Work from home loneliness is an issue faced by first-time and experienced remote workers alike. A McKinsey survey found that 62% of employees globally consider mental health issues as an increasing challenge in today’s work environments.
Moreover, the American Psychological Association (APA) has reported that the current economic situation and pandemic have become significant contributors to stress for 70% of Americans.
Ultimately, remote workers can prevent burnout from work-from-home loneliness by achieving a sense of belonging. Whether this is by having interactions with friends or family or taking part in communities driven by personal interests or self-development, here’s a guide to countering work-from-home loneliness. We will be sharing some ways you can protect your mental health and counter work from home loneliness.
Why are remote workers feeling lonely?
There are tons of reasons contributing to loneliness in a work-from-home environment.
According to Totaljobs, at least 46% of workers in the UK reported a constant feeling of isolation and sadness. Additionally, women are more likely to be affected by this feeling of loneliness than men.
Reasons for causing loneliness in remote workers include:
- Lack of social interactions with friends and colleagues
- Stress and pressure from work.
- Current living situations.
- Discomfort associated with increased video and phone calls.
- Disruption of routines and behaviors.
What can employees themselves do to counter loneliness when working from home?
Gain control over your work/life balance.
Without a physical office setting, remote work can easily eat into family or you time. This means less time available to spend with friends and family, isolating yourself even further and inducing work from home loneliness. However, here’s how to set stricter work/life boundaries for yourself:
- Establish strict start and stop times for your workdays like you would in an office setting.
- Turn off all work-related notifications and devices after work hours. This serves as a reminder that you are now “off work,” and it’s time to focus on yourself.
- Make plans with friends and family after work. When dates with family and friends are scheduled ahead of time, you are likely to put off work and show up to the appointment.
Virtual coworking spaces
Virtual coworking communities allow you to feel connected, stay productive and meet new people while working anywhere. Myworkhive has exclusive Slack channels to connect and engage members. Weekend Club offers a great community for entrepreneurs wanting to work together on the weekends.
These platforms allow you to share thoughts and celebrate happy news within the community. They also have virtual coffee break sessions when you need some downtime. Having people to accompany you through your remote working sessions helps to make the process more enjoyable.
Pomodoro technique for improving productivity and staying busy
Pomodoro is a popular productivity technique that makes use of time blocking. Essentially, you spend a certain amount of time (e.g., 25 minutes) for each task and have short (e.g., five minutes) breaks in between.
This is particularly helpful if you have a habit of procrastinating or if you have trouble getting started on a project.
It can be difficult to plan or visualize your daily schedule with all the time blocking, but there are many apps available to assist you in your planning. Apps such as Pomotodo are great for people new to the Pomodoro technique as it acts as both a to-do list and a Pomodoro timer.
Other Pomodoro apps, such as Focusbooster, are great for remote workers and freelancers juggling multiple clients at the same time. It has in-app analytics to help you keep track of the time and revenue associated with each client. Marinaratimer even allows you to share your Pomodoro timer with friends and colleagues to facilitate engagement.
Change your working environment occasionally.
Get yourself out of your everyday office and try changing your work environment once in a while. You can start off once a week to get used to working in a different space. Pick a conducive location such as a coworking space, library, cafe, etc. (if you are no longer under a lockdown).
Try to get yourself to be part of a bigger community to counter work from home loneliness. For example, you can reach out to others who are also working remotely and schedule meetups where you get together and work in small groups of five (remember social distancing). This way, you get to meet new people and remove unwanted feelings of isolation.
How can employers play a part in improving employee mental health and countering work from home loneliness?
Apart from employees themselves making the change, employers can also be proactive in assisting employees with countering work from home loneliness.
Regular one-on-one check-ins with employees
Remote managers need to understand that work from home loneliness is structural. As such, regular check-ins with employees can help to drive performance. According to Gallup’s approach to performance management, there are five types of conversations that you can hold with employees on a regular basis:
- Role & relationship development - Establish your expectations with each employee. The aim here is to align your employees with the company’s mission, foster workplace engagement, and build trust.
- Quick connect - Try to do this once a week. This is used to build better relationships with employees. Hold short individualized conversations (about 10 minutes) with your employees and find out what they are working on and what they are struggling with. With this information, you can find out how to support them better.
- Check-in - Try to do this at least once a month. These are longer conversations (maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour) you hold with employees to determine their progress towards achieving the goals set earlier on. This is also where you help to realign employees with priorities when they seem to be going astray (similar to providing feedback on performance).
- Developmental coaching - Take time to discuss with your employee and map out how best they can improve and progress within the company. Share with them how the existing resources in the company can help them develop new skills, etc.
- Progress reviews - An effective review needs to be fair, accurate, and focused on the employee’s strengths. Try to do this with your employees at least twice a year or quarterly as a best practice. These reviews should be achievement-oriented, where you highlight the successes of the employee and work towards how the employee can learn from and improve on their weaknesses.
Creating a confidential and safe environment to speak up freely
Although mental health awareness has been increasing, we still live in a society that discriminates against people with mental health problems. The fear of being discriminated against and the shame associated with it is a critical reason behind why people do not speak up about their mental health issues. How do you build a safe environment for workers to speak up?
- Educate employees on signs and symptoms of declining mental health.
- Restructure employee recognition efforts to cater to the remote working model. For example, adopting employee reward platforms such as Blueboard, or re-evaluating your success metrics to match the new work environments, etc.
- Build on the idea of organizational empathy within the company. Acknowledge that employees have family obligations to attend to, such as looking after children and older parents when working from home.
- Establish a separate hotline or platform connecting to a counselor that is confidential for advice on mental health issues.
Recommend and fund developmental programs for employees
During your developmental coaching sessions with employees, share skills that will be required in the future workforce. Allocate a portion of your budget towards sending employees to online group courses. These professional development programs help employees develop hobbies and take part in online communities relating to what they’re learning. A sense of belonging will help keep their loneliness at bay.
Many websites such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare offer courses ranging from business to design and lifestyle. Giving your employees an option to sign up for new courses adds value and aids them in uncovering new interests. This allows your employees to constantly upgrade themselves and stay relevant in the ever-changing business environment.
Countering work from home loneliness is a joint effort.
Remote working could be tough over long periods. However, with a close-knit network of like-minded remote workers, we can all fight the loneliness that comes with working from home.
Effective communication is important in relieving employee stress, especially in uncertain business environments where change is a constant. Some employees may require additional help and support to cope with these changes. As such, employers and fellow colleagues need to be equipped with the relevant skills and be compassionate to address these issues.