Beating loneliness when you work from home
Working from home can be great – there are fewer distractions, and there’s no long, stressful commute. But even though we love remote working, we think it’s really important to recognise the potential downsides, too. Working remotely can sometimes be a lonely experience – especially if you are working by yourself as a freelancer, or if you are the only person in your team or company who works from home.
Most of us find it difficult to admit that we are feeling lonely, but it’s a common experience. According to research by Total Jobs, 60% of employees sometimes feel lonely at work. If you regularly feel lonely, it’s important to start taking some action, because loneliness can have a negative impact on your wellbeing. Research shows that long-term loneliness can have the same impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and can also increase the risk of depression and other mental health issues (source: Campaign To End Loneliness).
We’ve listed our top tips on how to tackle loneliness when you have a remote job or work from home. (If you manage a remote team, do check out our resources for employers, too).
We know that reaching out and making changes can feel really daunting, particularly if you’ve been feeling isolated for a while. But try tackling one just one thing at a time. Try choosing any of the tips, below, and writing down one step you can take this week, and perhaps one more step you can take this month, to start making a change. And please – if you feel as if loneliness is starting to affect your mental health, do talk with your GP – and MIND has some great suggestions.
Tip 1: Don’t struggle alone
If you are feeling really lonely, don’t struggle on without seeking help.
- As a first step, if you work for a company, try telling your line manager, a member of the HR team, or a trusted colleague how you are feeling. You don’t have to use the ‘L’ word: you could say that, while you like the flexibility of working from home, you are starting to feel isolated from colleagues – and you are worried that this is starting to affect your wellbeing.
- If your manager is sympathetic but just not sure what to do, our blog for employers (coming soon) might help.
- If you can’t talk to anyone at work, try letting a friend or family member know how you are feeling. They may not be able to fix things, but it can be helpful just to acknowledge the problem.
Tip 2: Work out your ‘social gap’
Particularly if you are fairly new to working from home, it can be helpful to accept that you will lose some of the day-to-day social contact you are used to, and to plan out how you’re going to fill this ‘social gap’.
Just recognising the role that work has played in your social life can be a good place to start. In your last non-remote job, how often did you typically socialise at work, including things like going out for lunch or coffee, sports teams, drinks after work and so on? If you can’t do those things now that you work from home, that’s your ‘social gap’. Try thinking through how much of this ‘people time’ you’d like to replace, so that you will still feel happy and connected. The next tips are all about ways to start filling this social gap.
Percentage of people feeling lonely at work (source: Total Jobs).
Tip 3: Connect with colleagues
Even if you work as part of a team, those easy social interactions – such as popping out for a coffee – don’t happen without some planning when you work from home. Try making plans to meet up with a colleague or two, either in person (if you’re near enough) or via video chat. Once you’ve done that, see if you can find a way to make it a regular thing.
Get your employer involved, too. Some remote employers, such as Buffer and Doist, are very good at organising social events by video, and even whole-team get-togethers. However, many employers are not so enlightened, and remote employees can end up feeling isolated. If that’s the case for you, try talking with your team leader about how to build in some more social time at work:
- Explain that those ‘water cooler moments’ are important for team creativity and cohesion, as well as your own wellbeing.
- Offer suggestions! How about a weekly video ‘coffee and chat’ with colleagues to help bring people together?
- If you’re near enough, ask if you can come in to the office for meetings from time-to-time – perhaps once a month. While you’re there, build in some time for lunch or coffee with colleagues.
Tip 4: Try coworking
Working remotely doesn’t have to mean working at home all by yourself. If you’re new to coworking. it just means a shared work-space used by freelancers and remote workers. Coworking venues are popping up in towns and cities all over the globe. They can be a great place to meet other remote-workers. You don’t have to rent an office – many offer ‘hot desking’ options, where you just drop by and pay for a few hours at a time.
Many coworking venues pride themselves on being real communities, and organise talks and social events to help members get to know each other. Some even offer creches alongside their coworking space, which can be fantastic for working parents.
A few remote-friendly employers offer coworking membership as a staff perk. If your employer offers perks such as subsidised travel that you don’t use, you could ask if they would consider putting the same value towards a coworking space instead.
If you’re on a really tight budget and coworking is too pricey, try a work ‘jelly’ meet-up. It’s a crazy name, but a work jelly is just a free, regular coworking day. Like coworking, it can be a good way to meet other, local freelancers and work-from-home types to chat, share ideas and exchange contacts. In the UK, you can find a local meetup on the UK Jelly website.
If you live in a really rural area, there may not be any coworking or work jelly options near by. In that case, online groups can be another option. Freelance Heroes is a flourishing Facebook group for freelancers all over the UK. And myworkhive runs its very own free, online, co-working group for anyone working from home or remotely – come and join us!
Tip 5: Build your real-world network
Getting out-and-about to networking events and conferences is another way to build your connections (and add in a little social time too.) We know – stilted chat over coffee at a conference can be really awkward, and doesn’t exactly feel like a replacement for your missing-in-action social life. But getting ‘out there’ can help you feel part of the wider work community. And that in turn brings new ideas, and new contacts – which can stop you feeling so isolated and like you’re in a rut.
If expensive conferences aren’t an option, try looking out for low-cost meetups near you. For example, lots of towns have low-cost or free netoworking meetups for local small businesses and freelancers.
Your local Chamber of Commerce website might be a good place to start looking. And different sectors often have their own meetups. For example, if you are in tech, many cities have regular developer meetups.
Tip 6: Build your community outside of work
If you’re working long hours, from home, it can be hard to make time to socialise. But it’s extra important when you work remotely. Getting together with a friend or a phone-call with a family member can be a really valuable way to reconnect after a long day spent working solo.
If possible, schedule in some social time with friends or family members over the next few weeks. If you can’t meet in person, try a phone or video call. And try planning out some times and getting them into your diary, to make sure that social time is a priority, even on those really busy days.
But what if you’re in a brand new city, or don’t know many people locally?
- Look out for local classes and clubs – from languages to dance, sports to music, photography to cooking, there’s bound to be something near by. We know that joining a group can feel intimidating, and it may be unrealistic to expect it to yield lots of instant, new best friends. But just having a regular ‘out of the house’ activity each week can be a good step towards feeling less isolated. Try Meet-up to find local groups and clubs near you, or check out your local library or leisure centre for sports and learning activities.
- Volunteering your time can also be a fantastic way to start feeling more connected to the community around you. Youth projects, community gardens, food banks, hospitals, seniors’ homes, homeless shelters and many other projects are almost always in need of volunteers – and nothing makes you feel connected like getting involved and giving back. In the UK, try Do-it, which lists volunteering opportunities. Or if you’d like to get fit at the same time, Good Gym organises group runs combined with community volunteering, in cities all over the UK.
We hope this has given you some ideas to help you start to tackle loneliness and isolation when you work form home. Many of us who work from home have felt this way at some point, so it’s definitely not just you. Do let us know how you get on, and let us know if you have other tips to share. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and in our online coworking community – we’d love to hear from you.
By: Lucy, Founder of myworkhive. I work from home in a rural part of Suffolk, with no lovely coworking venues on the doorstep, unfortunately!
This blog is based on an article written for WorkFromHomeDay.org, as part of the first Global #WorkFromHomeDay 2019.