Remote work has plenty of perks: Your commute to the office is only a few feet, you can wear more relaxed clothing, you have access to snacks, you can work from home or a favorite coffee shop, and your schedule is (generally) more flexible than that of an in-office worker.
But remote work also has some drawbacks – one of which can be loneliness. “Remote workers are likely to experience loneliness because working from home doesn’t give them the opportunity for social interaction the way that working in an office does,” says career and executive coach Susan Peppercorn. Remote work can be extremely isolating, especially for people who are “extroverted and derive energy from interacting with other people,” she says.
Long-term loneliness isn’t good for employees or the company for which they work. Loneliness can impact “our mood and energy levels, leading work productivity to suffer,” says Matt Glodz, managing partner of Resume Pilots. For employees, that can be mean working longer hours to finish tasks, and that can lead to feelings of resentment toward the work itself, Glodz explains.
Loneliness also impacts employees’ “physical and emotional wellbeing,” says Tia Graham, chief happiness officer and founder of Arrive at Happy. “The mind and body are connected, so workers could start experiencing issues like chronic pain or having trouble sleeping,” issues that can impact your happiness and ability to “be a successful leader or team member at work”
But you don’t have to live with work-from-home loneliness. Here, experts share how you can shake off those feelings of loneliness and make real connections with your coworkers.
Volunteer to lead a project that involves others.
Take the initiative and ask your manager if there are gaps in his or her goals that you can fill – then step up and “own one of them,” says career and executive coach Susan Peppercorn. Not only will this demonstrate your leadership skills, she says, but it will also give you an opportunity to interact with others as you work alongside your team to execute the project and meet the goal.
Schedule social breaks.
In the office, social breaks from work happen naturally and regularly: Coworkers stop by for a quick chat, or you run into a colleague in a common space. But “when working from home, it’s easy to plug into your work and forget to take a break,” says Glodz. He recommends using the Pomodoro method, which “forces you to take several five-minute and 15-minute breaks” a day.
You might use the time to schedule virtual coffee breaks with coworkers, Glodz says. “Instead of messaging on Slack all day, set up one or two coffee breaks with a coworker,” he says. “By intentionally building some time for social interaction into your day, you’ll start to rekindle the relationships you built in the office.” This can be especially beneficial “if you’re new to the company,” Glodz says because scheduled coffee breaks can help you meet your new teammates.
Spend more time with friends and family.
To combat general loneliness, it’s important to have strong relationships, says Graham. “This means spending time with people that you care about and who care about you,” she says. “How much time are you spending with family and friends?” If the answer is “not much,” it’s time to plan some QT with your network. “Make a point to connect with someone – not over social media,” says Graham, and “talk to them and share what you’re feeling” about remote work.
Organize a team-building activity.
Work doesn’t have to be “work, work, work all the time,” says Peppercorn. “If you work from home, [consider organizing] a virtual scavenger hunt, wine tasting, yoga class or anything that will engage your co-workers and help you build relationships” with them outside of work tasks.
If it’s not possible to get together in-person, virtual “outings” can be great for team building, too. For example, try gamification or virtual escape rooms to replace in-person team building, says Graham. “These activities foster belonging and grow relationships in the virtual world,” she says.
“If you’re feeling lonely, get outside for 15 minutes,” Glodz recommends. By leaving the house, “you’ll remind yourself that there’s a world outside your window and open the opportunity for a bit of social interaction – whether that’s petting a neighbor’s dog, saying ‘hi’ to the mailman, or asking the coffee shop barista about their day,” he says. Social interactions will fight loneliness.
Give back and be generous.
Sometimes, “unhappiness comes from focusing too much on ourselves,” Graham says, and adds that looking outward for ways to help others can in turn help ease your loneliness. “In your circle of family and friends, are there people you can help? In your community, are there people or organizations that you can donate your time to?” she asks. Reach out, then lend a hand to help.
Team up with an accountability buddy.
Because loneliness can lead to a lack of productivity, it’s important to stay on task. Peppercorn recommends finding a colleague who can help you meet your deadlines by keeping you accountable. “Offer the same for them,” she says, and you may find your loneliness will wane.
Start your day with movement.
Being out in nature can make you happier, says Graham, who suggests breaking up your workday with a brief walk, or starting or ending it with a trip to the gym or exercise class where you’ll see other people. “Physical activity releases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which play a part in regulating your mood,” Graham explains. Releasing these chemicals “will boost your overall happiness – and will make you feel less lonely if you’re working out around others.”
And executive coach Piper Watson agrees. “Getting the blood flowing at least once a day – periodically throughout the day, before and after work and on breaks – has several positive effects,” she says. In addition to increasing those feel-good chemicals, the increased blood flow that exercise releases can enhance “productivity and problem-solving power,” she says.
Ask personal — but not too personal — questions.
For whatever reason, “there are things we would do naturally when in-person that we seem to forget in virtual meetings,” such as asking how people are doing, how their families are doing, or how they spent the previous evening, says Peppercorn. At the start of a virtual conversation, she recommends that you spend “a few minutes showing an interest in your team or colleague,” which “is a terrific way to build a genuine connection and will help you feel less isolated.”
Pay attention to social cues.
“Some people genuinely enjoy Zoom calls and virtual happy hours, while others dread them,” Glodz says. If you want to build real relationships with your work-from-home colleagues, “ask your colleague how they prefer to communicate,” he says. “They’ll likely appreciate the gesture, and perhaps that colleague who’s stressed on Zoom will be much friendlier on phone the phone.”
Ask your coworkers for suggestions.
Your other work-from-home coworkers can be a great resource. “Ask your co-workers for suggestions on how they've been managing from home,” says Peppercorn. “You might glean some interesting insights, offer suggestions of your own and make a friend in the process.”
Turn your camera on for (some) meetings.
While “Zoom fatigue is real and being on camera all the time can be draining,” Graham says, never turning your camera on can further isolate you. “People need to communicate with each other using nonverbal communication, which gets lost on a phone call,” Graham says. “Body language and laughing together are important – and using cameras can help accomplish this.”
Make time for personal connections during meetings.
When it comes time for a phone or Zoom call, don’t “jump right into business,” Graham says. Instead, “allow time for the team to share personal updates, such as a vacation they’re looking forward to or if they just adopted a dog.” This facilitates the social interaction you’re craving.
Acknowledge your feelings of loneliness.
“Loneliness is highly common for all work-from-home workers,” says Watson, “so it’s important to take a few quiet moments to yourself to acknowledge and allow it when you're having those feelings.” Why? Watson says that it “helps to dispel the negative emotions, and create space for new insight and feelings of motivation to change the situation. This could sound like, ‘I’m feeling isolated and uninspired by my work right now, and that’s normal, human, and totally okay.’” When people push those feelings aside, rather than recognize them, they can actually increase those negative emotions, rather than reduce them. “So, a moment to acknowledge and validate what you're experiencing can go a long way to making you feel better,” Watson says.