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. The everyday bustle of college life was more than enough stimulation. I’m not one to spend every weekend night out for dinner — or some kind of gathering. Yet, in an office environment, I did enjoy conversing with other like-minded individuals. Meetings never seemed to be much of a chore, and as long as discussions of challenges and engaging projects were on the docket, I was good.
However, even knowing my ambivalence to social endeavors, I never dreamed I’d miss face-to-face interaction as much as I do.
I’ve been working remotely for years 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 just aren’t the same, without a work group nearby.
I often wonder 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 as applied to our work lives, discussing the isolation (and lack of visibility) that may come along when working remotely. These negative by-products won’t affect all of us equally, as we are individuals. However, potential issues should always be on the radar. Discussions are sadly incomplete, if we fail to address the common by-product of even occasional loneliness.
Even with all the available social networks, we need to feel real connection — not simply an increase the amount of ambient chatter.
I have a couple of ideas for this. Here are a few for starters:
During our current crisis:
- 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.
- Create more opportunities for 1:1s. This doesn’t need to be the typical manager/employee scenario. Encourage more off-line conversations as well.
- Acknowledge uncertainties. Life is stressful now. Hiding our concerns about life and work, will only exacerbate issues.
- Grieve what has changed. Letting your team commiserate on how work life has changed is a healthy discussion to begin now.
- Identify what we can control. With instability, comes the need to discuss what we can control. This includes how we process our own experiences. Explore avenues to help yourself (and other) do this.
- 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. Sites such as WeWork and the Bond Collective, cater to those who need a place to land for work & meetings.
- Schedule “meet-ups”. With differences in location and time zones, in can be difficult to get on the same schedule as your home office. This limits communication and the 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.
Do you work remotely? Share your strategies to limit remote loneliness here.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist advisor and coach. She also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.