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Telework Can Be Lonely: How Remote Workers Can Manage Their Isolation

by Keith Fentress / April 30, 2020

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, telework has been on the rise. Millions are now working remotely, something that may continue even after this virus.

After all, one single company can save about $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year. In 2017, 43% of employees already worked remotely with some frequency. And as of right now, telework allows companies to continue operating while still abiding by the social distancing guidelines set in place by the government.

Perhaps that's something you've always wanted—to work from the comforts of home, skip your daily commute, and maybe conduct work in your pajamas (we won't tell!). But there's one thing you may not have considered when you imagined yourself working from home, and that's isolation and loneliness.

Telework can be lonely. Gone are the days of witty work banter, water cooler conversation, and drinks with your favorite coworkers after a shift.

Before things return to a sense of normality, this is the new "norm." So, how can you manage workplace isolation? How can you stay connected with your community even while sitting in your home office?

This guide explores effective options for remote employees. Keep reading!

Have an Active Social (Distancing) Life

You've likely never heard the word "Zoom" so much in your life. This app, and other video platforms, are changing the way we communicate and are allowing us to stay in touch virtually.

A text message or phone call is great, but it doesn't pack the same punch. Being able to see your friends and family members, even from afar, is heartwarming in a way that you have to experience to understand.

If your social group hasn't had one of these video chats yet, don't wait for them to set it up. Be productive—send out feelers about dates and times, and schedule it into your calendar the same way you would any other meeting or event.

Even a quick, five-minute FaceTime can send your spirits soaring, as it'll help you feel closer to those you're chatting with.

Some excellent videoconference platforms include:

  • Whereby - the free version is a perfect solution for teams up to four 
  • FaceTime - a simple but straightforward app that allows two iPhone users to connect in a video chat
  • Google Hangouts - a free platform that fits up to 25 people at once. Invite the entire family!
  • Zoom - free for up to 40 minutes for up to 100 people. (Hint: if you get booted off before you're ready, just click the same meeting link and re-enter the chat, wiping your minutes slate clean.)
Stay in Touch With Coworkers

In the same way that you keep in touch with friends and family, it's essential to stay close with your coworkers. Chances are, they're going through similar experiences as you and would love nothing more than some connection.

You can do this in several ways—texting or calling, using the Slack app (a professional instant messenger system), even emails. And of course, any of the videoconferencing platforms listed above are great for employees, too.

Consider hosting an employees-only video chat that allows you to check in with your pals. In the meantime, start a conversation in Slack by asking questions like, "What are you grateful for today?" or, "What are you having for dinner tonight?" Encourage people to send pictures, recipes, and more.

Maintain a Professional Network

Staying in touch with coworkers is not the same as maintaining a professional network.

You'll still want to keep things professional for when things return to a sense of normalcy. If you're a manager of multiple remote employees, perhaps this means sending out a weekly email with updates or encouragement.

If you're an employee, perhaps that means putting more hours into a side hustle, project, or newsletter you've been thinking about. Use this "downtime" to pour your heart and soul into things that can take you far once your remote stint is over. Communicate with your coworkers about what they're doing and how you can support them—and vice versa.

Consider a Four-Legged Friend

If you already have a pet, try a "bring your pet to work" day and let them chill with you in your home office!

Of course, if you're about to enter a video chat with your boss and employees, it may be time to put the cat or dog in the other room. But otherwise, there are no rules here. Let your pet keep you company throughout the day.

Another bonus of having an animal is you're forced into a routine and responsibility for something other than yourself. You've got to feed them, ensure their water bowl is full, walk them, or change the litter. Play with them when you're feeling bored or stagnant and watch your energy shift.

Don't have a pet? No problem. Many people are turning to fostering or adopting pets during these times, which allows an animal to find a home, and you to find companionship.

In fact, one app alone, Petfinder, saw a 43% increase in traffic since COVID-19, and a 116% increase in adoption inquiries in the second half of March. They're not alone, either—animal shelters everywhere are getting cleared out by eager new adopters.

With all the time you'll be spending at home, this is an excellent opportunity to train a new puppy or bond with your new cat.

Get Outside at Least Once a Day

Staring at the same four walls of your home office can get, well, boring.

Not only that, but it's not exactly healthy. We need to move, get some sun, and go outdoors at least once a day. Not because we say so—but because there's clear evidence that doing so will help you feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Consider adding an outdoor workday to your schedule once a week. If the weather in your area doesn't permit, take a 10-minute walk every day, or go for a brisk run during lunchtime. Perhaps have your morning coffee or tea out on the patio while you journal.

Choose an option that's satisfying to you and commit to going outside at least once per day.

Know that Loneliness is Okay

You're not going to wake up every day in high spirits, and that's okay.

The world is going through a collective shift, and it's not exactly easy. Some days you'll be fine, working hard and staying positive, and other days you may feel like you've plateaued or don't want to get out of bed.

It helps to know that you don't have to be happy-go-lucky every day. This is true now and always. Feelings of loneliness may bubble beneath the surface—it's part of being human.

What is in your control, however, is how you handle it. Isolation, for example, is something you can combat—don't allow yourself to become closed off. Keep coming back to ideas on this list to keep you integrated with your work life, social life, and the goings-on of the world.

You could even bring up the discussion of loneliness to friends, family, or coworkers. They likely have the same struggles. Simply knowing you're not alone can help you feel more connected to the world and its inhabitants.

And finally, it helps to acknowledge that if you're teleworking right now, if you have a roof over your head, a laptop and WiFi, and a job—you are blessed.

Telework Doesn't Have to Be Lonely

Keeping the above tips in mind, your workday can go from "blah" to fulfilling.

Remote work is what you make it. If you allow yourself to wallow in isolation, the feelings of loneliness have no choice but to grow. But if you wake up, make conversation, stay connected and in some sort of a routine, you're bound to enjoy remote working.

Don't keep these tips to yourself, either. Be sure to share this post with all your friends, family members, and coworkers who are now participating in some form of telework. They'll be pleased to know you care—and when everyone's taking good care of themselves, the world (remote or not) is a better place.

If you're still new to the tele-workforce, we've got more great insights where this came from.

Click here to see what four things you and your team should be doing immediately. And keep scrolling our blog for all your telework-related needs. You've got this!

Tags: Telework

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Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress

Keith Fentress is the founder and president of Fentress Incorporated. He has an extensive history of consulting to real property organizations. His skills include organizational development, program evaluation, and business process improvement. He enjoys outdoor pursuits like backpacking, canoeing, and snorkeling.