Remote Work Is Often Isolating. Here Is How Remote Teams Can Overcome Loneliness.

by in Best Practices, Mobility

An Abrupt Change to 2020

It’s an understatement to say life has changed, drastically, in only a few weeks’ time. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) has transitioned from an infectious disease to a global pandemic, millions of people around the world have felt its impact on a very personal level. From schools closing, to citywide curfews and quarantines, to businesses considering significant layoffs, the effects of COVID-19 seem to touch all aspects of our lives and livelihoods. 

For those companies who’ve retained their staff, it’s not necessarily business as usual. Just as confirmed cases of the coronavirus continue to rise, so does the number of companies shifting to a work-from-home approach. In a recent study conducted by Willis Towers Watson, nearly half (46%) of the 158 national and multinational employers surveyed have implemented remote-work policies since mid-February. The challenges of suddenly shifting from in-office work to remote work can be like starting a new job.

Lady holding a phone and laptop looking out of the window

What Is Work Isolation?

Along with the many potential benefits of working from home, employees may also face a few unexpected challenges. Among these is the issue of work isolation — that is, feeling unwelcome, left out, or like you don’t belong among your coworkers. Feeling isolated at work can sometimes lead to decreased productivity or employee engagement, as well as negatively influencing one’s confidence or self-esteem.

How to Curb Workplace Isolation During COVID-19

While workplace isolation can be a cause for concern, there are a number of ways to turn the situation around and strengthen your relationship with fellow team members in the process. Feelings of social isolation, even those experienced by remote workers, can be easily remedied with a few different strategies aimed at improving both mental health and overall morale.

1. Stay in contact 

Even before COVID-19 was dominating headlines, there was a steady increase in the work-from-home workforce. Still, the shift to remote work in recent weeks has been an abrupt adjustment for those accustomed to a more traditional office environment. Fortunately, face-to-face communication can carry on thanks to video conferencing. Online video calls allow users to video conference with their colleagues for meetings or a quick catch-up. Either way, connecting via video is an excellent option for maintaining social interaction and closeness among coworkers.

2. Embrace non-work-related meetings

It’s obviously important to stay on top of your work amid the distractions a home office can introduce, but it’s also important to create space for non-work-related activities like virtual icebreakers. Self-isolation can understandably cause mental strain, which may only worsen as time goes on. So to counteract any sense of loneliness, try scheduling video chats with workplace friends that don’t involve work. You can organize virtual happy hours, host an online game night or arrange to stream a movie together! Whichever route you choose, these social connections are sure to help you feel closer to those you can’t be physically close to right now.

3. Be available to help 

If you’re a senior member on the team, more than likely there are junior-level employees who would appreciate your help in these uncertain times. There could also be team members who joined the company very recently, just before operations became remote-based. These individuals may be especially vulnerable to feeling isolated in this new work environment, so they’d certainly welcome a check-in from a supervisor or a longer-tenured colleague in a similar role. Help your team feel confident, comfortable and connected by regularly reaching out and offering your insight or support as needed.

4. Create a routine

With shelter-in-place protocols being implemented across the country, at least 261 million Americans have been told to stay home for at least the next few weeks. Nevertheless, knowing there are millions of people in your same boat may not be enough to fend off feelings of boredom or isolation. While adjusting to this new normal, it can be tempting to constantly scour Google for the latest updates or scroll social media for the newest memes; however, doing so is not necessarily the best use of your time.

Alternatively, consider establishing a routine for your workweek to help keep you on task and offline. This could look like making coffee every morning, beginning your day with stretching or meditation or going for a quick walk around the block during the afternoon. Routines ground us and give us a sense of stability in the midst of so much that’s uncertain. Finding your own rhythm while working remotely is essential to both your productivity and your mental health.

5. Avoid comparison

If you do fall into the traps of social media, it might not take long before you start comparing yourself (or your circumstance) to what you see online. Plenty of people are posting as they’re working from home, so you may feel inclined to size up your situation with that of a fellow remote worker. But as much as you can, try to steer clear of being self-critical, and instead put those negative thoughts to rest. If you’re feeling extra isolated, you can call up a coworker who has a knack for encouraging words, listen to a motivational or meditative podcast or get up and move your body to boost your serotonin levels a bit. Most of all, be sure to give yourself credit for doing the best you can in this strange new reality.

