Loneliness at work is more common than you think.
The new work culture that the pandemic has thrown up is the widespread acceptance of work-from-home option by a large number of companies. Some companies have even announced that this would be the norm rather than an exception. They would prefer the employees to continue working from home with the occasional meet-up in office to work out any major issues that need to be handled in person.
Loneliness at Work – The Silent Killer
According to a recent study by Gallup, remote workers can feel lonely and isolated – but it’s not typical and it is preventable. Another study by Buffer of 1,900 remote workers around the world found that 90% intend to work remotely for the rest of their lives and 94% recommend off-site careers. And when asked to name the biggest struggle while working remotely, 21% said loneliness.
But experts who deal in work-life balance say that managers need to first learn to differentiate between loneliness at work and isolation.
One is an emotional issue and the other is situational. A person can be lonely in an office too. The other is about feeling disconnected or feeling excluded from the environment around them for whatever reason.
An experiment at a global company that transitioned to an open workspace found that the volume of face-to-face interaction between employees decreased by approximately 70%, while electronic communication increased. Employees reacted to the open plan workspace by retreating to communicating electronically.
Isolation, on the other hand, is related to access – or lack of it. Mostly, it is a result of lack of access to material or equipment related to work or they feel ignored or excluded from the team. It is more a technical or functional problem.
So what are the ways that a manager can address loneliness at work among workers and create a more engaged workforce?
The first and foremost step should be to address the issue directly. Ask the team members if they are feeling lonely while working. Checking in with the worker helps. If the worker is an introvert and needs some help in blending, then spend time before opening an online meet by spending time chatting. Create a kind of virtual watercooler room.
Involve the person in new projects and introduce him or her to new members.
How to deal with loneliness at work?
On the workers’ part who are feeling lonely and alone while working from home, try to find online community pages with similar interests and hobbies. Work communities are a good place to brainstorm, get creative and also to let off steam if you are frustrated with the way things are being handled.
A word of caution, be aware that some team members may just be lurking in the same room under assumed names so a generic bashing is called for rather than a specific one.
- You can create an account at volunteermatch and sign up to be notified about special or reoccurring volunteer options in your neighborhood.
- Create a workspace separate from your living space. Desist working out of your bed. This kind of atmosphere encourages slacking in work and personal life too.
- A manager can ask about their day and how they are managing at home. After completion of a project have a discussion on what was achieved and the lessons learned.
- This sort of engagement is a learning process and gives an opportunity to people to open up and give insights.
- A task is finished, so there is no urgency and judgment involved.
- Asking pointed questions to a person who does not engage much with others gives an opportunity to open up.
How to handle remote work isolation?
People working remotely can feel isolated so the approach should be a way to get them more involved in the organizational structure. IBM had 40 percent of its workforce working from home in 2009. Continuous loss in profitability forced them to reconsider remote working in 2017. But the end result was people were not happy to come into the office and a majority of them opted to leave rather than come back to office work.
Those who joined back continued to isolate themselves within the office environment rather than collaborate.
The lesson learned is that managers need to be more creative to engage this workforce deeply in matters at hand. Call these workers in to attend strategic meetings and keep tabs on progress and achievements and give due recognition.
See that remote access is given to all the employees in what concerns them. Cybersecurity being an issue, some companies are not comfortable sharing information across the board, but a system can be worked out where concerned teams are kept apprised of all developments.
Remote workers’ meetups can become a regular feature. A central place or a regular call back to the headquarters can go a long way in keeping the isolated workforce feel more engaged.