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5 Ways to Combat Isolation When Working Remotely

Drew Hendricks
Unsplash image of woman drinking coffee at kitchen island

21% of remote workers named both “loneliness” and “collaborating” as their biggest struggle, according to Buffer in their latest “State of Remote Work” report. The remote workers surveyed were experiencing social disconnection. What’s interesting is that this same sample didn’t want to discourage working remotely, and in fact encouraged others to do so, despite feelings of loneliness. A whopping 94% of remote workers expressed that they encourage others to work remotely, while 90% said they plan to work remote for the rest of their careers.

Workers like remote on the whole, but it’s not a perfect arrangement. What can remote workers do to combat isolation while still maintaining their preferred lifestyle?


1. Get In-Office Perks and Culture at Home

University of Cambridge business professor Mark De Rond argues that teams of all shapes and sizes need such a social glue. Office culture and its inherent employee benefits can often provide the substance needed to form conversation and friendship with colleagues.

Health insurance, 401(k) plans, tuition reimbursement, and most other popular employee benefits are mobile. Many new-age perks, however, are not. Few employers would be willing to ship massage chairs or standing desks to hundreds of home offices. Unfortunately, missing out on the same benefits their peers get can cause remote workers to feel excluded from the team.

According to De Rond, sharing food is a simple, universal way to get team members to care about something larger than themselves. Rather than request your own in-home masseuse, ask to be shipped the same snacks your team members enjoy. Or join the office baking competition and mail a tin of cookies to the office. The reason is the same one that likely leads you to eat dinner with your own family: Groups that eat together tend to stay together. Although remote workers can’t physically eat with their colleagues, they can take snack breaks together via technology. 


2. Make Fitness a Group Activity

When you’re a remote worker, you have to seek out social fulfillment in your personal life and working out can help. Studies have shown that group fitness activities help you keep up the habit – the added benefit is that they can add a social component to your workout regimen as well!0)

There are a few ways you could partake in a group activity. You could take out a membership at a specialty studio (although these are rarer outside of major metro areas). Plus, they add a commute to your schedule, and a long commute can be so frustrating that it’s caused nearly one in four workers to leave their job. So if you don’t have a local fitness class that you can walk to, use a group fitness app. 

Gixo was designed to give working professionals a diverse group exercise experience — particularly those who don’t live or work close to a gym or are on a budget. Gixo founder Selina Tobaccowala was inspired by an American Osteopathic Association study that shows group exercise delivers mental, physical, and emotional benefits beyond those of individual exercise. 


3. Make Time for Personal Social Engagements 

Even if you can chat about your team’s favorite shows and find time for group exercise, you still need to make time for your friends. It’s not enough to scroll through your Facebook and Twitter feeds, either. Set up happy hours, throw dinner parties, and dress up for the occasional soiree.

If that sounds like too much work, pick up your smartphone. Apps like Mappen make social networking safer and easier by encouraging users to find their friends on a map. Using emojis, users can signal whether or not they’re available for social activities. 

For longer engagements, try to bundle work and social trips. Millennials, in particular, are happy to mix work and play. A Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card survey found that 78% of them intentionally made time for personal affairs on business trips. Don’t bring your friends to a client meeting, but do feel free to invite them to dinner or drinks afterward.


4. Surround Yourself with Professionals of Different Backgrounds

Of all the social challenges you face as a remote worker, getting exposure to workers outside of your company and peer group is likely the toughest. If you’re not making friends at nearby offices or taking connections out to coffee, then how are you supposed to meet people who’ll help you advance in your career?

Although attending conferences can help in a pinch, you need more than ad hoc exposure. Instead, volunteer to take the lead on innovation or partnership projects. Corporate innovation requires the coordination of a huge range of tasks and stakeholders, so these types of projects can broaden your bench of professional connections organically. 


5. Get to Know Existing Colleagues

Building rapport with your colleagues may come naturally when you spend eight hours a day in the office together, but it’s not so easy when you’re hundreds of miles apart. Asking each other a few questions can go a long way professionally. “Do you have kids?” “Have you seen_____ on Netflix?” (Nearly 70% of Americans subscribe to at least one video streaming service, and Netflix is the most popular - and you thought all that Netflix binging was a waste of time!). In fact, staying on top of popular content can actually be crucial to making and maintaining team connections. 

It may be through a popular music or television series that both you and a colleague are huge fans of, or it may be through your killer mango salsa recipes that tied for first place at the office salsa competition – there are so many ways to get to know your fellow employees. If you use Slack or another chat app, take the time to ask colleagues how they are or how their weekend was. Connect with each other and hopefully this will help to further break down feelings of isolation. Your professional network is just a click or virtual call away!


Stay Remotely Connected or Return to the Office?

Although remote workers can certainly video chat their colleagues, a few minutes of facetime isn’t enough if you don’t know your colleagues and aren’t building authentic bonds with anyone day to day. Loneliness isn’t just a personal experience, it’s also a professional one that should be addressed holistically. From participating in team activities from afar to becoming a more social person in your daily routine, there are a number of things remote workers can do to combat isolation.

Working how, when, and where you want is a perk that few people would pass up, even if they experience isolation from time to time. This phenomenon becomes a larger problem however when a person uses remote work as an excuse to shut themselves away from the world. Those are the people who will struggle with working from home. That’s not an inevitability, but for some staying in the office may actually be their ideal working environment.

 

Image Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash / Le Creuset

Drew Hendricks author bio