3 Tools for Feeling Less Lonely when You’re Working Remotely [Guest Post]

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[Guest post by Walter Chen] – In response to our post on depression and developers.

Developer depression is one of the most important issues that our community needs to address that no one is talking about.

The problem is often made even worse by the prevalence of remote work in companies that don’t recognize the risk of loneliness. Developers working virtually with their teams experience social isolation resulting from the diminished professional and personal interaction with your colleagues that you get from going into the office. And that literally can kill you.

A review of research published in 1988 found that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death” . . .

Even without indulging in unwholesome behaviors, . . . loneliness can impair health by raising levels of stress hormones and increasing inflammation. The damage can be widespread, affecting every bodily system and brain function.

Via the New York Times, Shaking Off Loneliness

Fortunately, even as technology, in enabling virtual work, facilitates an accompanying loneliness, it can just as well help us be less lonely as we work remotely. Here are 3 tools that make remote work less lonely and lead us toward making remote work what it should be: awesome.

  1. iDoneThis

Chris Savage, CEO of Wistia, told me that iDoneThis helps his company of 20 feel like it did when it was just 4 people sitting around a table.

That tight feeling of camaraderie comes from a shared knowledge on the team of what everyone is working on, feeding the sense that the team is rowing together in the same direction. And this is essential for distributed teams.

iDoneThis makes syncing up very simple and lightweight. iDoneThis emails everyone on your team every day to ask, “What’d you get done today?” Just reply. The next day, everyone gets an email digest showing the team’s accomplishments from yesterday — which gets everyone on the same page, aligned, and ready to go.

It takes the pain out of a daily standup for remote teams, which is a common source of friction. When people have to wake up at weird times and when Skype drops the call over and over, people get frustrated. iDoneThis provides a remedy because it works asynchronously over email.

For entrepreneurs, like Laura Roeder, who’ve built million-dollar businesses with happy and healthy remote teams, iDoneThis is an essential tool “to create a cohesive team where work is recognized and valued,” which is vital to combating the sense of isolation and being out of the loop that so often accompanies remote work.

  1. Sqwiggle

There’s no substitute for face-to-face conversation when it comes to fighting loneliness. In fact, psychologist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann defines loneliness as “the want of intimacy,” and talking with another person in real-time and seeing their face conveys a far greater sense of intimacy than text on a screen.

Sqwiggle is a video chat app that gives you the immediacy of being in the same office and the intimacy of face-to-face conversation while you’re working remotely. This is a browser-based video chat app that you leave on while you work. Unlike Skype and Google Hangout, you don’t have to initiate a call to talk, and unlike text-based chat, you can actually see the faces of your teammates.

Everyone on your team keeps Sqwiggle running in the background all day while you’re working. To speak with someone, all you have to do is click on their face in the browser. Instant connection with no dialing or inviting, and you can simply start talking.

You can use chat room services like Campfire or Hipchat with your team to maintain some degree of social sanity — but for actually, you know, seeing your team, and looking at their lovely faces, and talking like humans should, nothing really fits the bill.

Via TechCrunch, Sqwiggle Makes Working Remotely Less Lonely, More Awesome

  1. Turntable.fm

Turntable isn’t a productivity tool at all. It’s actually liable to make your team less productive in the short term — but over time, I’ve seen firsthand how it helps people working remotely feel connected through music, which is a boost for long-term productivity.

On Turntable, each person gets their own cartoon avatar. When you join the same room, which is like a virtual nightclub, you all hear the same music chosen by the room’s DJs. Anyone can be a DJ, and the DJs take turns playing music from their own personal collection or from the service’s wide song selection. If you’re enjoying a song, just click a button — your head will start bopping and the DJ will receive a point. There’s a chat feature to talk about which songs are your favorites.

It’s surprisingly fun and provides a way to express yourself through music. Exploring and discussing your colleagues’ music tastes is a great way to get the sense that you’re hanging out together. One of the biggest casualties of remote work is not only professional interaction around work itself but the missed opportunities to grab a beer after hours and chat on a social level.

Getting to know your colleagues as individual human beings is one of the most powerful sources of connectedness, a key to happiness with work. Feeling like you’re on the same boat, visually interacting with each other, and having a bit of fun all add to that all-important human connection.

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  1. New Project Management Articles for the Week of May 20 – 26 | The Practicing IT Project ManagerThe Practicing IT Project Manager - May 27, 2013

    [...] Walter Chen tells us about three interesting social interaction tools for teams of remote workers. [...]

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