Loneliness and feelings of isolation at work can be a common experience for many people today, particularly as more teams are collaborating online due to the rapidly changing nature of work. However, there are ways to cope with these feelings and maintain positive connections with others.
January’s short dark days and, frankly, quite miserable weather don’t lend themselves to the generally elevated mood that makes us all more productive. And with so called “Blue Monday” this month being seen as one of the year’s glummest days it’s easy to let things get on top of you.
With the rise in solopreneurs, sole traders and even full time payrolled staff at big firms working from home on a permanent basis there’s a very real risk of spending entire days without having any in-person human interactions for a lot of us. Certainly during working hours, if you’re not careful, it can sometimes feel as if your laptop is your only companion!
It will sound obvious but one way to combat loneliness is to actively seek out opportunities for social interaction. This could include scheduling regular virtual coffee breaks with colleagues, joining a virtual employee resource group, or even just striking up a conversation with a coworker during a Zoom call.
Of course you do need to be conscious of etiquette and of other peoples’ time in such situations. Taking over your weekly company stand-up to drill everyone about their weekends can quickly get repetitive and sometimes feel forced, particularly for those with a militant schedule who want to stick to business. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be attempting polite conversation among colleagues but you should make efforts to recognise the situations where this is appropriate.
If certain business-focused group calls feel fairly intense and don’t lend well to striking up casual conversation perhaps there are other scheduled calls that are less formal you could be involved with? If there aren’t ,have you tried suggesting a forum for more lighthearted conversation by way of helping to encourage positive relationships, foster creativity and improve all round wellbeing for workers? If you pitch it right you might find there are plenty of takers keen to break up their days or weeks with a quick informal catch up. It can also help brred a more positive relationships with your video conferencing provider of choice. If all you use Zoom for is to be talked at in company-wide update meetings you can easily begin to resent it. But with a few more enjoyable encounters that little blue icon shouldn’t instil such feelings of dread!
Feelings of loneliness when working for a company can be worst when you’re a new starter and in situations like these it’s worthwhile making a conscious effort to build relationships with coworkers. This could involve taking the initiative to schedule one-on-one meetings with colleagues, reaching out to others for help or advice or making an effort to get to know coworkers outside of work-related contexts, where appropriate. The more conversations you have where you’re at ease with one another the more chance there is of finding that common ground so essential to forming bonds with others. If it turns out Mel from Marketing has a penchant for your favourite tabletop board game then this can become an enjoyable feature of your Monday morning check ins.
Freelancers, sole traders and online workers who aren’t part of a company may find these winter months the hardest. It’s not very tempting to go out and do things with your friends after work at the moment, so the temptation is to stay in under a blanket and just bash out work until you’re tired. This isn’t healthy!
Like so many areas of life it’s incredibly important is to focus on your mental and physical wellbeing if you want to adddress negative feelings in your work life. This can include taking breaks throughout the day to stretch and move around, practicing mindfulness or meditation, getting enough sleep and eating well and incorporating exercise into your routine. Will being of healthy mind and body stop you feeling lonely? No, but you’ll certainly feel better than if you let those negative and isolated feeings take hold.
It is also important to set boundaries and establish a routine for yourself. This includes setting a schedule for when you’re going to log off and disconnect from work, creating a designated workspace, and making sure to take time for hobbies and interests outside of work. A lot of home workers can slip into a pattern of using a laptop from the sofa or even whilst sat in bed and not only is this likely bad for your posture, it really prevents that all-important boundary between work and leisure time.
Invest in a proper desk and chair, with monitor and monitor stand if needed, and try and have this as separate from your social/living space as you can. Of course we can’t all find another wing of our house in which to set up office, but hopefully you can at least find a corner of your home that feels distinct as a working space that you can mentally block off from what’s around it.
If you are working seven hours plus by yourself from your home each day then making the time for finding ways to break the cycle is going to be necessary for your mental health. As creatures of routine it can really pay to set aside the time or times you know you will leave your workspace, be that for early morning outside exercise, a trip to the shops at lunch time or perhaps a mid afternoon stroll. Even if you’re not necessarily interacting with those you might pass on your venture out of the house, being among other people can help put your mind at ease that you’re not all by yourself.
It’s also beneficial for a lot of people to have somewhere they can get up and go to for their work, whether once a week, or every day in some cases. This will depend on how well set up you are at home and the kind of work you are doing obviously. But there’s a reason you see so many coffee shops filled with workers on laptops!
The routine of going to a place other than your home workstation to get work done can really improve your productivity and of course helps cool those anxious feelings when you’ve had precisely zero company for too long. Coffee shops and communal co-working spaces are ideal for this. If your budget allows, a paid membership for a co-working space can really help give you access to other people, a distinct working environment and a destination to reach that can form part of your essential routine.
If you find you’re better at working without distraction but still miss the routine and the other faces, then you could be served best by utilising serviced office space where you’d have your own exclusive office for your own private use. However, this office being in a building filled with other businesses allows for social interaction in communcal areas such as the kitchen, or in some lucky cases, the garden!
It’s vital to remember that you’re not alone in feeling lonely or isolated at work. The number of people experience similar feelings is only increasing, and it’s normal to have ups and downs. If the loneliness and isolation persists, it may be helpful to seek out the support of a therapist or counselor.
So don’t let yourself be defeated by feelings of isolation, there are always ways to cope and maintain positive connections with others. By actively seeking out social interaction, building relationships, focusing on wellbeing, setting boundaries, developing a routine, considering workplace communities and seeking professional help when needed, it is possible to navigate these feelings and continue to thrive in the workplace.