According to a Buffer survey, around 21% of remote workers stated that loneliness was their biggest struggle with working remotely.
Remote work certainly has its benefits. Many employees and interns enjoy the freedom, autonomy and flexibility of remote work, as well as the time saved each day that might have been spent on a commute to the office. Even just one extra hour a day can make a huge positive impact on our well-being!
In addition, the peaceful and quiet environment of working from home can boost our creativity and productivity. Without the endless distractions of the office, remote workers are often more productive.
However, when the world suddenly shifted to remote work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies and individuals were not ready for such a massive change. The reality is that despite numerous benefits like an enhanced work-life balance, working remotely is completely different from working in an office and thus presents its own unique challenges.
The end result can be increased difficulty in connecting to colleagues, often resulting in a sense of isolation, loneliness, and stress. Coupled with the physical distance, another issue is the cultural distance that can arise when working for an overseas company. Every country has its own unique work culture, which means that culture shock can still be an issue even as a remote intern or employee!
Keep this in mind as you complete your remote internship or search for remote work, and keep reading for our tips on managing isolation, loneliness and stress!
How to Manage Isolation and Loneliness
According to a Buffer survey, around 21% of remote workers stated that loneliness was their biggest struggle with working remotely. However, 90% of the same group also admitted that they intend to work remotely for the rest of their lives. Again, the benefits of remote work have been shown here to outweigh the potential negatives. However, 21% is not an insignificant number, and employers should ensure that isolation is addressed within their organization.
What are the differences, if any, between isolation and loneliness, and how can they be managed in the remote workplace?
To put it simply: isolation is structural, and loneliness is emotional.
Reducing stress and taking care of our mental health is the most important priority right now more than ever.
Reducing isolation is the responsibility of the employer since it relates to a lack of access to the materials or information that employees need to perform their job. When workers’ development or achievements are ignored, they will begin to feel isolated from the business. Managers must address isolation by integrating remote workers deeper into their organization and involving them in strategic meetings. In addition, if remote workers are unable to access the tools and resources they need, managers should find a solution.
On the other hand, loneliness is the emotional response to a lack of personal connection with colleagues. Unfortunately, this phenomenon does not only affect remote workers but also plagues in-person offices. Managers can address this by creating low-stakes opportunities for meaningful connections within the virtual workspace. Individuals can combat loneliness by following these simple tips:
Change Up Your Workspace
- Although working in a quiet room by yourself can be wonderful for your productivity (especially when engaging in creative work) the simple act of changing up your remote workspace can do wonders if you’re feeling lonely! If it’s safe and possible to do so, consider working remotely from a coffee shop, library, bookstore, or co-working space. This way you can be around other people while you work, even though they may not be your colleagues!
Go For a Walk
- We know, this is probably the most basic and standard advice that you’ve heard time and time again. But that’s because it works! Next time you’re feeling lonely or emotionally overwhelmed at work, that means it’s time for a break. Take 10 minutes to walk outside and get some sun and fresh air. Not only will the physical movement help reduce stress levels, but you might see some friendly faces outside as well!
Keep Water Cooler Talk Alive
- If your remote company is not already using an instant message platform like Skype or Slack during work hours, encourage them to start! Icebreakers, work-related discussions, and updates that take place in real-time can help everyone to feel connected. This form of communication is more casual than email and can improve collaboration, creativity, and innovation.
Turn Camera’s On
- During formal and casual online meetings, keep your camera on! In the remote workplace, this is the closest we can get to face-to-face interaction. While it may feel alien or more intimidating than an in-person chat, seeing your colleagues will help you feel more connected.
- Social networks like LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook can be great tools to get to know your colleagues or other people in your industry. Don’t underestimate the impact of using these tools to stay connected!
Have a pet be your “coworker”
- This tip may not be achievable for everyone, but if you already have a pet or have the resources and capacity to adopt a furry (or scaly/feathered) friend – do it! When all else fails, having a pet around while you work can be very calming. Pet coworkers are the best emotional support, and you’re never truly alone when they are around!
Ask For Help
- If you’re still struggling with feelings of loneliness, we recommend speaking to a trusted friend, family member, mentor, or even colleague. When that’s not possible, there are also countless online resources available at the end of this blog for support by trained volunteer counsellors. Reaching out to others for help is often the best solution.
Tips to Reduce Stress & Boost Mental Well-Being
The world has collectively lived through some of the most stressful times in recent history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the end is in sight, we haven’t yet reached the return to “normalcy” that we all desire. Reducing stress and taking care of our mental health is the most important priority right now more than ever.
While one could write an entire series of novels on how to reduce stress and boost mental well-being, here are a few of our tips to consider.
Limit Media Exposure
- Can you relate to the feeling of constantly checking the news to learn all about the pandemic? While it helps to stay informed, try to reduce how often you check the news to once per day – or better yet, once per week! The ideal number will vary for everyone, but your stress levels will thank you for not dwelling on the situation.
