More sleep, a quiet workspace without interruptions, no traffic jams on the way to work - many employees couldn’t wait to spend more time in their home offices. But now, after a few months of working from home, reality has set in and many employees struggle with feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.
We all know the feeling: rushing into the office at nine ‘o'clock in the morning after battling the crowds and queues at the bakery, on the bus and in the subway. You show up at the office on time, albeit a bit sweaty and stressed. Eight hours of work in a dreary office with a one-hour lunch break; fixed times and rules; and distractions from colleagues. All these, as well as a dress code, are part of typical office life. Hands up all those employees who hadn’t dreamed of working from home before we were forced into it during the Corona crisis?
Many of us actually couldn’t wait for remote work to be introduced so we could finally gain some structure and autonomy in our working day. But who would have thought that, in reality, working at home might also bring some major disadvantages? Are us humans just never satisfied, or are these just teething pains and we haven’t quite adapted yet? Let’s take a look at the two biggest challenges of remote working and how HR managers best deal with isolation when working from home.
Working from home tips to avoid loneliness and isolation
Working from home often results in internal company information getting easily lost, as well as making it difficult to get everyone around one table to connect. Employees who work from home also find it difficult to separate their work from their personal life: many remote work statistics show that a lot of employees can’t unwind and their work never seems finished, tempting them to work far beyond working hours.
The biggest factor, however, is the lack of human exchange with colleagues. In the long run, this can lead to social isolation, loneliness and even depression.
1. Encouraging regular virtual team meetings
Good bosses keep teams together, even at a distance. Awesome bosses even deliberately include time for private chats. After all, employees aren’t machines and need human interaction, to feel part of a team and gain a greater sense of purpose.
“Employees will increasingly lose a sense of connection to their organisation, unless we proactively nurture it.”
Managers should establish regular virtual team meetings via video conferencing. A regular virtual meeting with the team for a drink after work or during lunch can provide a balance, or even a themed video call where everyone wears their ugliest shirt, for example.
2. Use video conferencing tools
Video conferences, online meetings, text conversations, and phone calls can be a good substitute for those face-to-face encounters you are missing. Picking up the phone is often better than an email or Slack message for creating social bonds and feeling part of a community.
If you would like to learn more about how to hire and manage remote employees, read on.
3. Include remote workers in office meetings
For a more robust and inclusive meeting setup, use a smart 360-degree video conferencing camera like the Meeting Owl to help remote attendees feel more included and engaged in the in-room conversation. If the office team needs to use their computers during the meeting, they should also log into the video conference to prevent side conversations from happening in the physical meeting room.
4. Facilitate get-togethers
HR managers should include a budget to bring remote employees into the office on a semi-regular basis for relationship-building and networking.
You could organise a regular trip to a different location each year to socialise, celebrate their achievements and share their working from home productivity hacks. This way, employees feel more connected to their work community.
If you're concerned about the budget involved with planning such an event, just think how it could improve productivity and minimise the miscommunication and lack of engagement that often arises when working from home.
5. Skype lunch
Who likes eating lunch all by themselves? Exactly! While you're spooning your soup alone and longing for some entertaining canteen gossip, a virtual lunch break just might be what employees need.
Suggest a Slack or Skype lunch date with colleagues and allow employees to chit chat freely.
6. Professional network events
Freelancers and solopreneurs are experts in dealing with isolation when working from home. Use their expertise and copy them. They discovered creative and useful solutions for professional loneliness long before the modern way of remote working was introduced. Networking events and conferences are an excellent way to meet other experts in the field and exchange experiences and insights.
Also, webinars and other educational events could be a great way to meet like-minded people, to connect and give your career that much-needed boost. It’s also a perfect way to avoid working from home isolation and loneliness.
7. Get creative with your working space
Whether it's a co-working space, a coffee shop, or a local library, the first step to fighting feelings of isolation is getting out of your everyday office and out into the world. Even the most introverted employee will benefit from the change in perspective and appreciate a different working atmosphere and new people.
8. Offer remote workers a co-working space stipend
Just as 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. Offering remote workers a monthly stipend to cover the cost of membership at a co-working space to proactively help team members avoid loneliness.
9. Encouraging the split
In order to compensate for drawbacks while working from home, a mixed solution has proven to be a good choice: two days home office and three office days per week, for example. Win-win, as they say. What’s more, implementing a split in your workforce also helps to manage social distancing in your workplace.
Besides the obvious advantage of getting some exercise and fresh air to clear the mind, HR managers should actively encourage and support their employees to connect with colleagues so that they feel part of a wider community.
Making your remote workers feel part of the community, as well as addressing mental health and feelings of isolation and loneliness, is a great place to start. Also, before implementing full-time remote work mode, you should consider whether it suits the personality types of all employees, how to overcome their need of daily communication, and support them with boundary setting, self-discipline and time management.