Those water cooler conversations and other brief social exchanges in the office may seem insignificant but, without them, we can feel bereft.
And if you’re used to being around people all day, working solo from home can be a difficult transition to make. Even with constant virtual meetings over Zoom, the endless screen-time can take its toll because we’re interacting with half the number of people we’d ordinarily interact with within an office setting. Virtual interactions make it more difficult to build trust and empathy.
However, if you’re struggling to cope with the isolation of working from home, you’re not alone.
Job board, Totaljobs found that almost half (46%) of UK workers experienced loneliness during lockdown, with younger workers especially struggling. And no wonder, working solo from home is a challenging transition to make, especially if you’re used to working for a big company with lots of staff or working in a busy open-plan office.
Of course, loneliness is subjective. Just because you’re working from home in isolation doesn’t mean you’re lonely. Just as being surrounded by people in a workplace doesn’t mean you’re not. It depends on how connected you feel to the people in your life.
So what’s a remote worker to do?
1. Give yourself structured autonomy over your own routine. Imposed isolation can make us feel punished and not in control of the situation. Hence why, when we choose to work remotely, it feels better than the enforced pandemic WFH. When we’ve chosen it, we are more likely to feel the benefits of solitude and home-working (the enhanced creativity from reduced distraction, the comfort of wearing lounge-wear all day and the flexibility of more family time and/or leisure time replacing commuting time). Setting your own hours and a start/finish time that suits you can help you more readily see the benefits of working from home. Meanwhile, setting a routine for what you do before work to mentally prepare and switch off after can also help with mental health management and loneliness.
2. Schedule positivity-boosting activities during regular working breaks to counter the negative impact of loneliness. Try writing down three things you are grateful for, performing a random act of kindness, making a thank you card during your lunch break, and then delivering it. Giving thanks is a gift to ourselves and the recipient as it makes us feel grateful while making the recipient feel appreciated. Kindness, gratitude and creativity are all great wellbeing boosters, and positive emotion is important to foster during challenging times as it improves our cognitive functioning and ability to problem solve.
3. Get out of the house to tap into the flexibility that working from home can offer. Go somewhere for lunch (ideally with a colleague to maintain working relationships) or break up the day by going for a nature walk first thing, a quick walk around the block at lunchtime and a trip out in the car at the end of the working day. If you can work from anywhere with a web connection, hit the road occasionally and work from a coffee shop or library, anywhere you’re not alone. Just escaping the confines of home can make a big difference.
4. Replace the buzz of conversation with background music of your choice. Or try The Sound of Colleagues, a Spotify playlist of workplace sounds, such as keyboards, printers, chatter and coffee machines. This was created as a joke by Red Pip but soon took off as over half a million people tuned in over lockdown.
5. Check in with yourself and colleagues. Ask people if they’re okay or if they need anything and practice active listening – give the speaker your undivided attention, nod, smile, and offer feedback. Then check in with yourself. What might you need to nourish yourself in this moment? To stretch and take some deep breaths? To get some fresh air? To put some music on and dance around the kitchen (something you only get to do when you’re working solo from the comfort of your own home).
6. Stay active. Go for a bike ride, stick to a morning workout routine: swim, dance, run – exercise releases feel-good chemicals. You could even sign-up for a remote yoga class or fitness challenge together with other work colleagues.
7. Synergise connection. If busyness impedes connection time, you could synergise multiple tasks into the same time period. For example, if you need to walk the dog, discuss a project with a colleague, and post a parcel, phone or invite your colleague over for coffee, then continue your chat as you walk the dog to the post office.
8. Ask for help. It may be easier to share your feelings from behind a screen or more difficult, depending on your personality, but when you ask for help, you allow someone to make a difference and feel good. It will also make you feel better because a problem shared really is a problem halved.
By Cheryl Rickman, a positive psychology practitioner and author of the new book Navigating Loneliness: How to connect with yourself and others.