The 2 Types of Remote Work Environment

We’ve all seen a lot of articles in the last few years about the pros and cons of the remote work environment. Regardless of whether they’re written by someone who is happier and more productive working from home, or by someone who insists everyone simply must be forced back into the office, I have noticed an interesting common factor in these articles: they often start with an assumption of what the remote work environment looks like … for everyone. The benefits or challenges of that specific environment are then laid out and the writer draws the appropriate conclusion.

But, of course, the remote work environment is not the same for everyone. A serious challenge for one remote worker may be a major benefit for a different person. I’m certain that most of us have read articles on remote work and said, “Are they crazy? That’s the opposite of how it is for me!”

I think a lot of this comes about because there are two broad types of remote work environment, and the key to being a successful, happy remote worker in either type is pretty much the opposite of what’s needed for the other type. Before you even consider personality differences or other factors, consider this: a remote worker either lives alone, or they don’t. 

The remote work environment when living alone

The solo remote worker gains many benefits that are a direct result of living alone. Their work environment is typically going to be much quieter than working in an office. There are few or no interruptions. Privacy or information security requirements are relatively easy to manage, and they have total control of their physical work environment (temperature, visual and other sensory distractions, furniture, workspace arrangement).

The big challenge for this worker is that if they don’t actively pursue social interactions in their spare time, they may find themselves becoming lonely and isolated without the involuntary daily interactions of an office. Another challenge is that if they’re the sort of person who gets extremely caught up in their work, they may end up working too much and losing sight of any work-life balance. There aren’t any external calls on their attention reminding them it’s time to do something else.

The remote work environment when living with others

The remote-working parent, or anyone with housemates who are also home during work hours, has the opposite experience. On the positive side, more opportunities for family life during the day brings less isolation from one’s most valued people. Being there for your family is the greatest benefit for many, perhaps with the bonus of saving a huge amount on childcare expenses if the children are young. But this also brings its own challenges. Parents, especially mothers, may struggle with the expectation (either self-imposed or from family/society) that they should be able to simultaneously handle full-time childcare and all domestic labor while still doing a full-time job. “Why can’t you do it? You’re just at home all day anyway.” This attitude devalues both the burden of domestic labor and the person’s professional contributions.

This remote work environment is likely to be louder than working in an office. It contains far more interruptions. Privacy or information security requirements are harder to manage, especially if there is no separate lockable room that can be used as a dedicated office. This worker also has less control of their physical work environment in a shared space, simply because these factors also need to be agreeable for their housemates. 

Different experiences, shared value

Those who enjoy remote work, whether solo or with a family, know the real value it brings to their lives. But it’s important for individuals and companies (especially when making policy) to remember that not all remote workers have the same needs or have the same experience. Understanding this can only help you be a better employee, manager, and team member.