Common clichés about remote work make it sound like the coolest, most exciting model ever.
Want to check email on your laptop by the beach? Great. Enjoy staying all day in your pajamas? No problem.
To be fair, remote work allows for flexible schedules and locations, more time with your family and a greater opportunity to create work-life balance.
But this over-the-top image of remote work isn’t doing any favors to those who know the day-to-day reality of remote work: it can be lonely.
According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report, 19% of remote workers reported loneliness as their #1 problem as a remote worker. That’s not even counting other remote workers who may have considered loneliness as a #2 or #3 issue. It’s clear that isolation as a remote worker is commonplace. What’s less obvious is how you can create a sense of belonging while working remotely.
Today we’ll look at seven ways to reduce feelings of isolation as a remote worker, including specific steps for creating connections in and out of the virtual office.
One of the best tips for feeling less lonely as a remote worker is to get to know your coworkers better. Some companies have already set up programs - including peer pairs, mentoring or random 1:1 meetups - to foster closer relationships. These initiatives are excellent for chatting with a coworker that you wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to interact with during the workday. Specifically, if you’re a remote worker filling gaps at a traditional on-site company - often called staff augmentation - it’s a great idea to reach out and connect with your on-site coworkers to feel more included on the team.
If your workplace doesn’t yet have programs like these, spearhead a weekly social group of your own. Invite coworkers for a recurring meeting every Friday morning to drink coffee on a video chat. Or pick a different peer every week to have a 1:1 “catch-up” to say hello and learn more about him/her. (As a good example, Be proactive and you’ll find your days fill up with great people moments.
Of course, digital interaction can’t replace face-to-face time. If your default working space is your home office, try to get out of the house at least once a day. You’ll find that even going into the world and having informal connections with the bus driver or cashier is helpful for feeling like you’re not invisible. There’s plenty of great co-working spaces or wifi-friendly coffee shops where you can spend your mornings. Try to make this a habit, so that you can enjoy the benefits of getting out of the house, without having to stress about when and where you’re going. Make it easier on yourself and find a space outside your home that makes you feel connected.
Of course, just going to a coffee shop doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of human interaction. If you want to take this outside time to the next level, invite a friend to join you. Working together could also help enhance your change of scene. Some friend groups have even tried “office switches,” where they work together at a different friend’s home every week. This is another fun option for breaking up your home office routine.
A wifi hotspot can also make you more engaged and feel connected to your neighborhood. Investing in a good hotspot can completely change where and how you work. With it, you can take work outside to your local park, the nearby library, the rooftop of your apartment building - you name it. Thinking outside the box for where you can work will inject your day with new views, people and moments.
In addition, everywhere work can also help create structure in your day. The shift from one location to the next can mark a change in your tasks. Spend your morning in your home office finishing a report, then move to the park for brainstorming a strategy document and finally give feedback on delivered work in the afternoon on the rooftop. You choose the combination of places, but the outcome should be the same: to plan your day and create natural transitions from one task to the other.
Everywhere work via a hotspot also gives you the opportunity to schedule “work dates” in new places - whether near or far. This makes your workday even more intentional, while providing you with opportunities to engage in the community around you.
Of course, you don’t have to look to just your coworkers for interaction. Make the most of your flexible schedule by planning personal activities and lunch dates during the day. Some remote workers find that taking an exercise class or making a weekly lunch date with a friend are good ways to break up the hours spent alone at home. You should feel empowered to get work done in your own time, since this is a major benefit of remote work and many remote companies champion creating your own schedule. Even if your job involves deadline-driven work, you shouldn’t be afraid to set aside time as you want.
Get urgent tasks done in the morning and take a lunchtime yoga class before returning to your virtual office. Your schedule - as long as it’s clearly communicated to your team - is yours.
If all this socialization sounds like too much, take a step back. You get to decide how much interaction and socialization you experience during the day. Depending on your personality and the way you work, you’ll thrive on a different workday balance. There’s no need to follow anybody else’s guidelines or suggestions on “the best” work schedule.
To find out what the best balance is for you, it’s a good idea to analyze your personality. Are you most productive by yourself? Then perhaps you should work alone in your home office but create bursts of socialization during lunchtime or for an afternoon coffee break. Are you an extrovert who thrives on people interactions? You may find going to a co-working space can help you work while engaging with people. Think about what time you want to spend alone and where, and what time you would appreciate some company. This personal analysis will help you craft the optimal remote work schedule.
Resource isolation can also exacerbate the problem of loneliness. 17% of remote workers report communication as their biggest issue. Sometimes the issue of communication is linked to loneliness because of a lack of tools and resources.
When checking your situation for resource isolation, consider whether you feel like you have the tools to collaborate successfully with your team members, the empowerment to connect with them socially and the ability to easily find documentation about company processes and workflows. If you feel like you’re missing one of these three areas, it’s time to talk with your company about how to resolve these gaps in resources.
Future-thinking remote companies are now digitizing all their company resources and making sure their remote teams are equipped with all the tools they need to communicate well and feel like they belong. If you’re looking to boost your home office, you can check out these productive-enhancing items, which may help collaboration. You can even talk with your employer about them, as you might be surprised to learn that they’ll subsidize the costs of certain office items.
In addition, some companies are giving “virtual office tours” to show new employees around, in order to explain where information, programs, and workflows can be found. A good “virtual office tour” will also show employees where they can interact socially and learn more about their coworkers - just like a physical office tour that would point out the lunch room, common workspaces and happy hour spots.
Another common pitfall of remote work that contributes to loneliness is never getting away from work. When you work from home, it’s harder to shut down your computer and leave the office. In fact, 22% of remote workers cited the difficulty of unplugging from work as their #1 concern. Remote work can encourage you to work longer and at all hours, which makes your loneliness worse. Creating work-life boundaries are essential for being able to unplug after work and enjoy well-earned personal time. Without these boundaries, you’ll find yourself being consumed by work and increasingly cut off from friends/family and leisure time.
To avoid this problem, you should create an unplugging ritual. This ritual will ensure that after a certain time, task or event, you’ll no longer be lingering on work emails or taking calls. For many, this unplugging ritual at the end of the day involves shutting down your computer, knowing that it won’t be turned back on until the next day. For others, it’s going to an exercise class at a certain time, which prompts you to shut down and leave the house. Your unplugging ritual doesn’t have to be complicated.
It could be as simple as logging out and enjoying a cup of coffee in your living room or going for a walk in your neighborhood. You choose what kind of ritual you would like to create. Just make sure it’s something that you like and that makes sense with your work schedule. Most importantly, stick to it. You should only break from this ritual on rare occasions. An unplugging ritual is key to transitioning from working to personal time and protecting your personal life from easy-access work.
As you continue to gain experience as a remote worker, try out our seven tips to find ways to cultivate interaction, variation and socialization into your workday, including: making time for weekly coworker meetups, getting out of the house, investing in a hotspot, sprinkling in daily socialization, finding balance according to personality, checking for resource isolation and creating an unplugging ritual.
By following these suggestions, you’ll reduce your feelings of loneliness and find the right balance as a remote worker.
What else have you, or your team, tried in order to help with remote work isolation?