- Not only do our remote work loneliness tips apply here, but staying connected to your friends, family and loved ones as much as possible is vital for reducing stress! Social support is so important for building resilience during stressful times. Think about ways you can stay connected to your loved ones, and set aside the time to reach out!
Move Your Body
- You’ve probably heard that movement is closely tied to mental well-being. But how and why? Well, it has to do with our “fight or flight” stress response, as well as our modern lifestyle. In the past, when our ancestors encountered a stressful situation such as a dangerous predator, they had two options: fight the predator, or run away from it. Both responses involve strenuous physical activity, which is the body’s way of regulating excess cortisol (the stress hormone).
- Nowadays, stress is often triggered by work, school, and other non-physical stressors, leaving us to deal with the repercussions of excess cortisol. This is why exercise and movement are so important for stress relief. Studies show that regular exercise helps reduce how much cortisol is released due to stress. So stay active – but do something you love so you can stick with it for the long term!
Get Enough Sleep
- Stress and sleep have a symbiotic relationship with each other. When we’re stressed, it can affect our sleep quality. And when we’re not sleeping enough, it can increase our stress levels. The typical advice is that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep per night – but 8 or 9 hours can be even better depending on the individual.
- Some simple techniques to help improve the quality of your sleep include: exercising for at least 30 minutes each day, reducing exposure to stressful news or other triggers around bedtime, stopping caffeine intake at least 6 hours before bedtime, and creating a nightly routine like turning off your electronics, reading a book, and drinking chamomile tea.
- Mindfulness refers to the ability to be fully present in the moment, without attaching strongly to worries about the past or future. This ability can help us reduce stress, increase gratitude, and practice self-acceptance.
- Some techniques to practice mindfulness include meditation, taking mindful breaks, gratitude journaling, creating art, and engaging in physical activities that induce “flow state” consciousness (ie. mindfulness) – many surfers, skateboarders, and runners frequently experience this!
- Are you overwhelmed with juggling school deadlines, internships, part-time jobs, and all your other responsibilities? Researchers at the University College London found that people who work more than 55 hours a week have a 13% greater risk of heart attack and 33% higher risk of stroke than those who work only 35-40 hours per week. Humans aren’t meant to constantly work!
- As difficult as it may be, try to find ways to balance your schedule and devote more time to self-care, socialization, and fun. Burnout is a devastating result of ‘hustle culture’, so resist the narrative, and take care of yourself first!
Need Extra Support? Resources Here!
At the end of the day, our mental health and well-being is our most precious asset. We hope that this blog has given you some helpful tips and advice that you can implement right away.
However, we’re certainly not the experts, and there are countless resources available to help you manage stress, isolation, and mental health in the remote workplace and life in general. Some of our favourite resources are listed below, including links to free and instant chats with trained volunteers who can provide support right away. Take a look and be well!
- Student mental health: Depressed and living in a bubble of one – BBC News
- How To Prevent Burnout While Working From Home – A Day in Time
- Self Care Video Playlist – The School of Life
- Pagoda Projects Mindfulness Webinar (with Meditation Session)
- 5 TED Talks to help you manage stress
- Information & Support – Mind.org
- Tips for Managing Isolation
- COVID-19: Managing Stress in This Anxious Time
- My whole self: supporting your mental health while working from home
- What are the 5 stages of burnout?
- Self-help and Self-care Resources – LifeLink
- Free Audio Resources for Mindfulness Meditation
- Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises
- Headspace App
- Calm App
- Insight Timer App
- Wake Up / Wind Down Short Podcast – Spotify
- MindOut LGBTQ Mental Health Service
- Workplace Mental Health for LGBTQ+ Professionals
- Rest for Resistance
- Mental Health Fact Sheet with Resources – Rethink.org
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students’ mental health support – Mind.org
- Free Subsidised Services – BAATN The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network
- Free Mental Health Services – Black Minds Matter
- Student Space (UK): Free text message, webchat, phone, and email support for students from trained volunteers
- Together We Are Strong: International helplines
- Time to Change (UK): Several mental health help and support service lines
- Crisis Text Line (UK, Ireland, Canada, USA): Free text message support from trained crisis counsellors
- Beyond Blue (AUS): Free instant 24/7 chat and phone support by trained counsellors
- MindSpot Clinic (AUS): Digital mental health clinic for Australians with free mental health assessments for anxiety, stress, depression, etc.
- Eheadspace (AUS): Free online and telephone support and counselling to young people aged 12-25
- Lifeline Australia: Free online text and phone support for emotional distress
- Togetherall (NZ, UK): An online community where members can support each other
- Empower Work (USA): Free text support for Americans who need help with work-related issues
- How to Manage the Loneliness and Isolation of Remote Workers
- How to Combat Loneliness and Disconnection as a Remote Worker
- Water Cooler Talk: 6 Benefits For Your Remote Team
- Does Running Help Reduce Cortisol?
- How Simply Moving Benefits Your Mental Health
- How Much Sleep Do I Need?
- How Does Stress Affect Sleep
- The ‘Rise and Grind’ of Hustle Culture
- Only the overworked die young