Flex Basics
December 11, 2023

How to Combat Feelings of Loneliness as a Remote Worker

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Ali Greene
Coauthor of Remote Works
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Introduction

What do you envision when you hear the words remote work or work from home? Perhaps you picture someone hiding out in their home office, headphones on, in meetings all day, or another still in pajamas, clacking away on their laptop from the sofa.

For those thrust into working remotely during the pandemic, the experience of working solely from home and the lingering feelings of isolation and loneliness may be preventing you from exploring the true benefits of a work movement. One that is rooted in the ability to be flexible and optimize not only the work experience but also life. While these sentiments do have some truth; for example, 23 percent of remote workers selected loneliness as their biggest remote work challenge in the 2023 Buffer State of Remote Work report, it is more nuanced than headlines lead us to believe, as the issue of loneliness is not only a remote work problem but a global epidemic, with almost a quarter of the world reporting feeling lonely.

Focusing on workplace culture, this misconception that it is solely remote workers who are isolated is why I believe most companies and individuals are approaching the problem the wrong way. Relying on outdated team-building methods, such as the meme-worthy Zoom happy hours, has been the go-to strategy for leadership at remote companies. While good intentions are behind this push for “friendships at work,” when done poorly, it can lead to feelings of fatigue and a lack of time to invest in the community locally.

So what should you do instead? Read on for 3 strategies you can use to combat isolation and build your professional community remotely (spoiler alert: only one requires in-person time).

1. Connect With Yourself

What is the main difference between isolation and loneliness, two big words used to describe remote workers? How you perceive it. “Isolation is being by yourself. Loneliness is not liking it" is a simple definition shared by the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA).

In order to combat feelings of loneliness, it is important to tap into your psychological and emotional needs for connection. Ask yourself questions about your core values, interests, and hobbies, and spend time defining what connection and community could look like in your life.

You may discover a mismatch in how you are prioritizing your time and energy according to your values. Perhaps the gap is driven by a need for more brainstorming and thinking out loud, in which case joining a mastermind, or peer support group could be a solution. Maybe it is a signal to spend more time with family—introducing a new ritual for a family phone call as a transition into the workday or setting stronger work boundaries so you can prioritize picking your kids up from school. And just maybe it is not loneliness after all, but a reminder to embrace the good kind of isolation and connect back to a hobby—paint a picture, dive into friendships imagined through a great novel, or enjoy the solitude and relaxation of a meditative yoga class or bubble bath.

2. Connect With Your Network

When thinking about growing your professional community remotely, leveraging your virtual network is the most accessible option. Intentionality and openness are key as you look within and outside your current team and company.

First, I recommend creating a network map inside your company: identify people who you work with on project work, share functional skills, live in the same region, have similar personal interests (e.g., board game geeks or Swifties), or work on another team that excites you.

This could take the form of interest-based Slack channels, shadowing other team meetings, or simply a “who to go to for XYZ” Wiki and the use of individual Read Me documents to help others get to know you and vice versa. When thinking of building this in your organization, keep culture in mind. Is there a formal channel or owner who could champion this idea? Or can you start with a small experiment and build out simple rules for engagement as you go?
Within the group of people with whom you most closely collaborate, consider building out a team charter and having collaboration kickoffs that explicitly define team norms around how often you want to connect, on what topics, and what this looks like.

Use the same principles to expand your virtual network beyond colleagues. I recommend searching on LinkedIn for people with common professional passions and joining relevant Slack communities and other online groups that align with your interests and goals. Every week, I dedicate time in my calendar for virtual coffee chats to add depth to my online relationships.

3. Connect With an IRL Community

Remember when I said loneliness is not a remote work problem? Well, here is an interesting caveat. According to [Eurofound’s Living, working, and COVID-19 e-survey](https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/en/publications/2020/living-working-and-covid-19), the probability of experiencing loneliness was correlated to hours spent working from home. “Among employees who worked 41–60 hours from home, 20% felt isolated, and 39% felt emotionally drained by work always or most of the time. This compares to 14% and 34%, respectively, among those who worked the same range of hours at an employer’s premises."

What is missing from this statement and from data like this, in general, is something remote work advocates have been shouting from the rooftops for years: there are more options than home and the office, namely coworking and coffee shops.

To truly embrace all the benefits of flexible work, be flexible with your mindset on where and with whom the work can get done. I am writing this article from a bakery where I organize weekly coworking coffee mornings for local remote workers in my town.

If you are not the type to take the lead, consider joining a program that already exists, such as a digital nomad co-living. I like Chateau Coliving or Burgas Coliving. A remote work program such as Tulsa Remote has helped more than 2,500 dynamic individuals move and prosper in the city of Tulsa and enjoy social, networking, and professional development opportunities, member meetups, local volunteering, and more.

Embracing Connection and Community as a Remote Worker

As remote work continues to evolve, so do the strategies for staying connected and combating loneliness. Regardless of the where remember your why. Having an intentional approach to building community through increased self-awareness, effective online networking, and meaningful in-person connections will all help you experience the true benefits of remote work while minimizing feelings of loneliness.

About the Author

Ali Greene
Coauthor of Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility, and Focus

Ali Greene is the co-author of Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility, and Focus (#1 New Release in Organizational Change and Business Management Science). Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers and distributed via Penguin Random House internationally. With 9+ years of remote work experience at distributed organizations like DuckDuckGo and Oyster, her mission is to empower people and companies, helping them thrive by making work (and life!) better. In 2022 and 2023, Ali was named a Top 50 "Remote Accelerator" as well as a "Must-Follow Remote Work Expert." She believes flexible, distributed work (when done right) has the potential to change the world, something she advocates for in her writing, workshops, and consulting.

Grab your own copy of Remote Works here.

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