No woman is an island. But this one 👈 (that's me) doesn't mind it so much. As a pretty hardcore introvert, the challenges of the last year with increased isolation and social distancing have been a little easier to swallow. But even as I embrace the six-feet-apart life, I've had moments of intense loneliness.
Digital nomads and remote workers who were living the work-from-anywhere lifestyle prior to 2020 have dealt with the disconnect doldrums for years. And now, a whole new crop of remote workers — especially those thrust into it against their will by the pandemic — are learning that flying solo often comes with a lot of turbulence.
In fact, in a study, 20 percent of remote workers cited loneliness as the biggest challenge they've faced in the shift to working from home. Even before the pandemic, research showed that loneliness in the U.S. has reached epidemic proportions, especially among Gen Z-ers.
So, how can you combat loneliness while embracing a remote/nomad lifestyle and reaping the rewards it can provide? As a fully distributed company, First Page employees have been in your shoes. We get how hard it is to be a free agent on a field built for teams. And we've got some of our best coping skills for dealing with going it alone.
But first, let's talk a little bit more about what loneliness is...and what it isn't.
The Sticky Subject of Loneliness
Whether you're a seasoned digital nomad, traveling the world and jetting off to exotic locations, or a remote worker whose "office" doesn't get much more exotic than the kitchen table, chances are, you've felt the loneliness that comes with working outside of a traditional corporate setting. But it's important to understand the difference between being alone and feeling lonely. You can be working in a crowded café in a bustling international metropolis and still feel lonely. Or you can be tucked away alone in your home office, with only pets and spouses to interact with and feel completely fulfilled.
Loneliness is complicated, and it's something that can't always be alleviated by being around more people. The research cited above indicates that more than half of Americans do not have a meaningful, in-person connection with others. And two in five say the relationships they do have just aren't meaningful. Often, feeling lonely has more to do with feeling misunderstood, underappreciated, or taken for granted. It's an insidious thing that can weasel its way into your brain when you least expect it and take up space there that could go to more productive tasks.
So, whether you're working around the world, or working around the house, how do you cope with the remote work blues?
5 Coping Tips for Combatting Remote Work Loneliness
#1: Stick to a Routine
Flexibility and freedom are often the characteristics remote workers say they value most about their job. But that flexibility can also lead to some bad habits, like staying in your jammies all day, wandering to the fridge when you're bored, or mindlessly scrolling Facebook (where, BTW, research shows you aren't too likely to find a meaningful connection). Without a routine, the loneliness you feel can compound and often lead to depression. It sounds basic, but in case you need to hear it from someone else, here are some tips on how to create a good routine:
- Set an alarm. Resist the urge to hit snooze.
- Keep your morning habits the same as if you were going into the office. Shower, dress, prepare your lunch — whatever you would do if you were getting ready for the morning commute.
- Put. On. Pants. Seriously. It's tempting to dress comfortably (AKA, like a slob) when you don't have anywhere to be, but dressing like you would for the office feels good and puts you in the work mindset.
- Turn on your camera. This isn't always a necessity, and sometimes, you just need to know that all your colleagues aren't staring at that blemish on your chin or the bags under your eyes. That's okay. But aim to be camera-ready at least some of the time, and set those expectations with others in your video chats.
- Plan regular meetings. Sure, we've all heard "this could have been an email," but it doesn't have to be. Instant messaging and email make life easier, but they can also lead to major disconnect. Hearing and seeing your coworkers is important, so be sure to schedule actual meetings in your day, and leave a few extra minutes for real, live conversation.
- Protect your off-the-clock time. Remote work and advanced technology means we're always on, but we don't need to be. Not setting a schedule for your workday can lead to blurred lines between family/personal time and on-the-job time. Don't be afraid to turn off notifications, close the laptop, and unplug, so you can devote the time you need to your interpersonal relationships.
#2: Rethink Your Workspace
If remote work has you feeling some type of way (the lonely type), consider shaking up the space around you. While your needs may fluctuate from day to day, most remote workers fall into one of two categories:
- I need alone time. If you get your best work done when all is calm and quiet around you, make finding a private, distraction-free zone your goal. A home office is great, but you can also check out your local library where you can work in peace and quiet, even while surrounded by other patrons. Many offer study rooms and private areas with plenty of outlets and few disruptions. Best of all, when you're able to focus and get your work done, you'll have more time to dedicate to strengthening relationships with the people who matter, while staving off loneliness.