6. Celebrate small victories

When morale starts to slide or team camaraderie slips out of sight, it becomes even more important to look for the good in each day and to acknowledge achievements both big and small. It may seem trivial at first, but celebrating small victories can definitely inspire a sense of community among coworkers. What if on Friday afternoons, everyone from your office hopped on a video call to share their wins from the week? These could be akin to successfully completing a project under a demanding deadline, holding onto a client who was on the verge of closing their account or simply relishing in another week where people stayed safe and well at home. Even though we’re surrounded by so much that feels heavy, focusing on the positive could be the perfect antidote to workplace isolation.

7. Keep perspective

It might be difficult to grasp in the moment, but this pandemic isn’t permanent, and neither are the lingering feelings of being isolated at work. Inevitably, there will come a day in the not-too-distant future when offices will reopen and colleagues will reunite; but until then, perspective is key. 

Despite how devastating or overwhelming the impacts of COVID-19 feel right now, remember that incredible acts of service and love are happening at the same time. People everywhere are showing up for one another, caring for their neighbors and strangers alike and doing their part to stop the virus’s spread. And what’s even more remarkable is that, by staying home (perhaps the most isolating thing any of us has ever done), we are quite possibly sharing the most collective experience we will have during our lifetimes.

8. Forgive yourself

As a motivated individual, once you have an unproductive half-hour, it’s easy to feel bad about it — and let that consume your entire day. Ironically, negative thoughts around productivity lead to — you guessed it — less productivity! Whenever you find yourself in a tough place struggling to focus, try employing the tactics above; but above all else, forgive yourself. It’s okay to be distracted or feel weird about everything happening in the world. Forgive yourself, and start fresh knowing you’ll have an opportunity to make improvements tomorrow.

7 Free Apps to Help With Work Isolation

The truth about quarantine is that the majority of people working from home still have full access to their devices — phones, tablets, computers and an endless supply of apps, content and forms of entertainment. So why not use these gadgets for something more constructive than mindless scrolling or unnecessary shopping? The following are a handful of free apps to help you combat work isolation and keep you on track to success!

1. Lifesize

Lifesize develops cloud-based video conferencing solutions for businesses to host more engaging and authentic face-to-face meetings. With six months of free and unlimited service, Lifesize has made it incredibly easy to start working together from anywhere.

2. G Suite

G Suite encompasses a number of collaboration tools, software and products to help you stay organized and at the top of your game. Within G Suite you’ll find resources for communication (Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, Currents), productivity (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Sites) and storage (Drive). 

3. Slack

Slack’s platform was designed to replace email as the main method of communication within your company. Think of Slack as a giant chat room where you and your coworkers can organize channels for group discussions or share files and information through direct messages.

4. Miro

Miro is an online whiteboard designed specifically for distributed teams. Whether you're looking to map out a new project or conduct a SWOT analysis for an upcoming presentation, Miro has hundreds of templates you can use to creatively visualize your ideas.

5. Houseparty

Houseparty is a video-chatting app with a handful of games built in, making it an excellent option for those non-work-related meetings you’ll be hosting. Your group can choose from Chips n Guac, Quick Draw, Heads Up and trivia, all sure to provide for some hilarious isolation entertainment.

6. Bookclub (by BookMovement)

Forming a book club during quarantine is another great opportunity to connect with your colleagues outside of work hours. The Bookclub app assists in setting up your meetings, keeping track of attendees and even selecting your next read by perusing their Discover section.

7. Headspace

Headspace is a healthcare app focused on mindfulness and meditation. With a free trial of Headspace, you can explore hundreds of different sessions and build healthy habits to alleviate any stress or anxiety you’re feeling due to workplace isolation.

We’re All in This Together

As shelter-in-place notices are extended and businesses remain closed, our social interactions will continue to be restricted as well. Still, we live in a time of unlimited technology and resources that allow us to overcome this temporary separation and maintain our most coveted relationships. By utilizing the above strategies and app suggestions, we can tackle work isolation head on and emerge from this “together at home” season even stronger.