We all know remote working has had a large impact on our mental health with loneliness being cited as the most common emotion being experienced by entrepreneurs, leaders, and employees.
This can cause us to withdraw and be less committed, creative, collaborative, and attentive, and both the quality and quantity of our work can deteriorate. Loneliness has also been identified as a factor in workplace burnout.
We often associate loneliness with being on our own or alone.
Research has found that loneliness is related more to the quality than the quantity of our relationships. A lonely person feels that their relationships are not meaningful, that he or she is not understood by others, or perceives they are alone or are being shunned and isolated from other people. This can happen from working in a virtual or geographically distributed team, or from being in a team of one (think solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, consultants). It can have a detrimental effect on our performance and wellness.
Our modern society and lifestyles also contribute to people feeling isolated and disconnected in their personal lives – think social media, the “in-crowd or cool kids”, dysfunctional and toxic relationships and marriages, and the increasing amount of people suffering from depression or some form of mental health challenge.
The only way to tackle and prevent loneliness in the workplace (and at home) is to build a culture of connection and community.
It’s important to watch for changes in behavior and body language. If your most talkative and participative people start to go quiet, avoid interaction, or their performance suddenly dips, then this is a red flag. On the other end of the spectrum, some people might seek opportunities for more physical contact (think handshakes, hugs, opportunities, coffee meet-ups to talk) so don’t be misled by outward appearances of extroversion.
Another area to pay attention to is listening to team members’ concerns – they may be more aware of what is going on in their colleague’s world or landscape than you are.
Here are some insights and tools you can use to help build a culture of community and connection.
Change Your Way of Working
Remote/virtual working has its pros and cons. For many, it’s the freedom from the daily commute and stress that comes with it. For others it’s the flexibility to be able to spend time with their children while for others, it’s the ability to be focused and productive in their own space.
Remote/virtual working should be no different from being in the office, the key difference is just not physically being with each other. Working from home should have guidelines just as we do when we are in the office. We seem to have forgotten some of these basics such as official work (vs personal) hours and the expectation of always needing to be online.
Other factors will need to be intensified (think communication, strategy, output) and organisations and leaders play a key role in constantly encouraging and reinforcing (and adhering) these guidelines and factors themselves, as employees will follow their lead.
Build a Team That Has a Shared Direction
It’s important to not slip into the “out of sight, out of mind” tunnel. Teams still need to know what is going on and what they are working towards, individually and collectively. This may need to involve new and different ways of communicating updates, progress, and feedback. Keeping it visual and alive keeps everyone focused and aligned, clarity on what is expected from each person, and how they are being measured. Understanding individual strengths and the team’s collective strengths can help to ensure you have the right people in place and are able to allocate tasks or projects that leverage their potential.
Encourage Good Relationships
Just because everyone is online now doesn’t mean you won’t experience conflict or discord of some sort. It’s not as easy to manage conflict online as it is in person where you can hop into a meeting room and talk it out. It’s key to deal with conflict before it evolves into online spats, email trails, or team channel fights. One simple tool you can use is having VUCA team sessions.
Take an Interest in People’s Lives
Your people won’t care until they know how much you care. Research has shown time and again that money is not the only motivator when it comes to keeping employees motivated. Kindness goes a long way and it is probably one of your most valuable currencies you can apply when it comes to investing in your relationships and a sure way to get to know your people. If this is a challenge for you, create a folder with keynotes and personal reminders on each of your employees that you can refer to if need.
Zoom fatigue and exhaustion are real. Tackling this is going to require a new leadership style – one that is holistic and empathetic. We are now seeing the whole of an employee and not just the 9-5 version when we were in the office. We are stepping into our employee’s very personal and sacred space – their homes, their safe place. This is the place where they could get away from work and the world at large and now we’re invading that space. It’s important to implement support policies that encourage wellbeing. If need, use technology to track wellness such as stress assessments or wellness offerings and service providers.
Celebrate Small Victories
By the time Friday comes around, we’ve had a long week and are usually running out of steam. Why not turn your Friday afternoons into an energizer for the week to come. Get everyone to hop on a video call and share their wins from the week.
At the same time, all work and no play will result in work becoming a grudge purchase and place to be, soon killing creativity and productivity. Here are two resources where you can get to have some fun:
- The Rage Room – feeling frustrated and want to get rid of some of that pent-up energy? Then the Rage Room is where you need to go to smash things up a little. Fun for couples, friends, teams.
- Virtual Escape Room – online fun for teams or groups.
It’s important to understand that workplace loneliness can be structural, not personal and people won’t solve it on their own. At the same time if you are looking to implement a hybrid working environment, don’t expect loneliness to disappear just because everyone is back in the office.
Fostering a sense of belonging may be about getting the work done but, it’s also about relationships and cultivating a sense of community, belonging, and security through the designing of your work streams and teams.
Want to understand your own behaviour and traits, take a personal development assessment here