Is Loneliness a Growing Factor When We Work Remotely?

loneliness4index

To be honest, I’ve really never been a “joiner”. You may identify with this sentiment.

In college, I didn’t feel the need to belong to clubs or pledge a sorority to feel connected. (Landing with a few grad students in Psychology senior year seemed enough.) 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. (The debate was very satisfying.)

However, even knowing 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.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

15 thoughts on “Is Loneliness a Growing Factor When We Work Remotely?

  1. i agree with another poster. It’s all about the connections on the outside. Working remotely should require a commitment to get out and meet others. When you get bored reach out to friends to break up the day, they may be glad to hear from you.

  2. Pingback: Eight tips for working remotely | netgueko

  3. 1. use video wherever possible when interacting with other remote team members, i.e. WebEx
    2. work from Starbucks! Love my local Starbucks. I am #WFS right now!
    3. visit other locations or employees of your company in your local area even if they are not on your direct working team, working for the same company provides an element of comradery
    4. visit your other team members 2-4 times per year if possible and don’t just fly in for one meeting or one day, stay for a week, hang out, interact, be visible, plan face to face meetings in advance
    5. leverage quick chat messages regularly, i.e. Microsoft Lync (formerly known as Communicator/MSN) including the video option
    6. be available, respond quicker than people that are “in the office”, communicate (email, voice messages) during other people’s wasted commuting time
    7. get a cat! Kidding … kind of!🙂

  4. Thanks for your honesty in this post. When I need some “life”, I find public places to work to get out of my quiet and somewhat isolated work space at home.

    Our team has weekly and monthly meetings, along with just picking up the phone as needed during the day. But I love many of the suggestions provided by you and others!

  5. Well, I have been working in UAE from last 6 years, I know that “Man is by nature a social animal”. Most of the companies I knew, people work very hard and in remote area all day long throughout the year. Their self confidence, motivation and general IQ, adventure body language all get spoilled. I used to wor in such remote areas but not that much isolated. I used to speak with my colleagues, subordinates, few hours a day, thats make a vast difference is daily life. Regardless of others religion, culture, sit in stylez etc…. being social with them and speak about something make things easy to go.

  6. I think there’s a couple things.

    1. Reach out: I’m always reaching out to my teammates via phone, email or text. It’s nice to hear that frustrations you might be experiencing are not unique to you and helps to share best practices. Make an effort to make personal contact with people at headquarters too- and not just about business stuff. Ask them about their interests/life when you call in- most people won’t do this and it is nice for them as well!

    2. Team contests: We like to hold internal contests that build remote team morale and engagement- these can be simple things like month vs month sales results, best customer experience story of the week, best competitive intel tip of the month etc. the more creative you get the more fun it is. I found one of our most motivating and team cohesion contests was one where we each had a “buddy” and came up with our own mini-team name that we used during the competition. During this sales competition you won/lost as a pair.

    3. Work for an awesome boss. I’m fortunate to work for someone who is am incredible advocate for us remote folks. It’s really motivating to know we are trusted and valued by leadership. My boss empowers is to make decisions and is very transparent with us which shows his trust and value of us. Every Friday my boss sends us a message thanking us for the work that we do and if it’s been a really rough week he sends some kind of funny quote to summarize it.

    Hope those are helpful- I’d be happy to brainstorm with you anytime! Let me know!

  7. This is interesting. I’ve worked remotely my entire career and I love it! The autonomy to make decisions and to create a space that is inspiring is really motivating to me. I never really considered being lonely. Interesting perspective.

  8. Thank you for your comments! I did happen upon Sqwiggle – glad to know it is helpful. If you found the post on Linkedin, will you post a comment there as well? Many, many more people will view it.

  9. Great article, thanks Maria!

    My team and I work remotely, here’s what we do to ensure we don’t get too disconnected:

    1. Regular catch-ups via video calls including a team call each morning, and calls as needed throughout the day
    2. Presence software – we can see a regularly updated snapshot of each member of the team using and application call Sqwiggle
    3. IM – we use instant messages in shared streams to ask questions etc. that don’t warrant a call (rather than email)
    4. We have in-person meetups every 3-5 weeks where the whole team gets together for the day (and ideally an evening too)
    5. We try to have in-person trips away for the whole company & partners at least once a year, ideally every 3/6 months

    All the best,

    Alexis

  10. I agree. I am not a “social butterfly” but like to feel connected. I call team members once a week or so. I take walks in the neighborhood I work in and take a daily break at the local coffee place. These all help beat back the doldrums.

  11. This might be true if the person working remote is single or a social recluse. When one have an active family and social life outside work and got ‘hand and earful’ with little kids, one might wish for some loneliness sometimes🙂🙂

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