4 Ways to Combat the Isolation of Remote Work
Home-based employment can get lonely, but doesn't have to
If you’re hoping to work from home in your second act, you’re in good company. According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report, 99% of nearly 2,500 remote workers surveyed said they’d like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
But working from home can get lonely. Trust me. I’ve worked from home for over 30 years and enjoy the carpet commute, but have found the experience lonely at times, especially now that my children are no longer home to distract me. In the Buffer report, 19% of remote workers reported loneliness as their No. 1 problem as a remote worker.
4 Steps to Relieve the Loneliness of Being a Remote Worker
Isolation can prove especially problematic for older workers, since many are empty nesters or living alone. Research has linked social isolation to increased risk for a variety of physical and mental ailments that tend to worsen as we age — including cognitive decline, heart disease and increased blood pressure.
Schedule socialization time on your work calendar; things like networking and coffee dates.
Fortunately, there are a few relatively simple steps you can take to relieve the loneliness of being a remote worker. Below are four recommendations I culled from workplace experts, as well as from my own experience as a home-based worker:
1. Create firm work/life boundaries. One of the main reasons people choose to work remotely is to gain more control over their work/life balance. But, according to Cali Yost, chief strategist and founder of the Flex + Strategy Group, without the physical boundaries of a traditional office, remote work can easily seep into, and overwhelm, the other parts of life.
That makes it more challenging to find time to spend with family and friends, which in turn, can exacerbate your loneliness.
Yost shared three ways to build better work/life boundaries:
- Establish a hard start and stop time for your workday — and put those on your calendar. Even if you don’t always stick to this perfectly, the technique will force you to decide if you need (or want) to keep working or if it’s time to power down and do something else.
- At the end of your workday, make it a ritual to turn off your computer and the lights in your home-office space and physically shut the door. This is a helpful reminder that you have “left” work and are ready for the other things in your life that matter, like family, friends and hobbies.
- Schedule socialization time on your work calendar; things like networking and coffee dates. When you have this in writing, you’ll be more likely to honor it.
2. Change up where you work periodically. “Remote work doesn't always mean you have to work from home,” says Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs. “Instead, try working from the library, a co-working space or a coffee shop. Even doing this once a week can help you feel more connected to other people.”
As an example, Jane Pollak, a New York City-based author, coach and entrepreneur, told me that she sometimes works from a health club near her home. While she can’t use it as an office space per se, there are lounge chairs around the pool where Pollak can catch up on reading, listen to a podcast or network casually with a colleague.
“It’s essential to ‘change the walls,’ see other people and feel part of the larger New York City community that I miss when I’m home all day,” she says.
3. Be proactive about reaching out to others. When you work in an office, impromptu chats and lunch meetings with colleagues are part of the routine. But as a home-based worker, you need to be more intentional about scheduling time for conversation and connection with friends and colleagues.
“Proactive communication is critical for remote workers,” says Reynolds. “Often, we wait for people to contact us. Take the initiative to reach out to people. Coworkers, clients, other professionals in your field, friends, family — these people can all serve as valuable points of contact on any given day.”
Whether you meet in person or for a virtual video coffee chat, the consistent outreach will help alleviate your loneliness.
In her recent Wall Street Journal article, “How to Find an Office Spouse When You Work Alone,” technology researcher and remote worker Alexandra Samuel described how she found what she calls her “work wife.” This is a colleague she often co-works with, bouncing off ideas or just having someone to talk to for fun to break up the day.
To find one, Samuel says, find a self-employed or remote working “buddy who lives or hangs out in the same part of town” or “a neighborhood that makes you both feel like you’re ‘commuting.’” Then, she adds, make a one-time date to work together for a morning or afternoon to see how it goes.
4. Join a community-based networking group. This tip is my personal favorite. I’ve participated in several community-based networking groups that have provided me with a community of colleagues I wouldn’t have easily met otherwise. Over time, they’ve become my “tribe,” — people I call on for advice, recommendations and support as well as when I just want someone to talk to over lunch.
“I believe community-based networking groups are the wave of the future,” says Cathy Blood, founder of Woman Owned Greenwich, a group that brings together female entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders in my Connecticut hometown. “We're all experiencing digital overload and we want more personal, face-to-face connections.”
Of course, forming meaningful relationships takes effort; you can’t just go to a meeting, hand out business cards and expect to see results. As Blood likes to say: “You need to give to get.”
She recommends setting a connecting goal (such as meeting your group once a week) and then budgeting time for this just as you might do to engage with your network on LinkedIn.
Reach out to new members via email, strategically ask for coffee dates and become a valuable, engaged member of this community. Think of it as remote control.