Remote Work Loneliness: How to Protect Your Mental Health When Working Remotely
Since the start of the pandemic, working from home has become the new normal for many employees and companies. While working outside the office has its benefits — no more long, gas-guzzling commutes, for instance — there is still one downside many employees face: remote work loneliness.
Before the pandemic, it was normal to make friends around the office, crack jokes in the break room, or participate in fun, in-person team-building activities. However, those things aren’t possible when you’re working from home and your coworkers are scattered around the country. So, working from home can feel isolating.
Fortunately, there are strategies you can implement to protect your mental health and feel less lonely as you work from home or remotely.
5 Tips to Avoid Loneliness When Working From Home
I asked fellow HubSpotters and professionals across different industries for tips on avoiding work-from-home loneliness. Here is what they had to say:
1. Schedules ‘get to know you’ calls.
Jen Bergren, Head of Operations at Remotish, says “get to know you” calls are an important part of her team’s onboarding process.
“One of the team’s favorite tasks in our onboarding is for the new team member to schedule a short call with every other person on the team, individually, in their first two weeks for a ‘get to know you’ casual call,” she said. “We also make sure the new team members have at least one real-time human call/connection a day during their first few weeks, which we know is especially important when this may be their first remote job.”
Pro-Tip: Don’t be afraid to schedule regular lunch chats with colleagues you feel have the same interests as you. For example, if you’re on a GTKY call with a coworker and they mention Game of Thrones (your favorite show!), ask if they’d like to schedule a weekly lunch Zoom to talk about the show’s spin-off House of the Dragon. This will give you something fun to look forward to every week, and you’ll feel less alone while working.
2. Start/Join affinity groups.
Jen Spencer, CEO of SmartBug Media, suggests building connections with your teammates by starting or joining affinity groups with your company’s messaging channels.
“Whether it’s our LadyBugs channel, our LGBTQ+ channel, our Parents channel, or even our TheatreBugs — there is a Slack channel/affinity group for everyone at SmartBug,” Spencer said. “No group? Create one! Our Coffee and Tea Lovers group takes ‘Secret Santa’ to new heights by swapping local roaster specialties.
Pro-Tip: Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and join groups about unfamiliar topics that interest you. In doing so, you’ll make connections across the company and will learn something new or develop a new hobby.
3. Work outside your home or with others.
HubSpot Advisor Dan Moyle says working from outside the office doesn’t have to mean only working from home, and it doesn’t have to mean working alone either.
“When I’m feeling cooped up I try to work outside of my office in a café, at a park — somewhere with humans,” he said. “And finally, scheduling time to work together while in a video meeting much like you’d work in a conference room, even if you’re not on the same project, can be helpful to feel more connected.”
Pro-Tip: If you want to work outside your home but still avoid distractions, try going to your local library. You’ll be out of the house and around other people, but you’ll also be in a place that prioritizes peace and quiet.
4. Connect with one friend or family member a day.
Lauren Steiner, President of Grant Plus, says she makes a point to contact at least one person a day — in whatever capacity she can muster at that moment.
“I prefer coffee dates/ lunch or phone calls but sometimes a text is all I can manage,” Steiner said. “But I make it a point to connect with at least one person in my personal life every day. It staves off the loneliness like nothing else!”
Pro-Tip: You can also schedule a virtual co-working space with close friends from outside of work — just make sure you don’t discuss or show anything that is confidential to your company.
5. Dedicate time to community service.
HubSpot Executive Dan Tyre says helping others in need is a great way to keep loneliness at bay while also giving back to your community.
“If people are down, sad, or lonely, I tell them to go provide service to people in need. Do more good for the universe,” he said. “Go to a soup kitchen, pet service dogs, spend time at your local school.”
Pro-Tip: Ask your company if anyone would like to get involved in or sponsor any online charity events. You’ll do good for your community and bond with your coworkers over a good cause.
4 More Ways to Protect Your Mental Health When Working From Home
To explore more options for protecting our mental health, I spoke with Dr. Willard, a psychologist, consultant, and author who specializes in mindfulness and positive psychology.
Let’s dive into Willard’s tips for practicing mindfulness during times of stress, avoiding burnout from too many virtual meetings, and finding moments of gratitude even in difficult circumstances.
1. Practice mindfulness to focus on the present moment and feel calm during times of stress.
If you’re anything like me, meditation is on the back burner at the moment. During times of stress and anxiety, I typically take the “white-knuckle and get through it” approach, focusing on happier future times rather than dwelling on the present moment.
