Remote Work, Part 2: Feeling “Real”

November 17, 2020

Something I have noticed as I continue to work remotely is how connected to my customers and coworkers I still feel, while some of them absolutely do not.

I grew up in the 90s. We were on Telnet in chat rooms. We learned early on how to communicate and build relationships both personal and professional through writing to each other online. Since then, video chat has become the norm. And with it, a whole new generation has grown up being able to see and hear the people that they meet online. They build the same types of relationships over long distances with upgraded technology. Remote work from home is a logical evolution of this technology, but it can be difficult to get used to if you didn’t grow up with it.

For me, online relationships are tangible, because they’ve been a  regular part of my professional and personal development. That being said, I understand why there is hesitation for some of our clients to work in a remote setting.  I try to make my own interactions with them as seamless as possible in order to keep their experience familiar. It’s difficult to perceive an image on a screen in the same way that we do a person in the room with us. So, there are some easy steps to help yourself and your clients feel more like you’re in the room together.

Eye contact is perhaps the most important thing. In person, it denotes respect, and will put people at ease.  A helpful way of thinking about lack of eye contact from a client is that they may simply feel uncomfortable in front of a camera. Everyone feels that way, just respect it and move on like they are sitting in the room with you. Another way to think about lack of eye contact on the screen is that the person on the other side may need to look at a screen or print out, or simply look away for a moment to think. This is no different from being in person. Don’t be discouraged by their lack of eye contact. Just be the person they can speak to as if you’re in the same room. Most of the time, they’ll catch up to your comfort level once you’ve established that you’ll be the same online as you are in person.

For me and my friends, we sit in voice-only chat channels during out leisure time, and will sit in comfortable silences for extended periods of time, as if we were actually in the same room, working on and doing our own things. Because, for us, that is as normal as it would be to be present in the same room.

If you Google it, you’ll find plenty of people writing remote work articles. However, the real problem is the feeling of disconnect that we have when we’re on a video call. If you find yourself missing the office environment there is a potential solution for that in the technology we use to work remotely. Maybe you miss the water cooler talk, or the occasional interruption of someone walking through your doorway with new information on a project. Instead of seeing video conferencing as solely a replacement for in person meetings you can try what I do. Leave a video call on with several people so that you can have those impromptu discussions. If someone starts talking and you aren’t part of the conversation you can mute the speakers until you want to come back. You can even leave a video call if you need to in this situation. You have the option to make your remote work feel like in-office work. You don’t have to feel so separated from your team. It’s a different experience, but not an opposite experience. That means that the mode of talking has gone from a physical room to a a virtual one, but the space for on the fly ideas and teamwork still exists for you.

Just be sure to leave the call when you have to take care of something around the house.

You don’t have to treat a video call as a space that always needs someone to speak. Sometimes, it’s nice to know that someone is there in real time even if they aren’t there in the physical space of your home.

It’s almost certain that the emotional resistance to moving away from in-office work is a result of the fear of being isolated. That’s completely understandable. As a systems admin, I work in a room by myself even in an office environment. I’ve been there emotionally. I’ve found that the great thing about technology is that it doesn’t have to make us feel separated from one another. Instead, it can bring us closer together in times of isolation. I know that  we need to feel like those  we  work  with are real, and tangible rather than just images on a screen. While video calls don’t solve every problem, we can learn to use them in ways that help mitigate feelings of isolation without losing the sense of a real person being on the other end of the camera. Talk to your co-workers about starting a video chat room. You may be surprised by the outcome. And as always, if you need help setting that up, Harmony can help.


AJ is a Systems Administrator and Web Developer. With a decade of experience in information security and technical support experience combined with four years of web development experience, AJ provides informed opinions on everyday technology challenges.
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