How to prevent loneliness when working remotely

Employers and employees alike are reaping the benefits of remote working, with cost and time efficiencies and improvements in work-life balance being just a few of the positives being felt.

Many companies have or are thinking about downsizing their office spaces and making remote or hybrid working permanent for employees. Employees are seeing improvements in their work-life balance as they can spend more time with family, friends and undertaking hobbies. But, even though switching to Zoom may provide more convenience, there is evidence to show that working completely remotely can cause loneliness.

The workplace is an environment in which many people undertake the majority of their social interactions with research showing that 70% of employees feel that friendship in their job is the most important element of a happy work life (source: The Atlantic). They say that the office is where they establish social ties as well as working relationships.

For those working remotely, the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams provide avenues in which they can collaborate and engage via video. Video calls and remote working technologies are effective ways for teams to stay productive when they can’t all be in the same room at the same time, but they do not meet a person’s need for contact they are certainly not a sufficient substitute for human interaction.

Studies show that loneliness can cause employee burnout and turnover and working at least a day per week in the office or more (where employees will see their work friends and be happy) can significantly reduce this. Having no office time at all can cause isolation and unhappiness.

Head of Talent Acquisition, Ash Grant, at Corecom works fully remotely. Here’s what she says about her experiences and how she stays engaged with the team:

“I was so grateful to Corecom to give me the chance to work fully remote when we relocated as I love my job here and didnt want to leave the company. After working from home for the past two years during the Covid outbreak, I have found it works well for me.

It offers me flexibility to work around the kids and school drop offs, I find I am very productive as there are less distractions and I do have company at home as my husband also works from home (so we share our coffee/lunch breaks which is nice as we rarely have time away from the kids).

I still get to see the team daily as we have morning and afternoon meetings so its a good opportunity for a catch up with everyone and I think it makes you feel connected. I have regular catch ups with the Marketing team and checkins from Gem in OpsI have a weekly meeting with Corecom’s MD, Jonathan, so thats always a good opportunity for a catch up and for him to fill me in on anything I need to know within the team/business etc.

I love the fact that I get myself outside at lunchtime for a walk or to get some fresh air now, something I didnt do so much when we still lived in the city. My plans are to try and spend a day every month in the Leeds office (childcare allowing!) which I think will be a good balance for me.

On a whole, working fully remotely has been a dream for me. The only negative I would say is that I miss seeing everyones lovely faces in person and I definitely miss the banter in the office.”

So, for those of you who don’t have a husband who also works at home, like Ash, here’s how to prevent loneliness when working remotely:

Work at least one day of the week outside of your home: at a friend’s house, in a coffee shop or shared working space.

Use your flexible schedule wisely: do some exercise, enjoy a hobby, watch your favourite TV series, catch up with friends, prep your tea or nip out to pick up your children from school (and go home via the cake shop).

Make plans after work: doing something with friends when you’ve finished work such as a walk and a chat, playing five a-side football or popping over for tea will reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Join or create company groups: do this for regular social engagement at work in the form of virtual coffee hours, quizzes and themed chats which are not related to work.

Schedule all-company events: making the time to collaborate, have fun and to socialise helps teams to work better together and will ensure that remote workers feel more engaged in the company culture and mission. Spending money on regular events like this could cost less than the employee turnover or poor outcomes which can occur when they don’t work well together.

Digital technology is not a substitute for human connection. For remote workers, loneliness can lead to poor productivity owing to reduced mental and physical health. Employers should focus on strengthening bonds between remote employees and building relationships to improve collaboration and reduce turnover.

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Jonathan has a natural talent for engaging with our students on a personal level and really understands how to stoke the fire in their bellies. The joy of this means he can get right on down to sharing the nitty gritty – the fundamental requirements for passion, graft, networking and solid community relations in order to succeed – safe in the knowledge that our students will hear his message and take his wisdom on board.

 

Sally Gibbs, Personal Tutor at the University of Leeds