We’ve been dealing with a loneliness epidemic even before the coronavirus hit.
61% of Americans reported feeling lonely in 2019. Younger generations have been hit the hardest, with 79% Gen Z’ers and 71% of millennials reporting that they feel lonely.
According to Cigna, the main reasons why people feel lonely include:
- A lack of social support and infrequent social interactions
- Poor physical and mental health
- Negative feelings about personal relationships
- A lack of balance in daily activities (e.g., too much sleep or work)
With social distancing orders in place and companies transitioning their employees to working remotely, there’s a risk of people becoming even more lonely.
We call this remoteliness.
What is remoteliness?
Simply put, remoteliness is the state of feeling lonely as a result of working remotely, especially while participating in social distancing measures.
Remoteliness has been around for a long time. According to our State of Remote Work report, 23.25% of companies were fully remote prior to the pandemic.
It’s also important to recognize that remote work encompasses many industries and styles of working. It’s not just knowledge-based, office-bound employees that work remotely. Frontline employees are part of the remote workforce, too.
You don’t have to be new to remote work to feel remoteliness.
Even seasoned freelancers struggle with remoteliness. Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 report revealed that 20% of remote workers cite loneliness as one of their biggest struggles.
The signs of remoteliness
You might feel isolated right now, or you might notice that your team seems to need a lot more reassurance than usual. The signs that some of your team are dealing with remoteliness aren’t always obvious.
Signs of loneliness include feeling that you don’t belong, that your relationships aren’t meaningful, and that no one understands you. These types of emotional responses can make people lash out more often or withdraw more from group activities.
Most surveys on the topic use the term “loneliness” instead of “remoteliness.” The dictionary definition of loneliness is a “state of distress or discomfort that results when one perceives a gap between one’s desires for social connection and actual experiences of it.”
That’s more accurate than ever, as social distancing makes us long for experiences that we just can’t have.
Additionally, remote work is set to become even more popular after social distancing orders are no longer in place. 87% of companies report that their employees are interested in working remotely after the pandemic subsides.
That’s why remoteliness deserves its own place in the dictionary, even if unofficially.
It’s the specific conditions of remote work that shape its meaning. By knowing what those conditions are, we can start to develop tools to deal with remoteliness.
Why is remoteliness becoming more common?
The most obvious answer is that more people are working remotely. It goes a little deeper than that, though. Between social distancing and pandemic-related stress, employees are a lot more likely to feel disconnected while they work from home.
Burnout is another contributing factor. Nine-to-five work in an office, or any work with specific shifts where you clock in and out, gives workers some separation between their work and personal lives.
Sure, many people take work home with them. But when you’re working remotely from your kitchen table all day, the line between personal and professional can get murky.
One result of this is that many people are working longer hours.
So much for the idea that remote workers work less. If anything, remote work has a greater potential for burnout.
A recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that in cities that were on virus-related lockdowns, workers spent nearly an hour longer on email than they did before the pandemic.
When we’re spending more time working, we have less time for the things that make our lives more balanced, like spending time with friends or marathoning Stranger Things — yes, that counts, too.
Without the restrictions that come with going to and from an office, it’s harder to maintain the work-life balance that keeps us sane.
Additionally, the lockdown and the transition to remote work have disrupted our social routines and reduced the number of people we interact with on a daily basis. It’s even harder for people to maintain meaningful relationships and social connections right now.
The ensuing loneliness can cause a host of health issues, including high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and cognitive decline.
Who’s affected by remoteliness?
Remoteliness can affect anyone who works remotely, whether they work full-time or only one day a week.
Even if you have a strong network of social connections, plenty of virtual contact with your coworkers, and great mental health, you might feel lonely and disconnected sometimes.
Remoteliness affects us all in different ways.
Despite all the jokes about introverts loving quarantine and social distancing, they’re just as likely to experience remoteliness as extroverts.
Introverts appear better suited to remote work because they don’t need as much in-person social interaction to recharge as extroverts do. Yet introverts still need deep, meaningful connections just like everyone else.
