Despite Remote Work Benefits, Some Struggle With Isolation

Despite Remote Work Benefits, Some Struggle With Isolation
It is important to distinguish between time spent happily alone and time spent feeling lonely. Loneliness is not defined by the amount of time we spend alone, but rather by how we feel about the time we spend alone. (Photo by Omar Ram on Unsplash)
  • A 2020 study by Cigna reported that three in five American adults feel lonely.  
  • Employees who are used to working in an office/group setting may feel lonely and isolated with the new remote work model.  
  • If they feel they lack the desired connection with peers, they become emotionally detached from the organization and its success. 

“Do we need to surround ourselves with people to feel connected? Or do we need to isolate ourselves in order to be focused?” said John Livesay, a virtual sales keynote speaker.  

Loneliness in the workplace can be a real problem that affects businesses, relationships, and wellbeing. But some workers may feel differently and prefer to work alone in order to concentrate and be productive.  

Loneliness in the workplace 

A 2020 study by Cigna reported that three in five American adults feel lonely, and some commentators suggest that we are experiencing a loneliness epidemic that could pose serious health risks. A survey by Totaljobs found that 63% of lonely employees feel their company doesn’t do anything to combat workplace loneliness.  

Research has shown that loneliness can be worse for your brain and your body than alcohol and smoking. Loneliness in the workplace can become just as much a business issue as a health issue. 

In the ever-evolving world of remote work, people are having to figure out what best works for them. Some workers who are used to working in an office/group setting may feel lonely and isolated with the new remote work model.  

Even with the advantages of remote working (the flexibility, getting to work where you’re the most comfortable, potentially traveling around the world), it can be hard to avoid moments of loneliness. 

Some employees feel they lack the desired connection with peers, so they become emotionally detached from the organization and its success.  

The lack of belonging reduces their commitment to their company, which results in reduced employee engagement and productivity. Workplace conditions like disruptive shift patterns, difficult team dynamics, and a lack of autonomy all can lead to the feeling of being lonely.  

Loneliness brings health problems, reduced productivity, turnover, and burnout

Are you lonely when working? 

  • Do you feel only superficially connected to your coworkers? 
  • Do you feel unmotivated or uninspired?  
  • Do you feel disconnected and disengaged within your team? 

Waning motivation and interest at work might have nothing to do with the substance of the work, but everything to do with the social context in which it is performed.  

David M. Cordani, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cigna, has said that the trends shaping how we work, such as the increasing use of technology, more telecommuting, and the always-on work culture, are leaving Americans more stressed, and causing them to spend more time on social media, and less time with friends and family. 

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    “For the business community, it is resulting in less engagement, less productivity and lower retention levels. To confront these issues at home and at work, we are helping people build stronger connections and driving deeper health engagement to improve overall well-being and vitality,” Cordani said.  

    Personal solutions to combat loneliness 

    1. Strive for social fulfillment: seek out meaningful connections in your personal and professional life 
    2. Make an effort to understand what aspects of your work space increase loneliness and attempt to eliminate them 
    3. Design your workday for higher levels of interactivity and the regular exchange of resources and thought partnership 

    Workplaces should reinforce relationship risk-taking 

    Companies may want to increase the benefits as well as reduce the risks associated with reaching out to others at work. For example, Microsoft found that companies that provide bonuses and promotions for relationship-building activities also had employees with higher levels of job satisfaction and happiness.  

    Conversely, some workers may thrive off isolation and the remote work model.  

    It is important to distinguish between time spent happily alone and time spent feeling lonely. Loneliness is not defined by the amount of time we spend alone, but rather by how we feel about the time we spend alone. 

    Do you thrive from being alone? 

    • Do you feel the most creative when you are by yourself? 
    • Do you find coworkers or the workplace distracting to your productivity? 
    • Are you happiest when working alone/not as a team?

    About half of the population are introverts. Being alone can offer a rich psychological experience, but too much isolation can have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health. According to PsychAlive, being alone can allow our brains to recharge, increase productivity, and boost creativity.  

    How can workplaces assist in reducing loneliness?  

    Ideally, as companies design their return-to-work policies and structures, they will focus on empathy and interdependence in order to reduce loneliness for those who experience it.  

    Workshops and exercises can help kickstart high-quality connections for coworkers and improve mental health, anxiety, loneliness, and general wellbeing.  

    According to the Harvard Business Review, companies should:  

    1. Reestablish the team’s mission  
    2. Set explicit interaction norms and consistently enforce them 
    3. Create a shared team identity – make roles and processes transparent 
    4. Stabilize the membership 
    5. Reduce cross-team switching costs. 

    These steps will promote a strong foundation for team effectiveness and collaboration in order to combat loneliness.  

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