Loneliness is the top reason why nearly half of the remote workforce wants to return to the office after COVID-19. Here are six tactics to combat isolation related to working from home.
Sure, working from home (WFH) has its benefits: increased flexibility, a non-existent commute with consequent savings on gas or public-transport fare, and a lot more meetings that could have been emails are finally becoming those emails we always wanted them to be.
But at the same time, working remotely can feel too remote—almost like being stranded on a deserted island.
It’s no surprise then that in a number of studies conducted on the well-being of remote workers, loneliness was a leading reason remote workers wanted to return to working in the company office.
Particularly in Western culture, our professions are synonymous with how we identify ourselves. Even with this outsized importance placed on only one aspect of our lives, we still fail to recognize just how important those other people in our profession are to our mental and emotional well-being. Love them or hate them, your co-workers do you a great service in helping you meet one of your basic human needs: social interaction.
Now that many have switched to working from home for some months now, the sting of loneliness stemming from isolation is becoming more palpable. Loneliness can hurt your job performance, and, what’s worse, it’s been linked to early mortality.
Dealing with this fresh brand of loneliness just takes some proactive strategizing where there was little to none before. Here are tactics you can employ to upgrade your social life sans the workplace.
Sounds simple, right? Lockdown orders in various places turned many of us into de facto shut-ins, only venturing out for the occasional grocery run. On a large scale, human movement slowed way down in 2020. As just one indicator, the use of public transport in the U.S. was down 50 percent in April. For some, these temporary changes in daily life have become new habit.
While a boon for the environment, staying confined to your home can be a bust for your emotional well-being, as chance social encounters and new relationships become impossible. Now that public health guidelines are in place, look for safe, socially distant activities to counterbalance the isolation of WFH.
Whether it’s just walking around your neighborhood, hiking through a nearby nature area or running errands, getting outside your home creates the opportunity for informal social encounters. Add to that the psychological boosts of light exercise and being in nature, and you’ve got yourself an instant mental upgrade.
You could take this a step further by picking up a new hobby with a likeminded friend. What’s something you’ve always wanted to learn? Find an accountability buddy and learn that thing together—baking sourdough, gardening, a foreign language, those “wine and watercolors” painting nights, whatever gives a reason to share time with someone else.
Take advantage of your lunch hour (or whichever meal you prefer). Reserve a mealtime every weekday for catching up with family members, close friends or a favorite colleague while you eat.
It might be grabbing breakfast or coffee together before the workday begins. Or maybe it’s a Zoom chat, Facetime session or just having the phone on speaker while you eat your respective lunches at your respective homes.
Chances are, if your loved ones are also adjusting to the WFH life, they’re in the same boat as you, and hungry for social interaction. And mealtime is the best time to socialize because, when you think about it, meals were the original social platform.
Speaking of social media, limit your time spent there.
While scrolling through your Facebook timeline or Instagram feed may help you keep tabs on what your friends are up to—and give you the semblance of connecting with others—in reality it’s a cheap substitute and often just adds to feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.
If the WFH grind is feeling especially isolating for you, and if you have the extra space in your home, consider assembling your own WFH team of local friends going through the same experience. Though you’ll be working different jobs, the opportunity to bounce ideas off one another, vent about wearisome clients, or celebrate little victories throughout the day can mimic the type of social interactions you’re used to having with colleagues.
If making your home into a sort of WFH open-office concept isn’t feasible, look into renting a desk at a co-working space or even setting up shop in a library or café once or twice a week. For some, just the prospect of being seen by others can be motivating and help boost your productivity. If you decide to go this route, be sure to practice social distancing and wear a mask.
There’s good reason why the number of dog-friendly workplaces has nearly doubled in the past few years. The presence of dogs, like that of many pet animals, can decrease feelings of stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression, not to mention encourage more conversations between coworkers and more exercise in the life of the pet owner.
If you’ve been thinking about getting a pet before, there’s no better time to follow through. Prior to WFH, you bring a new dog into your home and on Monday morning, you might have had to leave it behind, home alone. Remote work gives you the opportunity to better acculturate a new pet into your household.
And, if you adopt a new pet during COVID, you’d be in good company: pet adoptions have surged since the pandemic started, but that doesn’t mean your new best friend isn’t still out there, waiting.
Lastly, it’s important that managers, supervisors and other team leaders do regular check-ins on those employees under their leadership—and not only because loneliness can negatively affect job performance. It’s easy for a newly remote worker to feel thrown by the dramatic shift in work life, and to feel suddenly peripheral to the company’s mission.
Get a pulse check on your individual team member’s well-being by doing quick informal check-ins via video conference or phone call, or by arranging a “work” zoom meeting that’s meant to be social in nature, like a Zoom Happy Hour, during which you can gauge if anyone’s not adjusting well to the “new work-life normal.”