However, there are also downsides; one of the biggest downsides for people working remotely is the lack of structured social interactions. Even those of us who thrive on having a lot of alone time can often end up missing at least a little interpersonal interaction after a while.
This loneliness can have impacts on employees and employers. Loneliness can also cause secondary problems, like increased anxiety, decreased productivity, and a slow drop-off in social skills. Over time, feeling isolated can lead to stress, which sometimes leads to ineffective coping mechanisms, like comfort eating and more.
Thankfully, there are a lot of steps employers can take to combat loneliness for remote employees. Employers can:
- Both encourage and actively create opportunities for coworkers to connect. Encourage employees to set recurring meetings to check in with one another.
- Set up plenty of check-in times to talk with employees and reassure them they’re being seen and are an important part of the team.
- Communicate even more often than before. Communicate things in multiple ways to ensure everyone gets the information.
- If not already in place, provide software options for greater connection, like videoconferencing tools and instant messaging tools. (Beware that not all options are created equally in terms of security and privacy; review options before jumping in.)
- If necessary, help provide upgraded hardware and connectivity improvements for employees to be able to take advantage of these technologies. (Some computers are not fast enough to handle conference calls with multiple simultaneous videos, for example. Another example may be if someone’s home Internet connection could be upgraded by the employer to allow better connectivity.)
- Occasionally review meeting participants to ensure employees aren’t being inadvertently left off, which can lead to frustrations, even if not intentional. Ensure everyone appropriate is involved, especially with strategic initiatives.
- Ensure employee development opportunities don’t dry up just because employees aren’t on-site. Pivot opportunities to new methods if needed.
- Ensure work processes and tools are accessible for remote employees without inordinate hurdles. This allows employees to be productive and feel less isolated if they can continue to perform their core functions.
- Ensure new employees are introduced to the team, regardless of everyone’s locations. HR team members and managers can facilitate this. HR and managers can also help people set up ongoing interactions to ease the transition for new employees joining established teams.
- Facilitate other introductions of employees who can help one another, regardless of tenure with the organization.
- Ensure employees are still getting recognition for their work; this can ensure people stay more engaged.
After the current stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, employers have even more options. For example, employers then can:
- Encourage employees to work from new places occasionally while still keeping within any remaining social distancing guidelines.
- Consider adding benefits for employees that encourage interaction, like bonuses in the form of gift cards to restaurants or coffee shops.
- Once some employees are working on-site again, consider paying to bring remote workers in for specific occasions or simply on a regular basis to facilitate interpersonal interactions. Or, have a central location where teams meet regularly.
- Consider providing hotspot connectivity to allow employees to truly work from anywhere, giving them more flexibility to leave the home and still work.
- Consider providing a monthly stipend to allow remote employees to work in a coworking space occasionally.
Being proactive in combating employee loneliness while working remotely can go a long way toward ensuring employers and employees alike reap the benefits of remote work in the form of decreased costs and increased productivity.
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.