage Business Cloud People. Initially, I was apprehensive as to how I would be equipped with the knowledge required to work on software implementation projects and remain engaged and feel supported by the company whilst I was more than 6,000 miles away. My fears were immediately allayed as, no sooner had I signed the contract, Thomas instigated the onboarding process — setting up my Office 365 account, scheduling product training to be conducted in the UK and giving me access to a trial account and training materials for the Sage Business Cloud People Human Capital Management system which I would be selling and implementing for clients as part of my role.

Prior to travelling to the UK for my training I was introduced to the collaboration and productivity tools used by Tugela People to enable consultants to communicate, receive ongoing support & training and track performance and progress on projects. As well as the standard Microsoft tools such as OneDrive, Outlook and Skype for Business, Tugela People make use of the following:

  • Box (https://www.box.com/) for sharing sensitive files;
  • Expensify (https://www.expensify.com/) for submitting expenses;
  • Kimble (https://www.kimbleapps.com/) for completing time sheets;
  • LastPass (http://lastpass.com) for storing passwords securely;
  • Teamwork (https://www.teamwork.com/) for project management; and
  • Zoho (https://www.zoho.com/) for tracking sales activities.

The purpose and use of all these tools was clearly explained by Thomas and he made sure that I was familiar with how I should employ them to work effectively on projects before I had even completed my training. He also scheduled weekly Skype calls to deal with any queries moving forward.

The fact that he was going the extra mile to make sure that I settled in to working with the company and was equipped with the tools to do the job effectively, motivated me to put extra effort into learning how to use and implement the software so that I would be successful in my new role.

On the morning of my first training session in the UK, I met with two of my new colleagues who were being onboarded at Tugela people at the same time, and Thomas travelled all the way down from Tugela’s offices to welcome us in person and take us out for dinner. At the end of our training, myself and the other new starters were officially announced as additions to the Tugela team on the company website and social media accounts with a photo taken at our last training session. Besides already feeling so much a part of the team, I was left in no doubt that if I had any concerns or needed help with any aspect of working with the company, I could get in touch with any of the senior staff who would answer my questions promptly. I was even added to the company WhatsApp group for quick and simple communication. I returned home to South Africa feeling fortunate to have joined a company who went to such lengths to ensure that I would be kept in the loop despite not physically being in their offices, and I was incredibly excited to begin my journey with them as an employee.

Before starting work on my first project I was assigned a ‘buddy’ who ensured that my product knowledge and familiarity with Tugela’s tools and working practices was up-to-speed and, although she was based in India, she was as approachable and contactable as a work buddy in the same office. Whilst working on the project, I was able to send her a quick instant message or jump on a Skype call if I had a question or needed help with a task, and if she was unavailable I could always contact Thomas or another member of the team in the UK for assistance.

The two concepts that characterise the productive company culture of Tugela are: being a “healthy” company, and “WOWing” their clients. A healthy company culture relates to team members working in harmony in the spirit of mutual recognition and respect, and the “WOW” slogan is derived from the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal after which the company was named (Thukela in isiZulu means “something that startles” or “wow’ in other words).

The fact that myself and the other members of the team were encouraged to recognise each other’s achievements and assistance, was both rewarding and satisfying and inspired us to put in the extra effort required to “WOW” our clients.

The key factor to ensure success when working as a remote worker is to communicate and collaborate with your colleagues in the same manner as if you were in the same location, by making use of the technology that leading companies have adopted. My experience of working with Tugela People demonstrated that working remotely — no matter whether it is at home in the same city where your company is based, or thousands of miles away in a different country — is not a barrier to feeling part of a team, being given ongoing support and training and working effectively with colleagues.