Fighting Loneliness While Working Remotely

The times, they are a-changin’ - Bob Dylan

We’re living in a difficult time at the moment, and there’s few signs that we’ll be back to business as usual any time soon. The new normal for organisations is going to be operating on a remote basis, in the interest of keeping the general public safe from a pandemic and the subsequent collapse of our healthcare system. Thankfully, there’s never been a better time in human history to be working remotely, and for many organisations, the potential output isn’t stifled dramatically with your staff operating from home. The flipside of that, however, is that there’s some pretty clear-cut evidence out there correlating those working from home with high levels of feeling disconnected, isolated and vulnerable to loneliness. At a time like this, it’s worth covering some of the evidence out there as well as putting some strategies in play to counter the potential for loneliness for everyone in your organisation.

Loneliness working on a remote basis is already an issue, and it’s being severely compounded with the hysteria around the past few weeks. In light of that, let’s take a look at the numbers.

There was a report released last April, well before the pandemic that stated remote workers were increasingly feeling lonely while they operated. The report cites a survey that interviewed 2,000 managers across 10 countries, and of that sample size, 40% of respondents said they felt lonely either often or always while working remotely. The author in question also interviewed Dan Schawbel, who penned the book “Back to Human” How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation,” who said that the number of remote workers has increased in the U.S. by a staggering 115% in the last decade.

“While we want flexibility so much, there is a tradeoff,” Schawbel said. “Our research shows that remote workers are more likely to quit because of loneliness as well as low engagement. The reason why WeWork exists is because people want the human connection. Otherwise, people would work from home,” he said. The problem is, in March of 2020, there’s no way your remote staff could visit a co-working space as restrictions on gatherings continue to narrow.

The author does, however, suggest that managers can optimise both the output and happiness of their employees with the help of human connection. “These employees will work harder if they have a sense of connection,” he says. “For managers, it is important to let a remote worker lead the meeting. It’s so simple and brilliant at the same time. Be sure to use video conferencing often for meetings - you get to see and hear someone, which is much better than email. It also forces you to dress like you are in the office. If you dress the part, you act the part,” Schawbel says.

“The actual work is important. But it’s also crucial to cultivate friendships. The workplace survey I led, which was conducted by my company found that 7% of all employees globally have no friends at work and over half have five or fewer total friends. Overall, it is about what you do, and who you do it with. The people you choose to work with are more important than the work you do,” he concludes.

I’ve written before on the topic, around six-months ago to be exact on the importance of having catch-ups, rather than large and formal meetings. I believe that at a time like this, it’s particularly important for everyone in the organisation to be having a check-in on a daily basis. While the topic of conversation should ideally revolve around work, and the task-list for the day, you should also open up the floor - or the screen - to conversations of all types.

As a manager in an organisation, you have an obligation to your staff to ensure this is happening. If you’re lower down in the foodchain, and think that this could be having an impact on your colleagues, it remains an obligation of yours to mention this to the leadership team. Hopefully, they’ll be empathetic, and maybe haven’t considered this as a reality of working at home. Schedule regular catch-ups in your organisation, take regular breaks, get some sun, don’t turn to social media as a ‘break time’ and make sure that everyone is communicating with each other openly.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard in the past couple of days amongst all the hysteria is that the best thing we as business owners, as Australians and as human beings is to stick together and support one another, and I’d like to leave you on that point. If you’re concerned about loneliness while working on a remote basis, don’t be afraid to turn to your colleagues and your management team and request a helping hand. From my experience, the best leaders are willing to offer theirs, they’re often so inundated with business as usual that they haven’t had time to stop and think of the welfare of their employees.

Thanks, as always, for your time.

I’ll see you in the next piece.

Kobi Simmat.

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