Watercooler Survey, March 2014: Working in Remote Locations

Career Link maintains a monthly survey at www.careerlinkbc.com. At the end of the month, we compile the results. Here below Maureen Latta provides a very useful perspective on last month’s survey question.

 Are you willing to take a position outside of Powell River?

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by Maureen Latta

Many years ago a friend of mine (let’s call her Sharon) confided that the beginning of the end of her first marriage happened when her husband took a job in another city. Sharon felt abandoned with their three children. She began to feel like a single mom and her frustration grew to mammoth proportions. The result: marital disaster.

And yet, many marriages not only survive, but thrive, as a result of a decision for one spouse to work “away.” What makes one situation a success and another a shambles? Sharon reports that the crux of the issue was that her husband accepted the job without consulting her. Instead, he announced his decision and listed all the reasons why it was a good one.

Successful decisions are the result of teamwork and planning that involves shared goals. Any decision for one spouse to work away should be preceded by plenty of rational discussion. What do you and your family want to achieve? What are the ways you can make both partners (and children) feel comfortable about the situation?

Many families today find themselves with one spouse working away. For example, the mining, forestry, and oil & gas industries frequently require “fly in, fly out” workers who live in one town but travel to remote areas for work. Some people work in seasonal industries, such as tourism, that require working in remote resorts. Others have to leave their homes to obtain educational qualifications required for their careers.

A different friend (let’s call her Fiona) had to be away from home during the entire week to attend university in a nearby city. She and her husband had always had a fairly traditional distribution of labour. Fiona did all the cooking and housework. Despite the dramatic change in circumstances, she tried to continue to meet those expectations. When home on the weekends, Fiona spent many hours in the kitchen trying to prepare enough food to last her husband and son for the following week. She did all the housecleaning as well before heading back to her demanding program in another city. The result: exhaustion.

When one spouse works away, it might not make sense to stick with the division of labour that suited you both before. How will you deal with responsibilities around the house? Come up with a realistic plan and be prepared to change what’s not working.

Another woman (let’s call her Laura) loves the cheery and romantic notes that her spouse leaves in her pockets, her dresser drawers, the coffee tin – anywhere he’s sure she’ll find them during the long periods he’s away working. Every time she finds one of these notes, Laura feels pleasantly surprised, and her husband’s supportive words always make her smile. Small gestures like this help Laura to overcome the occasional feelings of frustration and sadness that are inevitable when one partner is absent. In return, Laura always keeps her schedule clear on the days her husband is due to arrive home. When he steps in the door, she makes him feel like he’s the most important person on earth.

Working away requires some creativity and sensitivity. If handled with finesse, the thrill of being reunited can even put more spark into a relationship.

While working away can create challenges in communication, intimacy, and coping with household responsibilities, there are advantages. Working away usually carries financial rewards. If both spouses share the goal of paying debt down faster to enjoy an earlier retirement, then reminding each other of future benefits will help to ease the difficult times.

Remote workers typically have large blocks of time at home between work periods. Successful couples reserve these blocks for intimacy and communication – quality time that can be spent with family and friends. While one spouse is away, the other can enjoy planning their next vacation, whether that’s a boating trip close to home or an international adventure.

I found one resource for families dealing with the challenges of working away. An Australian company offers The Survival Guide for Mining Families and other guides related to remote working at the following website: http://www.miningfm.com.au/.

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