Zoom calls help, but they’re not quite the same as having a long conversation with a friend in a coffee shop.
Extroverts who work remotely, by choice or circumstance, might miss the energizing feel of a room full of people. Although many will jump at the idea of setting up virtual coffee breaks and game nights, others might struggle with using video chat software as a substitute for face-to-face interactions.
Above all, remoteliness will most strongly affect the 36.48 million people living in single-person households in the US, regardless of whether they’re introverts or extroverts.
Technology is doing a lot to remedy remoteliness. However, it’s not a cure-all solution. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Tips for overcoming remoteliness
As a manager working remotely, you have to do double duty: take care of yourself and spot remoteliness in your team. These tips have both in mind.
We also asked our remote team to share their best advice to deal with remotelineness. As a 100% remote company, we know a thing or two.
As you read through the advice in this post, keep in mind that everyone on your team is different. Maarten Billemont, a Senior Client Engineer at Hubstaff, shares this great advice:
“Personally, I find that everybody’s got tips and advice nowadays on this topic, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is to transition yourself from going through the motions of following a checklist or recommendations and into a place where you find self-motivated sources of structure. Whether for you that means going for a run, working on your Quesadillas recipe, disconnecting from work at 5pm with a novel or taking a pen and paper into the park; do what feels right, not what sounds right.”
Here are some ideas to help get you started:
Tip 1: Have a daily routine
If you’re adjusting to remote work, having a routine can help re-create the structure you’re used to in the office.
When working from home, try to go to work at the same time, even if your commute takes just a few seconds.
Set a reminder to take a lunch break.
Make yourself that 3 o’clock coffee, or, better yet, schedule a coffee break call with a colleague.
Building structure into your day gives you a sense of purpose, so you spend more time being proactive and less time thinking about what you’re missing.
Time tracking software like Hubstaff can help you get a better sense of how employees are spending their time. If you see that they’re not taking enough breaks or are struggling to get their work done, Hubstaff’s reports can help you identify and address the issues.
Tip 2: Work it out
Hosting or attending group exercise classes via Zoom is a great way to encourage people to stay active while keeping in touch with co-workers.
If you want to take it up a notch and are using a project management solution such as Hubstaff Tasks, add group exercise classes as a task to fit it into your regular workflow. Make it a billable task if you can afford to do that, or be very clear that employees should treat it as an unpaid break if you can’t.
One of our Senior Engineers Nelson Haraguchi recommends focusing on a long term goal. Here’s what he has to say:
“I was having this feeling of a lost year, then I started to focus on things that I could do for myself. Lots of them are in this post, like working out or finding a new hobby. But for me, the important part was to think of something that I wanted to achieve in the long term, such as improving my health, losing weight, and gaining work experience in a remote company. That way, I could look back to 2020 and say that was when I achieved or at least started towards my goals.”
Maybe you were enthusiastic about getting in the best shape of your life when we went into lockdown, but lost steam quickly.
If you’re sticking to your at-home fitness routine, keep going.
But if you’re struggling, reframe your thinking: instead of exercising, try to incorporate bursts of micro-activity throughout your day:
- Set a reminder to do a couple of minutes of deskercises in between meetings
- “Commute” to work by doing some jumping jacks, taking a walk, or running up and down stairs
- Invest in a standing desk so you can work and work out at the same time
If you re-frame exercise as micro activity and make it part of your routine, you’ll be far more likely to stick to it.
Tip 3: Use your freedom wisely
Think about how Goldilocks would approach remote work. Would she be watching Netflix all day, then working all night in a fever dream of productivity? Nope.
She’d find just the right balance of work and play.
One of the greatest perks of remote work is freedom and flexibility, but many people don’t use that freedom to their benefit. They either end up indulging too much in freedom or denying themselves completely.
Cody Rogers, our Head of Product, uses his remote freedom to spend more time with his family.
“For me, the biggest perk of working remotely is (and always will be) the ability to see my wife and kids. I have friends who only see their little ones for 2 hours a day, which is hard to imagine after working remotely for several years.”
