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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

Join Pilar Orti, guests & co-hosts as they shine the spotlight on the most relevant themes and news relevant to the modern knowledge worker.

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Jan 31, 2019

WLP189 Loneliness and the Remote Worker and Cultural Homelessness

Remote work can potentially be lonely - but we have lots of voices on the podcast today for you to enjoy, as we explore this multifaceted topic. Let us know what you think, over at or tweet @Virtualteamw0rk.

And wherever you work, Twitter is always there for company – a great community of flexible and remote workers, including Jack Nilles @JackNilles1 author of Managing Telework, with whom we discussed the discipline you sometimes need to stop as well as to start your work.  And Teresa @Teresamdouglas, thanks for the shout out in your article “Join the remote work conversation - you don’t have to go it alone””, which connects beautifully with today’s theme.


Loneliness and the Remote Worker

The transition to working from home can have a significant effect on feelings of loneliness, especially if it’s not directly from choice (such as a shift in an organisational policy).  And when we talk all the time about how wonderful it is to work remotely, and there’s a danger that we become afraid of talking about struggling with any aspects of it. This might apply particularly if we have exercised our rights to request more flexible working.

A lot depends on what your neighbourhood and environment is like of course, and who you live with – all of this impacts on the extent to which you expect work to fulfill your social needs.

Loneliness is becoming recognised as a significant mental health challenge, sometimes described as an epidemic – but it can affect people in any life-stage or work setting. Whether you’re surrounded by people or not, how connected you feel can vary, which can also be impacted by the work itself. Even being in the office can feel lonely (particularly if others start to work more flexibly).

For leaders of remote teams, it’s important to be aware of these issues, and whether or not people are talking about their emotional wellbeing generally, especially when we can’t “see” their broader context.

Furthermore, we know that remote workers can end up putting in longer hours, blurring the work-life boundaries, and potentially having less time for socialising anyway.

A lot of traditional advice about overcoming loneliness can be unhelpful in the flexible work setting, and whilst there is clearly a qualitative difference between online and face to face interactions, there is always the potential for blending and interconnection – and surely in the 21st century, most of us move fluidly between the online and offline space, in our relationships both personal and professional.

You can connect around communities of interest, like – but for some people who are having a very focussed, ‘in your own head’ day, this might even be too much! But, this just reminds us that one person’s isolation is another’s peace and quiet and that our own moods and mindsets vary over time.  So the kind of network or support needs to prevent loneliness, that’s going to vary a lot too.

This is a complex and extensive area, and it’s one we’re looking forward to discussing further. What do you think? We would love to hear from you –

  • Do you ever feel lonely or isolated as a remote worker?
  • Is this something you have discussed or tackled within your organisation?
  • Do you agree or disagree with any of the things we’ve been discussing?

 Reach out and connect! We’re @Virtualteamw0rk on twitter, or use our contact form


As Pilar and Maya both live in fairly busy urban areas, we wanted to understand what ‘remote remote’ work was like – so we talked to Laurel Farrer middle of the woods in rural Connecticut, who shared her perspectives of home working when you cannot even see the nearest neighbouring home, and the idea of informational isolation – how you can get cut off from conversation and opportunity and connection, which costs you personally and professionally.

You have to work harder to really connect online, make it human, when that’s your entire network – and she found she could real relationships and social capital through her online network, by going out of her way to have meaningful conversations.

Thank you for this invaluable perspective and insight  Laurel Farrer, Virtual Operations Consultant and Remote Work Advocate and Strategist - if you want to find out more about everything Laurel does, head over to her website, or connect with her on Twitter @laurel_farrer


52.35 What do you mean by Cultural Homelessness?  Katerina Bohlec Carbonell

 Katerina is half German and half Spanish, and has lived in various countries throughout her life. Her article on Cultural Homelessness really intrigued us (not least as Maya and Pilar are both living long term in countries other than those of their birth), as did this paper from Science Direct

When your values and behaviour are drawn from different cultures, as a result of a nomadic international lifestyle, you can find it harder to pin down this sense of identity.  And whole families get caught up in this, perhaps being raised as ‘third culture kids’, with very different influences at home and with their peers – particularly if their families are military, expatriate or otherwise move around a lot.

But the important thing is that this isn’t necessarily a negative – if you are culturally homeless, it can be liberating, you get to choose what stereotypes to manifest and which behaviours to adopt. It’s very different from physical homelessness, when you embrace the fluidity of migration and create your own culture.  Frequently if there is a problem, it’s in the mind of other people – who cannot quickly put you in a category they can easily understand. And this can apply especially if your professional identity is multifaceted too – and lead to some fascinating conversations.

Katerina has been working with teams and studying how people interact to exchange information for over a decade, and researching professional development with digital nomadic groups – she’s always interested in hearing from any interested parties on through her website, or on


01:10:39 Recommended tool: A secret function on so many tools!

 The little mic icon to the left of the space bar, in nearly every smartphone application, means you can dictate – from notes to thoughts to social media. Usually about 30 second bursts, which is great for capturing ideas and passing connections, without tapping on the tiny keyboard.

Of course you have to check and edit for accuracy where it matters, especially if you’re sending a reply to someone else. But the standard of voice recognition technology has increased incredibly in recent years, and it’s now appearing everywhere. Even the native voice recognition on the mac (function key twice), or pc ( - a bit more complicated but just as powerful