In Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work, loneliness ranked as the second-largest struggle remote workers experienced, with 19 percent of respondents saying it was the biggest drawback.
Two years later, only 16 percent of remote workers identified loneliness as the biggest drawback. It tied with “difficulties with collaboration and communication” for second place.
Despite the enormous growth in the remote workforce in recent months, there is still a considerable period of transition.
Workers, teams, and employers all have to be on their “A” game to create conditions where distributed employees can flourish.
Here are a few tips for each to help create a more remote-friendly environment.
Tips for remote workers
When it comes to combating isolation in remote work, self-awareness and proactivity are key. Everyone is unique, and so are the ways that isolation manifests itself.
To make matters a little more challenging, the symptoms are not always obvious.
Depending on your personality type, you might find yourself becoming increasingly irritated with interruptions, unable to concentrate, or becoming more withdrawn.
Companies can (and should) work hard to craft cohesive, inclusive teams, but it’s a shared responsibility.
Management isn’t always aware of each team member’s needs, so workers need to assess where they are and ask for help when they need it.
It’s also crucial for remote workers to be proactive about building the community they need.
In an office environment, bonds and trust form organically through regular exposure, and it takes a little more effort to build that remotely.
Remote employees need to frequently touch base with teammates and find ways to get to know and support them better.
Look for ways to share a workspace with a friend, family member, or co-worker in a coffee shop or cooperative setting.
Spending a couple of hours a month talking and working individually in the collaborative space can fill up your tank and stop you from feeling disconnected. But it requires that you are aware of your needs and are willing to send up a flare when you start to feel alone.
Tips for teams
It’s no wonder that “loneliness” and “difficulties collaborating and communicating” tied for second place in Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2021.
They’re two sides of the same coin.
Feeling isolated when you work remotely often flows out of not feeling like you have a proper understanding of expectations, priorities, and next steps.
The thing that turns working alone into feeling lonely is when you don’t have what you need to thrive and succeed.
It’s tempting to think that the answer to isolation is more Zoom events and online connections. These things can be helpful, but they can’t replace a foundation of clear communication and expectations.
When teams can remove work friction and foster asynchronous communication, it empowers all the other team-building activities.
Once that foundation is established, teams can build upon it by creating opportunities for one-on-one connections and dynamic interactions, whether it’s getting together in short bursts throughout the week or setting up more intense digital gatherings once a month.
Tips for companies
Having healthy cross-pollination among different teams is already difficult in a traditional work environment. But it still happens as people spend time in cooperative spaces like lunchrooms and corporate meetings and gatherings.
It can be pretty easy for remote workers to be siloed off in their own teams without a lot of access for interaction with others.
One helpful solution to this problem is to create hangouts, channels, and interactive opportunities around shared interests instead of roles.
This allows people to build relationships outside of their immediate circle and creates a broader relational space in the workplace.
When people feel isolated, they’re more apt to reach out to others that they feel a sense of connection with rather than someone with a similar function.
It’s also helpful for leadership teams to realize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with isolation.
Different personalities have different needs. One person might love a regular Zoom lunch gathering, but another might see it as an imposition that requires more than it offers.
Surveying employees about their interests and what would help make them feel more plugged in can help foster multiple smaller-scale connection opportunities.
If you have remote workers who operate out of the same city, you can put together co-working spaces where folks can periodically gather together.
You might even create a stipend that helps people travel to other locations to connect with co-workers.
Workplaces in transition
Even before the pandemic, more and more organizations were moving toward distributed-work models.
COVID has only accelerated the process. But the workforce is transitioning toward a new normal, which means some trial and error in figuring out how to capitalize on the strengths of remote working while identifying and mitigating some of the challenges.
When workers, teams, and companies work together to discover the best models, tools, and processes, everyone benefits, and the organization thrives.
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