To be honest, I’ve really never been a “joiner”. In college, I didn’t feel the need to belong to clubs or pledge a sorority to feel connected. (I landed with a few grad students in Psychology my senior year and that seemed enough.) When I worked in an office, I continued to enjoy conversing with other like-minded individuals on a regular basis. Meetings never seemed a chore — as discussions of challenges and up-coming projects somehow ticked a box for me. (It was the debate that I relished really.) However, even knowing my past habits — I never dreamed I’d miss face-to-face discussions, as much as I do.
I’ve been working remotely for years now — and I’ll freely admit it has its lonely moments. Certain aspects of working from home are fantastic. But, somehow all of the journal articles, posts and projects aren’t the same without a work group nearby.
I often wondered if my coaching clients who work remotely, felt the same. Turns out, many of them do.
This week I had the chance to read an eye-opening piece at Slate, concerning the stigma associated with an admission that we feel lonely (even if only from time to time). In it, the author describes the immediate inclination we have to connect loneliness with being “less than” (or dare I say “loser”). That has to stop. Because, it’s simply not true. Research completed by MIT Sloan, has explored this concern as applied to our work lives, discussing the isolation and lack of visibility that may come along when working remotely. The negative by-products of working remotely won’t affect all of us, as we are individuals — however, potential issues should be on the radar.
Discussions are incomplete if we fail to address the common by-product of occasional loneliness. Even with all the available social networks, we need to feel real connection — not simply increase the amount of ambient chatter.
I have a couple of ideas for this. I’m sure we’ll uncover a number of other strategies. Here are a few for starters:
- Check in frequently. Make a concerted effort to speak with someone in your office daily. Whether this is your manager, mentor or colleague — this will help retain a sense of belonging.
- Visit your home office. Even if you are fully enjoying your remote work life, make plans to visit your home office as time and travel allow. If you are already feeling disconnected and you are within a reasonable distance, get there once a week. If possible, attend meetings that reinforce how you, and your work, fit into the larger picture.
- Facilitate “on-site” sabbaticals. If you are affiliated full-time, you might consider spending a couple of weeks a year at the home office. Beyond the challenge of organizing proper a work space, this could allow far-flung colleagues to interact in-person for an extended period of time. This could do wonders for both team-building and strategy concerns.
- Join a co-working space. Co-working is the perfect solution if you miss the “goings on” of office life. Most cities have at least a couple to choose from, so visit them and get a sense of the vibe. A friend of mine owns The Watercooler in Tarrytown, New York. I can attest that it is a bastion of “connectedness”.
- Schedule “meet-ups”. With differences in location and time zones, in can be difficult to get on the same schedule. This limits communication and a feeling of being connected. Identify a time of day, when you know you can intersect “time-wise” and speak — and hopefully a ritual will develop. You could also investigate an “always on” virtual workroom, with a tool such as Sqwiggle, that facilitates spontaneous communication.
Do you work remotely? Share your strategies to limit remote loneliness here.