Of course, that often lends itself to more stress and anxiety, not less.
Dr. Willard suggests, “Between calls, give yourself a break by taking five breaths, or looking out the window and noticing a few beautiful things. Sip your coffee with all five senses. Notice five sounds you hear. All of these kinds of things really do settle us down and bring us into the present.”
Additionally, he says, “With more time, take a walk around the neighborhood without your phone in hand, or do your calls standing or walking if possible.” You might also practice mindfulness when you’re lounging on the couch or eating a meal.
Alternatively, Dr. Willard mentioned that when we’re stressed our perception is often distorted. If you find yourself overwhelmed with thoughts like “When will this end?” or “Will I get fired?,” try adding the statement, “I’m having the thought that ___.”
This can help you gain some perspective and understand that while your thoughts might be driving you further into anxiety or stress — but they might not be grounded in reality.
Lastly, if you are interested in trying meditation, take a look at apps like Calm or Prezence, which break meditation down into easy-to-digest categories like “5 Minutes for Sleep” or “2 Minutes of Breathing”.
2. Combat virtual meeting fatigue by alternating with phone calls or reading actual books or newspapers.
We all know the feeling of back-to-back Zoom meetings that leave you, within 2-3 hours, absolutely exhausted in a way physical meetings never did.
If you feel alone in your exhaustion toward virtual meetings, you’re not. In fact, Zoom fatigue is common when working from home and there are ways to minimize it.
Dr. Willard suggests a few key points for combating virtual meeting fatigue.
“I think getting out for a bit, or looking away from the computer — for instance, perhaps every 20 minutes, you take 20 seconds to look 20 feet in the distance — can be helpful for alleviating fatigue as a result of virtual meetings,” he said.
Of course, we can’t always take breaks in-between meetings. If you don’t feel like you have much time to get outside or look away, try phone calls to switch things up, as Dr. Willard advises: “Alternatively, instead of all Zoom meetings, perhaps you try phone calls to connect with people, and take a walk as you do.”
He adds, “I’d also suggest reading an actual book or magazine … I got a newspaper yesterday, and I was surprised by how different and better it felt to read it rather than consuming all my news online.”
3. Practice gratitude, and reflect on positive moments with a journal.
If you’re doubtful of the effect of gratitude on happiness levels, I’d suggest giving this TED Talk a watch. Ultimately, practicing gratitude can be critical for maintaining perspective and finding joy in difficult circumstances. Gratitude can be found in minor details and seemingly trivial things, as well. For instance, when was the last time you paused to reflect on how lucky you are to have access to clean water or a warm shower?
As Dr. Willard stresses, “Psychological health, perspective, and happiness can be found through practicing gratitude each day and just reflecting on the few good moments in a journal or with friends or family.”
Additionally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with a sense of When will this all end?, Dr. Willard says a little consideration for the future isn’t such a bad thing.
“Setting reasonable goals in the morning, and thinking about what you’ll do after this, can help you raise happiness levels,” he said. “Why not plan a vacation? Even if you’re unsure when you’ll take it, research shows it actually boosts your mood.”
4. Reach out to friends and family, limit social media consumption, and set boundaries with people in your life.
Whether you’re working at home for the time being or your full-time job is remote, it’s critical to figure out positive, healthy ways to maintain strong relationships without feeling pressure to over-maintain them.
For instance, while you’re likely craving social interaction, it can become burdensome to feel like you need to be a support system for all your friends and family. If that’s the case, Dr. Willard urges, “Set negative or positive boundaries with roommates, family, partners, parents, or others in your life.”
“Additionally, if you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, consider who that is,” he said.
Here are some other tips Dr. Willard suggests for relationships:
- Get multiple text threads going, even with old college roommates or colleagues you haven’t spoken to in a while.
- Take a walk and call someone.
- Try writing postcards or starting a pen-pal relationship with a friend.
- Block unhelpful people on social media.
- Join online AA groups, support groups, meditation groups, spiritual gatherings, or partake in online yoga.
Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed at this moment, Dr. Willard suggests remembering the CALM acronym, which can help ground yourself and relax tension in your body. All you need to do is squeeze and release the muscles in your Chest, Arms, Legs, and Mouth, which are areas where we tend to hold a lot of tension.
Working from home, especially if it’s your first ever remote job, can be a lot to adjust to. However, it’s important to remember that working from home doesn’t have to mean working alone or cooped up in your home. In a digital world, there are many ways to foster connections with your team virtually and be productive while getting some fresh air.