Remote workers: how to combat loneliness
May 2, 2019
Remote work is on the rise. The numbers speak for themselves: 68% of employees around the world work at least one day per month remotely, 52% do so at least once a week, while 18% work remotely full-time.
What fuels this enthusiasm for remote work? Well, from the business side, it’s mostly costs. Businesses can save a lot of money on overhead costs as well as salaries since they don’t have to pay benefits or FICA taxes (Medicare and Social Security) for independent contractors.
In addition, hiring freelancers can give businesses a more flexible workforce, and access to a much wider pool of talent.
And what’s in it for the remote workers? Flexibility, no commute, and the ability to spend more time with their families, just to name a few.
However, there are downsides as well. According to the State of Remote Work 2018 survey, 21% of remote workers find loneliness and subpar communication the biggest challenge in their working life.
It’s easy to see why. Even though working in an office has many disadvantages, it certainly comes with a built-in asset: instant community. Running into your coworkers in the hallways, waiting for the coffeemaker to work, and lining up for the copy machine all have the advantage of human connections.
While waiting for anything is usually tedious, these short interactions are greatly contributing to all employees’ wellbeing. Chatting about yesterday’s game, complaining about the weather, or pointing out Accounting Joe’s new haircut can create a sense of community and belonging.
These real human interactions are becoming more crucial for keeping in touch with reality in today’s increasingly virtual world. But via remote work, these interactions disappear faster than an ice cube in May.
Luckily, you won’t have to put up with eternal loneliness. In fact, there are quite a number of things you can do to maintain good human connections while still working remotely.
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Out of mind, out of sight doesn’t have to be your new motto. But if you want to establish personal connections with your coworkers, you’ll have to do a lot more than those team members that share an office.
A lot depends on your employer. They can organize work events, meetings, and training sessions that include remote workers, whether virtually or in person, should geography and budget allow it.
But if your employer doesn’t grab the initiative, you’ll have to do it. Don’t worry, you don’t need to organize large parties to combat loneliness and feel included. Small steps are enough, at least to begin with.
Don’t hesitate to use the office chat. If you don’t know something, ask away. Send a personal message to a team member, or put your question to the group chat if it concerns many people. Don’t let the physical distance create a rift within your team.
But what if the conversation steers off topic? Don’t worry if you spend a few minutes chatting about non-work issues. This is the closest you can get to those short in-office conversations that are the best remedy against loneliness and isolation.
In fact, many companies actually encourage non-work conversations among their remote workers, knowing that this is crucial to the productivity and wellbeing of their teams.
While these organized activities largely depend on your employer, you can start combating loneliness by actively reaching out to your team members. Show an interest in what they do and be approachable, open-minded, and helpful. This is the best way to ensure you’ll have friends “at” the office, even if you’ve never been to the office.
Use a coworking space
Working from home has many advantages. But if you look closer, these advantages may not always be that advantageous. For example, working in your sweatpants may sound awesome if you currently spend your day in suits, but doing it for a long time can result in feeling demotivated and inadequate.
Not to mention the many distractions at home (laundry, anyone?), and the inevitable loneliness that comes with never leaving the house.
You can combat that by choosing to work somewhere else. Like a coworking space.
With the rise of remote work, coworking spaces have flooded the market. Most of them provide a space to simply work by yourself, or even hold meetings, virtual or personal. But they’re so much more than that. Coworking spaces are able to create communities just like those in a regular office.
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The only difference is that the people there don’t necessarily work together, meaning they don’t have to endure each other’s “tedious work personas”. Accounting Joe becomes Joe with the funny haircut who brings the best homemade cookies for all to share.
Coworking spaces are a great way to combat loneliness and to feel connected to people, even if they’re not strictly your colleagues. Which makes it even easier to complain to them about your real coworkers, should the need arise.
Don’t let the loneliness epidemic affect all the advantages you get out of remote work. Be proactive, connect with people, and nip that loneliness in the bud.