It’s funny when the first thing that you see when you Google remote is not some definition of an old man living in the middle of nowhere, on a craggy outcrop, but in fact, the many different shapes of a universal TV remote. Perhaps it’s even funnier that the second most common definition now seems to be you as the remote employee working outside the traditional office environment . So maybe we have all become the old man on the gnarly cliff in our own way as we push to not be normal, to work from our homes- which, by the way, used to be the safe space you went to to get away from work.
Are we getting a little bit lost in what we’re trying to achieve? Or do our goals just overlap so much that the word remote is not a bad or good thing anymore… it’s just a thing.
Let’s go back to the original definition of remote, and this one brings up some things that are really quite interesting.
So in dictionary.com
remote/ (rɪˈməʊt) / adjective. located far away; distant. far from any centre of population, society, or civilization; out-of-the-way.
Why it’s really interesting is because it doesn’t just reference a distance. It references being distant (a human trait that makes many of us uncomfortable) and it doesn’t just reference being on your own, it takes you away from culture, community and humanity . When you think of it that way, we’re kind of all increasingly remote nowadays;
The comments and fears around our use of social media which has made us friends with a text message or a thumbs up
How international travel has left many people socially isolated with families far and wide, so that we find that those closest to us are not the people we can rely on, that we would call our community.
It’s almost as if the accessible world that we now live in, that has given us less places that are so distant they are actually remote, has also created more opportunities to remove ourselves from the populations and societies and civilizations where we would identify that we belong.
It’s hilarious then to see this play out in the workplace. HR teams have been trying to attach this definition of Remote to the remote working context. There’s been a real push to say that everyone NEEDS to come back to work post Covid because everybody is socially isolated, and their mental health is deteriorating, and that the underpinnings of relationships that occur in the workplace and the importance of those relationships and your sense of identity that is created by being in those workplaces is being destroyed by this remote workplace lifestyle. That everyone is slowly withering away to a shadow self. Don't’ get me wrong, the value of workplace interactions is proven and significant, especially as we spend a third (or more) of our life working, and we rely on our work for many elements of fulfilment and achievement. But funnily enough there are studies that are now showing that, in fact, forcing people back into the workplace i.e. not because they want to because they miss people and value group dynamics to get work done, but just because they’ve been told to, is actually making the workplace less social, and less enjoyable, and less meaningful. Maybe it’s less about being in the office, and more about getting value from connections (which very few of us really want ALL the time).
It makes me wonder if the old man on the craggy outcrop who does go into the local town to get his shopping (Coles delivery is definitely not his thing) might actually just be on the other end of the spectrum of all of us who are remote working at one end. He’s worked out that he only needs to come into civilization and get his fix of social engagement once a month, the rest of the time, he enjoys his solitude.
Being remote has always had a bit of a negative connotation, the assumption being that being less accessible, less in connection is either a failure on your part, or decreases the opportunities that someone has. There are many concrete and real life examples of this in modern societies - health care, education, jobs and entertainment are not available to the same degree in places with less people, and this is, sadly, often a primarily commercial problem - the cost outweighing the return, services in these areas relying on governments and philanthropy, and the wealth and health divide expanding between city and regional/rural locations. Physical distance limits opportunities to use resources that need to “be there”. No one can deny that.
But if we focus on our personal well being needs (income and medical care aside), a negative response to being Remote does assume that our joy is created by other people- by going to shows and art galleries, being surrounded by humans, whether they be the worker ants walking in lines on busy city streets, the chatter of voices in the workplace or the entertaining (or otherwise) interactions at a weekend party.
And yet the science tells us that not only do many humans not benefit from this endless stimulus, whether they realise it or not, but that some people benefit extremely from the space to be on their own. They don’t feel “remote” in that definitional sense- they don’t feel removed from civilization and society. I wonder if they’re just creating the right space to be able to engage with society and civilization in a healthy way for them.
And maybe that’s what we all are trying to do when we use social media, or we work from home. It’s like a modern day easy excuse to not have to confront the human needs and responses that come with directly interacting with others. While the introverted eccentric is becoming more popular in modern society, there is still that image of the extroverted, popular attractive person that hangs over all of us as we grow up and develop, that tells us that it is this person, the one that is the centre of attention at the party, that is the person we should all be aspiring to. But that’s often hard work (hello social lubricants like alcohol, drugs and karaoke) … In fact, maybe that’s why so many of us have jumped on the social media bandwagon? Giving ourselves the space and capacity to be remote without ever having to admit it.
Could we think about all of this in the same way that we consider the one remote that we kind of all know – that long rectangular device that allows us to sit 3 to 6 metres away from our television and still turn it on? (Distance dependent on the dimensions of your television and whether you’re in a one bedroom city apartment or a suburban home). This kind of remote has been created to allow us to justifiably stay away from something because we think there’s a value (saving ourselves from walking three steps and upsetting the lounging and snack balancing status quo) But we are still in contact with the thing that we are interacting with “remotely”. Maybe this is the thing that people push up against when they react to being remote – that whether it be social media posting, sending emails from your living room, or living in a log cabin 1000 miles away from your nearest neighbour, the main concern is that the things we do and the impact we have is something we cannot perceive with our own senses? That the physical sensorial non verbal feedback perceiving how people/ societies/ civilizations/ populations are responding to us does not occur when we are remote.
Many concepts that are important in society today combine the power of our bodies and our minds. The concepts around Neurocognition, psychosomatic interactions and EQ acknowledge the impact of our bodily experiences on how we interpret and understand ourselves and the world around us. So the loss of some of this feedback when we are too distant from others may explain why being remote all the time actually can cause us to lose sight, not just of others, but of ourselves.
Maybe being remote is not the problem. Let’s acknowledge that depending on individual needs and priorities, it can make life easier, and can create the space that keeps us mentally well enough to engage with others when we choose to. Perhaps all we need is to ensure that we continue to receive the feedback to our senses of how we affect others to ensure that we have an integrated understanding of ourselves.