When we started this series, we hoped that it would last 8 weeks at most and chronicle the ways our organization and employees adjusted in that short period of time. But as remote work stretches into the end of the year with no end in sight (fingers crossed for Spring 2021), work from home employees are finding loneliness and isolation to be one of the biggest challenges of 2020. Many people found themselves adjusting to this new reality of work from home for the first time in their careers.
Typically, remote employees would find other ways to work other than from home including co-working spaces, coffee shops, and even traveled to be in the office around their coworkers every once in a while but now these aren’t even feasible options. With the added cold weather and daylight saving (getting dark at 5 pm is no fun), people are finding themselves being at home for even more extended periods of time. And now with the holidays around the corner, many are facing the unique challenge of social isolation to minimize the spread of a global pandemic.
It’s important for organizations to realize the impact that social isolation and loneliness are having on their employees and not only in a business sense of motivation and productivity but on mental and physical health as well.
Distinguishing between Loneliness and Isolation
It is important to note that isolation and loneliness do not mean the same thing. According to Gallup:
“Loneliness is emotional. Isolation is structural.
Loneliness is an emotional response to lack of connection – and people can feel just as lonely in the office as outside of it.
Isolation, on the other hand, is related to access – or lack of it. The isolated can’t get the materials or information they need; they think their achievements or development are ignored; they feel cut off from the business.”
Supporting employees means realizing that every person’s work from home set up is completely different. Some are working with a full house of either their spouses, kids, parents around while others have a smaller setup but that doesn’t change whether or not they experience loneliness.
Despite living in a world of technology and social media, more and more people are feeling lonelier and isolated than ever before.
How can managers help reduce potential social isolation?
Employees tend to spend about a quarter of their lives in the workplace and now it has been uprooted and shifted to be at home. As managers, it’s imperative to distinguish between loneliness and isolation so that you know how to tackle the situation.
With the shift to work from home, it requires more hands-on management of employees to ensure that they have the right access to the organization whether that’s access to information, to their fellow coworkers or just general business updates. If employees feel like they’re out of the loop or are cut off from information that they would typically receive in the office, it can have a sense of social isolation which impacts overall productivity and well-being.
As we head into the end of the year which is usually full of celebrations and holiday cheer, it’s important to bring employees together and reduce any factors for social isolation.
Ensure access to proper tools and information
A common issue we’ve heard from across the board is remote employees feeling like they don’t have access to the right information, guidance, or material to succeed in their jobs. If your organization is lacking structure on digital tools, it may be time to sync with IT to address accessibility and permission issues to ensure that employees have their needs fulfilled.
Connect employees and keep them up-to-date on company information/news
It’s important to connect employees and make sure they understand the organization’s mission and plans so that they can work efficiently to ensure they’re meeting business goals. Ensure that that regular top-down communication is being shared like leadership updates, business plans, and even celebrating achievements. Sharing news and updates makes employees feel a sense of connection and that they’re in the know of what is happening within their company.
Support and encourage cross-team collaboration
Technology plays a vital role in addressing employee isolation if it’s leveraged correctly. Remote work tools provide employees with the collaboration that is missing during this time. While it’s important to note that video conferencing and instant messaging tools do not replace the communication that occurs in a physical work environment, it allows employees to connect with each other in a more personal and instant way than email and phone calls do.
Recognition is key
Remote work results in a lot of silent accomplishments since teams and departments are operating in a virtual bubble that tends to go unseen by the larger organization. To manage this sense of isolation, it’s key that managers promote the work that their teams are doing whether it’s in the company town hall, a weekly company update on the intranet, or a quick post on the company communication tool. Spotlighting teams and even key individuals in the digital workplace helps them feel valued in the organization and creates an engaging online environment.
How can managers help reduce loneliness in the workplace?
Now just to clarify, loneliness is not exclusive to the remote work experience and can even occur when in an office environment surrounded by coworkers. Workplace loneliness is a problem that has been amplified and gaining more traction as we have transitioned to this new method of work.
Recent studies have shown that more than 60 percent of Americans report feeling lonely or left out of social situations especially pertaining to the workplace. And now with the pandemic, employees have felt it significantly more with the lack of social interaction with each other.
Highlight the strengths of employees
Remote employees crave workplace affirmations especially with the lack of casual office interactions. It reassures them that their work is valued, their contribution is respected, and that they’re making a difference in the organization. On top of work being recognized, it’s important to highlight milestone celebrations such as birthdays, work anniversaries, or other life changes to make them seem valued as an actual human and not just a cog in the machine.
Virtual coffee breaks, drinks, lunch and learns
Everyone is missing their work social life, some more than others, and it’s important to keep some of the workplace activities alive even if they’re virtual. Scheduling team breaks for lunch or happy gives employees a break from their day-to-day tasks and gives an opportunity to talk about something other than work. Hosting virtual activities like quizzes, trivia, or a game of 20 questions on your intranet can connect employees from across the organization and bring some much needed social conversations to light.
Book clubs and interest-based communities
With most social activities and hobbies on pause due to social distancing, it means employees are missing their valued communities. With the right digital tools, organizations can recreate the sense of bonding over a common shared interest such as local activities, TV/Movie Club, or an at-home bootcamp. Even starting an organization book club can help employees battle the feeling of loneliness knowing that they have a common interest with another coworker.
Ways an intranet can help
It’s imperative to centralize a dedicated space for important announcements and news so that they don’t get lost in the chaos that is email inboxes. Posting content to your intranet helps track engagement and creates a source of truth for critical information that reaches every remote employee without getting lost. Modern intranets also have the ability to create a virtual watercooler effect that strengthens company culture, identity, and social connections.
Social Isolation and loneliness can be managed
Don’t let employees face the negative consequences of remote work especially during this time. The pandemic has socially isolated most people not only from work but also in their personal lives. This is a great opportunity for organizations to create a digital workplace that withstands remote work isolation and engages participation from employees across the organization.