This is a guest post by Alissa van der Voort, happiness coach and founder of Happy Insights
I want to talk to you today about happiness. Imagine sitting underneath a palm tree, sipping some juice from a fresh coconut while confirming to your manager that he will get the presentation by noon.
Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?
Maybe even too good to be true, because even though the image sounds very appealing, you might also wonder if this is actually realistic. At least, that was my first thought when I heard about this trend of remote workers or ‘digital nomads’ who work while traveling the world.
Aren’t these remote workers feeling isolated, less valued and maybe even less productive, when everybody else is working in an office together? I can imagine it’s easy to get so caught up in your life of travel and freedom, that you hardly get any work done.
I needed to know: will the possibility to dial-in to a conference call with the ocean gazing at you, or to design a product for your client on a snowy mountaintop, actually make you happier?
Guess what? It turns out it does.
Last year, TINYpulse conducted a research on 509 full-time remote US employees, in which they compared the remote workers’ responses to benchmarks calculated from over 200,000 employees across all work arrangements. Most importantly, the benchmark population did not work remote.
There are three specific findings confirming the idea that remote work increases employee happiness:
Remote workers are happier at work: on a scale of 1 to 10 (when asked the question: “How happy are you at work?”) remote workers scored 8.10, compared to ‘traditional workers’, who scored 7.42.
Remote workers feel more valued: In answer to the question, “How valued do you feel at work?” – remote workers scored 7.75, compared to ‘all workers’ 6.69.
Remote workers feel more productive: 91% of the remote workers believe they “get more work done when working remotely,” compared to only 9% who feel they don’t. Even though this is a self-assessment question, the large margin appears to be significant.
So how does remote work contribute to an increase of an individual’s level of happiness?
According to the Social Determination theory, there are three universal needs that influence an individual’s happiness:
I believe this explains perfectly why remote workers are happier and more productive.
Remote work facilitates autonomy
We have the universal urge to feel in control of our own lives and to act in harmony with ourselves. In the survey, remote workers state that they are happier at work because “they enjoy freedom and flexibility”, thus confirming that they feel a sense of autonomy. As a remote worker, you are in charge of deciding where you work and when you work. You can travel if you like, or stay at home to be with your family & friends. Being able to make these types of decisions is a major accelerator of happiness.
Remote work stimulates you to excel at your competences
The need to control the outcome and experience a sense of mastery – simply said: the ability to be good at something – is of great influence on our level of happiness. Since working remote allows for working in ways that you are more productive, for example during a certain time of day, or at a certain place, you become better able to influence the outcome of your performance. Moreover, you will be less distracted by people ‘stopping by your desk’, and you can choose when to respond to emails, which again improves your ability to focus and excel at what you do.
Remote work hinders relatedness
Whilst the first two needs (autonomy and competence) are met when working remote, the third need that contributes to an individual’s happiness – relatedness – is harder to achieve. The universal human being wants to interact, to be connected to others, and to experience caring for others. This can be more difficult when working in an environment without any direct colleagues around. That’s why, according to the survey, the relationship with co-workers scores lower for remote workers (6.69), compared to the average of 7.75 for traditional workers. However, co-working spaces and remote communities do a good job at countering this.
It makes sense to conclude that this score is highly influenced by a feeling of isolation from, and a lack of (high level) relatedness with, one’s co-workers. Luckily, when working remote you are more in control of your environment. Meaning remote workers are able to find alternative solutions to interact and connect with others.
How to solve the ‘lonely’ aspect that might bring your happiness down
One of the best ways to create a strong bond with other people while working remote is joining a remote travel program, such as The Remote Trip, where you travel together with a community of remote workers and spend each month in a different location. Being able to experience such an exciting time together, while still being able to work, chat, and bounce ideas off of each other is a great alternative to the office. There are many great initiatives, that tap into this need to relate to others, and that facilitate the opportunity to connect with others even more than you would in a traditional office. .
Overall, being able to create ‘the perfect environment’ for themselves, and being responsible for their daily activities, determines around 40% of the remote worker’s happiness.
As for me, I can surely say that I’m more convinced that remote work is the trend of the future and that employees will experience greater happiness because of this flexibility. Now, let me just get my laptop and a coconut…
Alissa van der Voort
Founder of Happy Insights – coaching individuals and organizations to find their happiness
Guest post for The Remote Trip