- I need to be around people. If you work best when in the company of other professionals, a coworking space is a great option. Many offer a communal workspace that feels a lot like a traditional office. You'll hear the clacking of computer keys, the whirring of the copier, and friendly talk around the water cooler. You may even have an opportunity to connect with peers living the same remote work life as you. Sharing that kind of camaraderie and understanding can be the balm you need to soothe your lonely soul.
#3: Find Your Tribe
Loneliness rears its ugly head when you have the persistent feeling that you don't belong anywhere. This can be especially difficult for digital nomads and remote workers who are single or don't have nearby family. But there are ways to find groups of people with the same interests, passions, and worldviews that will welcome you with open arms. Some of the ways to connect with a group and forge new relationships include:
- Social groups tailored to digital nomads. Many services now cater specifically to the needs of digital nomads, who historically have a hard time finding their community when they're on the go. These platforms connect nomads traveling through specific locations, often offering help with accommodations and social gatherings — some even offer online dating!
- Social media groups. If you're looking for a more professional feel, you can seek out groups on LinkedIn by industry or role. If you just want to find a group of friendly faces out there in the digital space, try searching Facebook groups according to your interest. There is a group (or dozens of groups) for any hobby, and often, real relationships can grow from them.
- Workgroups. If you work with a team of other freelancers, digital nomads, or remote workers, consider initiating an internal group to create a social outlet that grows relationships that don't revolve exclusively around work. Suggest some just-for-fun Slack channels or a regular Zoom call where shoptalk is expressly prohibited.
#4: Work Together...Even While Apart
If you're missing the office but it still isn't feasible for you to return yet (or you're a digital nomad or freelancer with no office to return to), there are ways to replicate the hustle and bustle of an average office space without ever leaving home.
- Ask your employer to implement a virtual open office. This can be easily done by dedicating a Zoom room or livestream that's always available. Remote workers can enter or leave when they wish and work alongside their colleagues, just as they would in the office. Leaving cameras and mics on while you're completing your daily tasks may feel a bit strange, but it's been shown that simulating an office environment can spur productivity.
- Find a service that pairs you with a tandem work partner. Platforms like Focusmate institute 50-minute working sessions in which they match you with a random partner so you can work quietly...together. Focusmate users are required to keep their cameras on, and while chit chat is discouraged outside of an initial greeting and goal-setting conversation, users say they're able to get their work done more quickly, while feeling connected to another human being.
#5: Make Self-Care a Priority
Loneliness has less to do with other people, and more to do with you. It's an emotional state, not a structural one. So while it might be tempting to join online knitting groups, work in noisy coffee shops, or try online dating (again), the reality is that none of these will address the core issue. Mental health, already on the decline in the U.S., took a nosedive during the pandemic. As isolation set in, many remote workers found themselves adopting unhealthy habits and ineffective coping strategies. But that saying about not being able to pour from an empty pitcher is true. You can't give anything to others unless you have the extra to give. To banish loneliness and focus on your relationships, you first have to focus on you. Here are a few ways to take care of yourself in lonely times:
- Get outside. Even a quick walk around the block over lunch will give you a chance to breathe some fresh air, notice the natural beauty around you, and let your mind (and your feet) wander.
- Exercise. You don't have to hit the gym every morning at 5 a.m. to be healthy. But moving your body and prioritizing physical activity will give you more energy and leave you feeling strong. Even taking a break every hour to do a few minutes of stretches will keep you out of that deep hole of remote work sluggishness.
- Get your ZZZs. Sleep is imperative to mental health, and there's no better way to care for yourself than making it a priority. Stop staying up working into the wee hours, and instead establish a bedtime that gives you a full eight hours of rest. Turn off the TV and electronic devices at least an hour before, cut back on caffeine and alcohol, and try to unwind with some yoga or meditation.
Remote work and the work-from-anywhere lifestyle comes with a lot of perks, but it can also come with a cost. Loneliness is sometimes part of the gig, but it can be combatted with the tips listed above.