Remote Working: Dealing with Social Isolation

laptop-2055522_1920Working remotely, from the comfort of your own home and without the daily commute, can seem like the ideal working set up. No early morning traffic jams to contend with, distance from office politics and the prospect of working where and when you like. But be warned, it may not all be the bed of roses you’re expecting…

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been working remotely for almost 10 years. There’s no doubt that working from home over that time has allowed me to juggle work and family life much more easily than if I had a daily commute. However, when I first accepted a remote working role (pre-kids), I probably had a very idealistic view of how that set up would work. What I hadn’t fully appreciated at that time was the impact social isolation would have on me.

As humans, we’re social animals and thrive on social interactions. While technology has allowed us the flexibility to work where and when we want, it also reduces the amount of face to face time we have. How many times have you sent an email rather than walked over the colleague for example? When you work from home, walking over to that colleague isn’t an option. We also lose those instances of ‘vending machine’ interaction. Those informal interactions we have with colleagues on a daily basis are part of the social interaction we thrive on.

There’s a lot of research out there about the pros and cons of working from home. Everyone’s experience will be different and the impact of social isolation will be dependent on your own situation, your role and personality type. From my experience however, I quickly learnt that I missed the daily face to face interaction with colleagues. Talking to people via voice conferences just isn’t the same as meeting someone face to face.

So what can you do to prevent social isolation and make sure that working from home doesn’t leave you wanting to climb the walls? The following are tips that I’ve learnt along the way:

  1. Get out, daily – this might seem obvious and yes, it is. But I actually found myself getting quite low and lonely when I started working from home. I really had to push myself to get out every day. That may not be the same for everyone. Some people are quite happy in their own company for long periods. Not me! I’m a social person and I love social interaction so the effects of social isolation didn’t take long to show. I now make sure I get out and meet someone every day. It gets me out of the house, reduces social isolation but also makes sure I don’t bombard my husband with verbal diarrhoea when he gets home from work. When he’s spent all day socialising with people in the office, he just wants to sit quietly!
  1. Mix it up – working from different places is one of the key ways I deal with social isolation. The effects of social isolation are amplified when you have cabin fever. I try to get to the office once a fortnight to meet up with colleagues and I’m now a regular at our local coffee shop. With so many places offering WiFi, there’s no need to assume that working remotely means working from home all of the time.
  1. Meet up with other remote workers – when I spoke to friends who also work remotely, it became apparent that a lot of them were also struggling with the feeling of social isolation. We now try to have a lunchtime meet up once a month. It’s nice to be able to meet up, but because we all work in different areas, we really do focus on the ‘social’ aspect and completely switch off from work.
  1. Consider a shared workspace – this is something I’m looking into at the moment, even just for a day or two a week. You can find co-working spaces through sites like WeWork, DesksNearMe and ShareDesk where you can pay to use hotdesks or even dedicated desks and office space.

There’s no doubt that, for me, the positives of working remotely outweigh the negatives of social isolation, particularly now that I have steps in place to make sure I get some social contact each day. But if you are considering remote working, it’s worth going into that decision fully armed with the pros and cons that working from home can bring.

Belle Cooper’s guest post ‘How to make remote working work for you’ will give you some other great hints and tips on how to manage remote working.

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