There’s no denying the many benefits of working remotely. Flexible schedules, comfortable clothes, your own fridge, no commute…I could go on.
At WriterGirl, we’re lucky to not only have a 100% remote work policy, we also have a policy that allows for healthy work/life balance, camaraderie and teamwork.
But even in the best remote scenarios, there are still times when this work style can have its challenges. Remote work isolation, loneliness and depression are very real. The good news is that there are also very real solutions.
The remote work climate today
Anyone who has looked at a job board recently knows that remote positions are on the rise. Here are a few stats to consider:
- FlexJobs reported in July 2019 that the U.S. had 4.7 million remote workers or 3.4% of the population.
- Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work showed that the healthcare industry has some of the highest numbers of remote workers.
- Almost every person (99%) who took Buffer’s State of Remote Work survey in 2019 said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their career.
But the remote world isn’t all “rainbows and unicorns,” as they say. The Buffer survey, for example, showed that the two biggest struggles for remote workers are unplugging and loneliness. Nineteen percent of the nearly 2,500 respondents said they face loneliness in their remote jobs.
Dealing with remote work isolation
I’ll be the first to admit that there are days where I seem to forget about all the perks of remote work and find myself in a funk.
So, what’s a remote worker to do? In some remote jobs, you can go days before talking to someone else, or even leaving the house. The dog is cute and all, but she doesn’t provide much in the way of conversation.
If you’re feeling funky, irritable, sad or lonely, it’s important to address these feelings before they seriously affect your personal or professional life. Leaving these feelings to simmer can worsen or lead to depression.
Here are some ways you can tackle remote work isolation and loneliness:
Recognize that “it’s okay to not be ok”
One of my favorite remote work resources, We Work Remotely (WWR), provides a wealth of resources for remote employees and freelancers, including mental health advice. A message they frequently share with their community is “it’s okay to not be ok.”
If you’re feeling sad or lonely, know that it’s completely normal. You’re not alone in these feelings — in fact, you may even have a few remote coworkers who are facing the same struggle.
Give yourself a change of scenery
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and never leave the home office, especially in the winter. To avoid this, make a point to work away from home at least one or two days a week. Put it in your calendar if you have to.
Local coffee shops and libraries are popular destinations for remote workers. Try buying yourself a gift card for a local coffee shop, so you’ll have an excuse to work there.
Many restaurants and lunch spots these days also have WiFi — keep an eye out for new places you can try.
Schedule regular video chats or phone calls
Instead of a weekly conference call, try scheduling your one-on-one and group meetings with a video chat platform. Having face-to-face conversations can help you feel more connected with your team.
Try a bit of coworking
If you live near other remote coworkers, or have friends nearby who also work remotely, consider making one day a week a coworking day. You can pick a central location to work together, or take turns working at each other’s houses.
Coworking spaces are also popping up all over the place these days, and some of them come with free coffee, snacks and even beer on tap. If you live near a major city, you can also check out Deskpass, which gives you access to a network of coworking spaces.
Make time for exercise
There’s plenty of research out there that shows exercise can help improve your mental health. It’s also a great way to break up your workday.
While you may not have the time to head to the gym every day, make sure you’re blocking off some time for moving around. Try taking the dog for an extra walk or go for a short jog after lunch.
I find it helpful to block off time on my calendar for exercise. Having it on my calendar feels more official and mandatory, and it will prevent me from scheduling meetings at a time that should be dedicated to my personal health and wellbeing.
Join an online community
If you’re a remote freelancer or part of a small company where you may not have a lot of interaction with teammates, consider joining an online community of remote workers.
We Work Remotely has a lovely Slack community where you can talk with other remote workers across the globe. It’s an excellent resource for advice on jobs, resumes, workspaces and more.
Owl Labs also has a list of 30 other free Slack communities built for remote workers, some more specialized than others.
Spend more time with friends and family
When you’re feeling lonely from a lack of coworker interaction, try to fill more of your time with friends and family. Make a regular coffee date with one of your close friends, or schedule monthly dinners with family members. Even if it’s not with your coworkers, adding more face-to-face time to your calendar can help lift your spirits at work.
Use that flexible work schedule
According to the Buffer State of Remote Work survey, having a flexible schedule is the biggest benefit to working remotely.
But many remote workers (myself included) fail to take advantage of this flexible schedule, and end up working straight through the day anyway.
When you’re feeling a bit stuck, try stepping away from your normal schedule. If you’re used to starting work early, maybe take some time in the morning to exercise or a walk down to the coffee shop. You could also try taking a longer break in the middle of the day — work for a few hours, spend time on a fun activity, and finish up your day before dinner.
However you decide to break it up, switching your schedule around from time to time can help you feel refreshed.
Create an office environment you love
When you work from home, you have the luxury of customizing a workspace that fits your needs and preferences — seize that opportunity!
It may take some time finding the right setup, but experiment with different equipment and arrangements until you find something comfortable for you. Ideally, you’ll want to create a space that you can look forward to working in every day. Here are a few of my favorite workspace items:
- A big window with plenty of natural light
- Plants (I have a few succulents on the windowsill)
- Oil diffuser (my favorite scents for productivity are orange and lemon)
- Headset with a good microphone
- An extra monitor
You can also check out this list of home office setups from Trello for inspiration.
Find group activities or meetups in your town
If you’re craving some socialization, look to your community for opportunities to meet and interact with like-minded folks. You can try scanning Meetup for a group that fits your interests or check out the calendar at your local library. Joining a fitness club or YMCA is another great way to build connections within your community.
Just say hi
These days, it feels like social media takes the place of actual, one-on-one conversations with people. Instead of calling or texting a friend to see how they are, we just scan their social feed for the latest updates.
Whether it’s a coworker, a friend or a family member, make a point to reach out to at least one person a week — even if it’s just to say hi. Send a text or an email, or take the time to give them a call and check in. If it’s a coworker, maybe it means sending them a quick message on Skype or Slack. Having that personal conversation, even if it’s brief, may be able to ease some of your isolation and loneliness.
What tips do you have for fighting remote work isolation and loneliness? Share them with us in the comments section below.
Remote work experts with a passion for healthcare
With our remote work setup, WriterGirl has access to healthcare experts across the country, so we can find the right person to fit your project’s needs. Whether you’re interested in joining our team or want to work with us on an upcoming project, we’d love to hear from you.