Working remotely rocks. But can I do it better?

Much of the time these days, I work remotely. I’m able to do this because I have an amazing supervisor, who appreciates that in order to keep passionate about work, we need to love the reasons we do it – whether this be family or nature – and somehow maintain a semblance of work-life balance. But I often ask – how effective is tele-commuting, and how can I still maintain those relationships with the people back at the office?

Let’s start with why I love it.

This is just a small portion of the view out my ‘office’ window:

Fall 3 sisters

Here, I feel connected to nature. I don’t spend hours commuting in traffic, getting angry and frustrated. Instead, I go on trail runs or go biking at lunchtime. On sweet singletrack trails, through forests, up and down mountains. I’m happier and healthier as a result, and have more energy and passion to do my work.

I also feel connected to my community, and my community is a diverse microcosm of the trade-offs I work on – my community has a traditional extractive industry base (coal), there’s a bit of agriculture, forestry, and a lot of nature tourism, with it’s complement of good (forest conservation, environmental education and awareness) and bad (trail damage, expansion of development into sensitive areas) aspects. It’s also key section of a large landscape conservation pathway.

Everyday I get to see, and hear, these battles between environment and development, between ecology and industry, between recreation and conservation. This makes it personal – I really do want to find ways of making conservation more accepted, and more acceptable. I want the coal industry to take environmental responsibility, and local government to think critically about conservation and sustainable development in an era of climate change.

A quick search of the blogosphere suggests teleworking is on the rise. Modern communications and tools mean we’re never out of the loop – we can even keep working while on the road. People are more empowered, healthier, and less stressed. And we cost less – both for employers and the environment. But digging further suggests it might not be for everyone, and for every type of work.

Working remotely does mean that I am disjunct from the vibrant research community that is our lab and research network. So I though it might be time to research: How can I work better remotely? How do I maintain those connections? A quick search of the literature (ok, you got me, actually just the blogosphere) suggests I’m not doing too badly:

  1. I check in by email every day, and meet weekly via skype with my supervisor. For these meetings, I try and be prepared – with agenda notes, so nothing gets missed. This way, I can show (both my supervisor and myself) that I am working, and achieving things. And by being always up to date with my work, my supervisor can give me better guidance. Our regular contact also means we chat a lot more – about non work things – so we have more trust, more empathy. We know better what to expect from one another.
  2. I make an effort to work with people in the lab. I invite new collaborators on every project. If I have questions, I ask. If someone asks a question, I’ll answer promptly. I try to make sure I’m as active in the lab as I can be.
  3. I make an effort to meet with people personally when I visit the lab, and maintain online friendships. Maybe the next ‘online’ generation is different, but I find there is no substitute to meeting someone in person. But because I’m rarely at the lab, this can be difficult. So when I’m there, I try and make the most of it. And then, I’ll try and maintain friendship (i.e. discussion of non-work related topics) online.
  4. I allocate time for the learning opportunities I miss. I read the work of my colleagues, to see what they’re up to. I do online training courses, or watch lectures/seminars on YouTube. I browse blogs of other researchers, and other research communities.
  5. I started with a solid base, and have a lot of help. This is probably the main reason working remotely works well for me. I’ve worked in the lab now for almost 6 years, most of them physically at the lab. I’ve started with a solid foundation of trust and friendship with my colleagues. Also, our lab is really a network of researchers, many of whom are not physically present at any one place. So we’re set up, with email lists, with newsletters, with communications teams, with all the tools that allow people to maintain connectivity, without actually having to be there.

Some of these I can probably do better at. Maybe this blog will help!


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