Do remote workers tend to feel isolated or disconnected?
An article shared on LinkedIn recently brought up the idea that remote workers are lonely.
The argument was that remote work can disconnect workers, leading to feelings of isolation—an issue that has been linked to increased likeliness to be disengaged or even quit a job.
The reality is, remote work can disconnect people—that is, if the right culture is not in place to support people on remote teams.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but there are two key factors that can combat feelings of isolation in remote workers. These factors rely on both the individual and, in other cases, the team/employer to fully implement.
As someone who doesn’t feel lonely or isolated as a remote worker, I wanted to take a closer look at two of these factors:
- a strong team environment;
- a willingness to figure out—and create—your own ideal working environment.
Factor #1: Team environment
A sense of connection with colleagues doesn’t have to come from working alongside them! With that said, one component of a strong team environment is proactive and informative communication with our coworkers.
That communication is—and should!—take a variety of forms: text, chat/message, phone call, email, video conference, and more. All forms of communication can and should help build rapport. Don’t take this for granted, as it has a huge impact on your connectedness to your team.
Here are some thoughts and reminders for how to promote a team environment through a mix of formats and types of communication:
Encourage time for conversation that isn’t focused on work. It’s not going to be every meeting, but it may make sense to have a regular meeting where people can connect and share what’s happening outside of work. People are going to do this informally, but it’s also a good idea to “build this in” to how you work in some way. I’ve even heard of some companies dedicating a separate, regular meetup (such as a Friday lunch) with this very purpose.
Remember that just because teams are remote, doesn’t mean you can’t meet in-person. It might be more of an investment, but be sure to bring your teams together for in-person meetings as regularly as you can. We’re a virtual team at Edoc, but many of us are able to meet in-person on a regular basis.
Every team can find its own cadence based on what’s feasible and what makes sense for the team. Some remote teams even do annual or semi-annual gatherings where all workers are able to come together and spend face-to-face time with one another.
Make sure new team members know just how much you need to communicate on your remote team. At first, it may feel like over-communication! Teamwork relies on communication, and you can almost never over-communicate on a remote team.
Someone who has never worked remotely or someone who works remotely a few times a week needs to become aware of this in many situations.
Make sure you have the tools in place that can help your team feel like a team. The tech is not the driver of your team environment, but it certainly can help support your team. We use Zoom and Slack, just to name two tools. Slack acts as our virtual “water cooler” in many situations.
If you have a leader who embraces this role, allow them to be a ‘culture-keeper’. If you have someone in your company who enjoys fostering and advocating for a healthy culture, give them the opportunity (and resources) to lead in that role. They can really help to share needs and tell top leaders what they may not be aware of.
Factor #2: Willingness to find what works best for you
We can all look at the employer to see what they can do to help combat feelings of isolation. But every remote worker also owes it to themselves to also find out how they work best.
That takes a certain degree of self-awareness and openness to changing how you currently work!
I have a few pointers and reminders to make sure you’ve set up your work environment to encourage connectivity with others:
Remote work doesn’t have to mean you work from home. If you are feeling lonely and you’ve only worked from home, you may need to change where you’re working. Yes, there are always coffee shops, but there are plenty of alternatives. At Edoc, we are members of the ORCA Coworking space, where we can go at any time.
I’ve even heard of people working at libraries, museums, malls, gyms, fast casual restaurants, and parks, just to name a few. All of these are opportunities to have plenty of interaction with other people.
You also can invite a colleague. On the employer side, be sure you give your remote workers as much access as possible to these alternatives.
Do an inventory of how you spend your time outside of “work”. Where do you go for lunch? Do you take breaks and connect with your neighborhood in any way? Have you ever participated in group workouts or group fitness? Are you involved in the community in other ways? Do you have a social group you normally interact with or could become more involved with? Do you have any pets?
Take the time to examine how you spend your time, in general. This can be a great opportunity for more “connection” in your life. It’s a hard truth, but feelings of loneliness in your life might not just be from your work life, so be honest with yourself.
Put it on your schedule. If you don’t know where to start, my recommendation would be to start scheduling more social activities that you enjoy. I recommend this so you break your current routine, and so that you treat it just as you would any other meeting.
Examples: coffee with a friend, a walk outside, a group fitness class you always said you wanted to try, or maybe it’s a day where you schedule that you are going to work at a coworking space to try it out.
Don’t be afraid to look at sources like Facebook events, meetup.com, or you can find other remote workers who you can work with in your area. Remember that flexibility and freedom are two of the benefits of remote work, so don’t forget that when it comes to setting up your own workspace and work habits.
As an employer, talk with your people. You can ask your people what they might enjoy in terms of more social activity or other great ways to feel connected.
You don’t want it to be forced, but they may have some ideas they’d enjoy, or ideas that would help them get the right amount of social interaction, if that’s an issue.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it may give you a few ideas that can help people combat feelings of isolation. Have other ideas to add to this list? Let us know on Twitter @edocservice.
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Kim Sykes is a marketer at Edoc Service, Inc.