Here’s the best way to use your remote work freedom:
Schedule your time based on your energy levels. If you’re more motivated in the morning, do your most analytical work then. If you feel brain dead in the afternoon, take an intentional break instead of pushing through, then pick up a few hours later when you get your second wind.
Not everyone works best on a 9-5 schedule. Get to know how each employee prefers to get their work done.
Once you do, adjust expectations and assignments to acknowledge and protect their freedom. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure your people feel empowered to work outside of the box.
Tip 4: Schedule time to stay in touch
In an office, staying in touch is almost unavoidable. You can lean over someone’s desk, catch up in the break room, or have lunch with your colleagues.
Going into an office and never speaking to anyone in person would be strange, to say the least.
When you’re working remotely, communication needs to be scheduled. Otherwise, it just won’t happen. You’ll find yourself working for months, only to realize that you don’t know what’s going on in your colleague’s life.
Hubstaff’s Content Marketer, Boris Mustapic, feels strongly about scheduling time to connect with friends and family. He says:
“Scheduling social time is crucial for avoiding remoteliness. While I might not necessarily have a lot of time for social interactions during the workweek, I always make sure to schedule social activities with friends and family during the weekend. This might involve catching up with a friend over a cup of coffee, going to a family lunch, or inviting friends over for board game night. By scheduling social activities, you make sure that you won’t get so caught up in work that you isolate yourself and neglect relationships and people that are important to you.”
To make staying in touch easier, don’t always think you need a clear reason to talk to someone, whether it’s through text message or video chat. “Just because” is a good enough reason.
If you’re not one for spontaneous conversations — or you know that your colleague doesn’t appreciate them — schedule time for catching up on your calendar like you would for any other work-related meeting.
If your team is working remotely, chances are your colleagues are facing the same challenges you are. Scheduling time to catch up for no other reason than staying in touch can help you feel less like you’re alone in facing these challenges.
Communication is the key to maintaining an enjoyable and productive work-from-home experience. But communication can’t just happen during meetings.
To encourage spontaneous conversations, set up a virtual water cooler in Slack or encourage employees to grab a remote coffee using its offshoot, Donut.
Build social conversations into your work communication. Make sure that your team feels safe having informal chats so that they don’t over-focus on work. Most importantly, set the example. If you only talk to your team about work, they’ll feel like they can’t have personal conversations with their coworkers.
Tip 5: Stay creative, start small
Even if your work makes you happy, finding a constructive, collaborative hobby outside of work can make your virtual social life more well-rounded and rewarding.
With social distancing still the norm, we can’t go back to many of the social activities we’re used to doing. Even if we could socialize in groups in person, some of us would prefer to cultivate our interests within an online community.
With so many online classes available, you may have already set up an ambitious plan to learn calligraphy, pick up guitar again, become a cooking expert, or finally learn how to take care of your plants.
The way this usually ends up is like this: you lose steam fairly quickly and give up on whatever you wanted to start doing.
To avoid this, find an activity you can do in micro-increments.
Can you journal for 15 minutes in the morning? How do you feel about ending the day with a few minutes of playing guitar? Can you learn to master one simple dish from your favorite international cuisine?
Even if you keep your hobbies to yourself at first, with time, you might want to reach out and share. For example, you could start a private group with friends and challenge each other to complete and share one creative thing each week.
Staying consistent with a hobby can be overwhelming when remote work and other obligations eat up so much of our time. But small, bite-sized commitments help us gain creative confidence and eventually share our accomplishments with others.
Remote work can become all-consuming if employees don’t prioritize other interests. While work-related virtual events are important, encourage employees to work on their side projects.
That could mean asking about their hobbies during a catch-up meeting or scheduling in time for non-work related projects during the workday.
Tip 6: Join an online community
There’s an online community for everything these days. Whether you’re a car enthusiast, an avid rock climber, or an amateur photographer, you’re bound to find a community of like-minded individuals online.
