The previous year pushed many of us to our homes, creating a sort of distance from the outside world. While working with family and kids around turned out to be fun, there were times when we felt lonely and longed to be back in the office.
According to a study, around 61% of the employees stated they felt lonely while working from home during the pandemic. One of the greatest challenges of working from home is being curtailed from outside social interactions that can impact the mental well-being of the people. Even before the pandemic, loneliness and depression existed in different layers of society and among different age groups. Confinement to homes during the lockdown aggravated the situation and left thousands craving for company.
Understanding remote working loneliness
To say that loneliness creeps in the work culture when people are literally alone while working from home is wrong. Instead, loneliness is a state of mind that stems when there is a striking difference between what an individual expects from a relationship and what he/she experiences in real life. A person may be a part of a crowd and yet feel lonely and similarly, a person may be miles away from others but still feel connected. Experts believe people have been associated with a particular work structure for years. Now that the structure is changed, people will need some time to adapt to this change. The social support structure that was earlier available to people when they were office-bound is now unavailable, at least in the same way. A sense of loneliness is not created by the lack of relationships or people but by the lack of satisfaction.
Loneliness versus Isolation
Before leaders engage in finding solutions to the loneliness that can do potential damages to an individual’s and company’s performances, it is essential for them to differentiate loneliness from isolation. Loneliness is the emotional aspect that comes to the forefront whenever there is a lack of connection. Basically, people can feel as much lonely inside their office as much as they feel at home. Reports show people choose to email, IM, and other electronic media more than face-to-face interactions when it comes to interacting with peers. Electronic communication has gained popularity in the workspace owing to the ease and speed with which a message is communicated.
Isolation is more of a technical issue when an employee feels left out due to the lack or absence of materials and information they need. Ensuring that every employee has access to the technology and information they need to get their work done should be the priority for every manager.
To combat remote workers’ loneliness, managers can encourage five distinct types of conversations that can also drive performance.
- A quick connection with the remote employees to know how they are doing can be morally uplifting.
- Managers can check on the mental well-being of the employees by posing questions like:
- Do you miss working with people around you?
- Do you feel left out?
- Are you able to balance your work and family?
- Special sessions on personality development, improving connections, etc can be given.
- Managers can conduct regular performance reviews to help the employees see their progress and know the areas where they are lagging.
- They can draft policies to aid the role and relationship development of the remote employees
Strategies that can help
It is important that remote workers feel valued. Often these employees come with rich insights that can open doors of innovation and development for the organization. One of the main challenges of working from home is these employees feel left out. Lonely workers need to be more connected so that they feel their opinions matter. In the case of shy workers who prefer to be lonely, managers can work out to introduce them to their colleagues and include them in every vital process of their project. In the case of the more outgoing types of employees, managers can set up weekly calls to get them connected with the rest of the team around a workplace topic. This way managers can keep track of the progress and development of the projects and at the same time, the remote workers can get visibility. Employment engagement rules the chart when it comes to the best organizing principle for maintaining the psychological welfare of the employees.
It’s important to know that working from home does not mean working long hours. Managers need to plan the work in a way that the employees get to balance their work and family life. Working longer hours beyond the duty time and entrusting extra work only leads to exhaustion. This eventually leads to depletion of physical and mental resources that can open doors to loneliness and negative feelings. Regular touch-ups with remote employees to check on if they are having their rest periods/breaks properly can portray a positive image of the organization and create in them an urge to work even more passionately.
Another point is ensuring employees have enough time for their families. Planning out a systematic workflow on daily basis can ensure employees don’t end up using all their time for office work. This helps to boost the productivity of the employees and reduce instances of work-family conflicts. This can go a long way in addressing the psychological effects of working from home.
There are instances when managers tend to overlook remote workers for different opportunities that may be best suited to these remote employees. Reason: Managers have never seen them in person and so can’t judge if they can be the right fit. The best way to know the remote employees is to set up virtual meetings and get regular updates from them on their progress. This way both the supervisors and co-workers can be aware of their productivity and achievements.
Cultivating people-centric work culture even in a remote setup
With the drastic change in the working model, organizations are pressed by the demand to chalk out a comprehensive policy that empowers, connects, and engages teams. In order to build an effective working strategy, it is necessary to bridge human differences. Not everyone can work the same way in a particular setup. Some professionals thrive in the remote working models while some others need the hustle and bustle of the office to give maximum output. While drawing company policy, it’s important to consider the diverse requirements of the employees and chalk out a plan that suits all.
In the coming days, virtual desktop infrastructure and digital workstations are likely to be the trend. Technology will be at the core of every business and any investment made towards the deployment of hybrid clouds will add to the performance of the companies. As face-to-face communications are likely to drop in the coming years, online channels of communication like chat are the future of business collaboration and communication. Managers should look to set best practices for each kind of communication like setting response timelines, duration of virtual meetings, and guidelines for email communications. These communication standards are necessary to ensure there are no misunderstandings and interruptions. Challenges of working from home can be dealt to a great extent by setting up regular communication with the remote employees to understand their pain points and wellbeing.
Another important thing that can be done is replicate the office perks. It is extremely important that the employees feel motivated and valued. Feelings of anxiousness, stress, and frustration creep in situations like the pandemic when the world is confined to locked doors. In such situations, if the management takes the effort to recognize its remote employees by introducing rewards and other perks, this can be a huge boost to the morale of these employees.
Remote working can be lonely in real terms and so the need to keep the remote employees motivated is the need of the hour. Wellness initiatives, team activities, and virtual get-togethers must be a part of every organization’s remote work culture handbook. Remote working calls in for comprehensive scheduling and setting boundaries. Employees can be encouraged to follow a dress code even while working from home as the right clothes set in the right mood. The most essential element in managing remote employees is trust. Managers need to trust their employees with the assigned task and meeting deadlines. Setting realistic and measurable goals is another priority. In remote working, flexibility is implicit and so the managers should concentrate more on the outcome rather than when and how the tasks are done. Remote working can be made into a fun activity with the inclusion of more team activities and regular collaborations. Let your employees know they are not alone and work together to accomplish the bigger goal of the organization. Even in times of crisis like the pandemic, let’s hold each other hands (though virtually, keeping a safe physical distance) and move towards a revolutionized work culture with technology at its core.