We've been reading a lot about loneliness lately.
Buffer found that loneliness is the biggest challenge remote workers are facing, and new research from Dan Schawbel echoes those findings. The number of remote workers has increased dramatically, but this physical separation of coworkers has led to more people feeling like they don't have friends at work, and that they're less loyal or connected to their company because of it.
For remote workers, loneliness leads to poor outcomes for physical and mental health and productivity. For employers and team leaders, strengthening bonds and connectedness between remote team members and co-located team members can help reduce turnover and improve team collaboration by building relationships. In this post, we provide suggestions for remote workers and employers to deploy remote work while making everybody feel included.
Whether it's a co-working space, a coffee shop, or a local library, the first step to fighting feelings of isolation is getting yourself out of your everyday office and out in the world. Choose a local co-working space, coffee shop, library, or university to work one day a week to surround yourself with other people. If you have a friend who also works remotely, bring them along with you so you can work together. Even if you aren't speaking to many of the other people, you might find that the simple act of getting out of the house helps you feel like you're a part of a bigger community.
If this applies to you, reach out to other remote workers living in your city or state to schedule a meet-up, where you spend time together working on similar projects.
If you work alone -- whether it's from a home office or a co-working space -- you should take advantage of the flexibility your schedule allows to build in time for extra socializing during your week. Whether that means grabbing breakfast or coffee with a neighbor, spending additional time with your children before dropping them off at school or daycare, or bringing your dog to the park, make time to socialize during the work week in ways you wouldn't be able to do if you worked in an office.
If you don't get to spend much time working or socializing with your teammates as a remote worker, make plans with friends or family members during the week when you're feeling lonelier than usual. These plans will help you feel more like a part of a community, and they'll help force you to stop working at the end of your work day so you don't become overworked or burnt out. When your office is in your home, it's harder to draw lines between work and personal hours, and making plans for after-work dinner or drinks will get you out of the house and off of the computer.
Whether people at your company use a shared internal wiki or instant messaging for day-to-day communication, use that system to join or form groups where you can communicate socially with your team members, no matter where they're located. Whether it's a Slack group for sharing photos of your pets to a monthly Zoom meeting for working parents at the company, build ways to connect socially on top of your existing communication systems to keep in touch with your teammates in a low-effort way when you're feeling less connected.
For those times when you need to brainstorm, discuss ideas, or present your point of view on a subject with one of your colleagues, hop onto a video or audio call to communicate. Whether you're trying to explain a complicated concept or are disagreeing with your teammate, you'll quickly grow frustrated trying to communicate effectively via text. If you're already feeling lonely as a remote worker, feelings of isolation could increase if you're running up against miscommunication and misunderstanding on a regular basis.
Instead, take advantage of video conferencing software, phone calls, or pre-recorded explainer videos to help you communicate more effectively.
The same way you offer perks like free coffee, catered meals, or fitness classes to help retain your on-site employees, set up perks that benefit your remote workers, too. Consider offering remote workers a monthly stipend to cover or defray the cost of membership at a co-working space, or a monthly budget to work out of a coffee shop, to proactively help team members prevent feeling lonely. Other perks for remote workers could include a budget to outfit their home offices so they feel fully set up and enjoy spending so much time there every week.
If the bulk of your corporate perks are only beneficial to in-office employees, you'll need to rethink ways to help retain your best remote workers to make them feel included and a part of the community, and addressing loneliness is a great place to start.
It likely isn't possible or convenient for remote employees to travel to spend time with their team on a weekly or monthly basis for in-person collaboration, but team leaders can use technology to build virtual hangouts so remote employees can feel more connected with their in-office teammates. Whether that virtual socializing takes the form of a video meeting where everyone shares a coffee or adult beverage together or weekly lunch and learns, technology makes it easy to build time for relationship-building that all team members can benefit from.
Depending on how many remote employees work on each team or within the entire company, leaders should build in a budget to bring remote employees into the office on a semi-regular basis. This is important for remote employees to build relationships and network, and it's important to make sure teams are working together in sync on a day-to-day basis.
If you're a fully-remote company or remote employees are distributed around the world, you could consider organizing regular travel to bring remote employees located in the same country or continent together, too. Scheduling a mini-retreat for remote employees to spend time together and share their productivity tips will help them build relationships with peers and feel more connected to a community when they're at work.
If you have a significant number of remote employees, or if you're a fully-remote company, you should be scheduling an all-company retreat once per year at an absolute minimum. Humans crave human connection, and organizing a week-long event with time for programming, collaboration, and fun and socializing will help your teams work better together and make remote workers feel more engaged in the company mission and culture. If you're concerned about the budget involved with planning an event like this, it could cost less than constant employees turnover or employees missing deadlines because they don't work well together.
Team managers and co-located team members in the office should make a significant effort to make remote employees feel more included and a part of the team, no matter where they work. When scheduling meetings, co-located team members should always make sure to add a video conferencing link to the calendar event so remote attendees are prepared to join the meeting. If the team needs to use their computers during the meeting, everyone attending should log into the video conference to prevent side conversations from happening in the physical meeting room. For a more robust and inclusive meeting setup, a smart 360-degree video conferencing camera like the Meeting Owl helps remote attendees feel more included and engaged in the in-room conversation.
To learn more, read about how to achieve work-life balance working remotely next.