Reddit, Quora, and Facebook are just some of the places where you can talk with people who are into the same things you are. There are also plenty of online forums you can join to discuss your favorite topics or hobbies.
Communicating with like-minded people online is a great way to socialize during lockdown and avoid feeling lonely. It’s also useful for getting your mind off of work and reducing your chances of burning out.
Tip 7: Organize virtual team-building activities
Just because people are working from home at the moment doesn’t mean they can’t participate in team-building activities.
Look into organizing virtual team-building sessions where team members can get to know each other better and have fun.
There are plenty of things teams can do together online. Here are just a few ideas:
Hold an online yoga class
If one of your team members is a yogi, have them hold an online yoga class for the team. If not, consider bringing in a yoga coach for a day. You can even stream a yoga video from YouTube, Amazon Prime, or a fitness company.
Apart from allowing team members to bond with each other, a yoga class is also perfect for getting in some physical activity while everyone’s stuck at home.
Host your own MTV Cribs
Have each team member walk the team through their home virtually, showing off their home office and other rooms where they spend most of their time at home.
This is one of those activities that doesn’t require a lot of effort, so it’s easy to get everyone to participate.
Organize a weekly trivia quiz
Test each other’s trivia knowledge by holding a weekly quiz. You can even include a small prize for the winner to make things more interesting. Digital gift cards are easy, or you can give the winner a free hour off with pay.
Play “two truths and a lie”
Let each team member state two facts and one lie about themselves, and then have the others try to guess which statements are true and which are lies.
This is a great way to help team members get to know each other informally and develop more meaningful relationships.
Tip 8: Get a pet
If working from home has got you feeling lonely, consider getting a pet to keep you company.
Bobana Rajic, our SEO Specialist, agrees with this point. Here’s what she has to say, plus an adorable picture of Korgi:
“I got my corgi dog named Korgi a year ago. Having a pet while working remotely is really beneficial! You can spend more time with your doggo since you’re home most of the time (they’re a great company) and it’s also a great reason to take a break and go for a walk.”
Pet ownership can also improve mental health and help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. 74% of pet owners report improvements in mental health as a direct result of pet ownership.
Dogs are one of the best pets to get if you’re looking for company.
Most breeds are very affectionate and love spending time with their owners. Dogs also need to be taken for a walk multiple times per day, which will force you to get out of the house and get some fresh air.
Tip 9: Find an online work buddy
Having someone to keep you company online while you work is a great way to combat loneliness and hold yourself accountable to achieving your work goals.
Team members can pick their work buddies amongst themselves or use services like Focusmate to have someone assigned to them at random.
Friends can also be great work buddies as long as you make sure not to distract each other from work by talking too much about personal stuff. Keep an eye on your productivity and set boundaries if there are too many distractions.
Tip 10: Join a coworking space
Social distancing orders lift eventually. When it’s safe and legal in your area, consider joining a coworking space to stave off loneliness and get a change of scenery.
Working from a coworking space at least once per week can help you socialize and meet new people. 79% of people who work at coworking spaces state that coworking has expanded their social networks, while 83% report feeling less lonely since joining a coworking space.
Most coworking spaces also have events and workshops you can participate in to learn new skills that can help advance your career.
Remoteliness isn’t in the dictionary yet. But as more people continue to work remotely, it’s becoming a reality for many of us.
The good news is that there are ways to overcome remoteliness if we consciously choose to do so. Lack of physical distance doesn’t mean we can’t make and sustain meaningful connections.
Simple steps like sticking to a daily routine, finding ways to move during the day, and scheduling our time to fit our natural energy patterns will go a long way in making us resilient towards remoteliness.
By scheduling time to connect with co-workers, we can replicate the spontaneous interactions we might be missing. And by finding a creative outlet in hobbies that don’t require us to become world experts in them, we can find sustainable ways to avoid remote work burnout.
Have you ever felt remoteliness during the past few months? Are there any strategies that have helped you cope? Leave your best tips in the comments.