Combat Remote Work Loneliness With These 5 Strategies

Updated May 2024

Working remotely brings the promise of a flexible schedule and work-life balance. However, telecommuting also brings some less pleasant, unintended consequences. One of the most serious issues is remote work loneliness. To be successful, it’s important to nurture your mental health and build social support systems to address the unique challenges of working remotely.

A recent study from Perceptyx reported that “America’s loneliness crisis is coming to work.” In fact, over 40% of employees reported feeling “very” or “somewhat” lonely at work. These facts — combined with the continued desire for remote employment opportunities by jobseekers — provide strong evidence that developing a strategy to combat loneliness and build social support systems for those who work remotely is an important responsibility.

What is Remote Work Loneliness?

Many people assume loneliness and isolation in remote work arise because people are literally alone. However, the reality is a little more complicated. Dr. Cacioppo, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, defines loneliness as “a state of mind characterized by a dissociation between what an individual wants or expects from a relationship and what that individual experiences in that relationship.” In other words, remote work loneliness is not necessarily caused by a lack of relationships but by a lack of satisfaction in the relationships one has.

This definition has several important implications for remote workers. First, it highlights that being alone may not be responsible for feelings of loneliness and isolation. Second, it indicates that feelings of loneliness may stem from social structures you experienced in a traditional office — structures that have now changed. Third, it suggests putting effort into current and desired relationships can relieve feelings of loneliness.

Who is at Risk?

Unfortunately, there is no checklist of risk factors you can go through to determine if you will become lonely. Loneliness is not directly linked to any demographic factors. In fact, remote workers are not more likely to get lonely than the rest of the population. According to a recent study by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 30% of adults report experiencing feelings of loneliness at least once a week over the past year, and 10% say they feel lonely every day.

What is unique about remote workers is that the social support structures available to their office-bound colleagues are not available to them, at least not in the same way. The societal movement toward remote work highlights this lack of support and asks researchers, employers, and entrepreneurs to come up with answers and develop programs and services to fill this gap.

Strategies to Develop Social Support Structures and Combat Remote Work Loneliness

There are many ways that remote workers can address and offset the potential negative aspects of working offsite. Dr. Cacioppo advises a comprehensive approach comprising introspection, connection, and interaction. In other words, focusing on your personal mental and physical health, establishing or maintain your professional and personal connections, and ensuring that you engage in positive and meaningful interactions with others daily. Below are some practical ways to plan and integrate this approach into your life.

1. Avoid overworking and schedule time for yourself

This strategy may initially seem counterintuitive. How can I combat loneliness by being alone? However, one of the unintended consequences of remote work is burnout. Newly remote employees can feel grateful to employers for the opportunity to work from home and respond by going above and beyond to prove their commitment and productivity. Working long hours and taking on extra work can cause burnout and exhaustion. When you deplete your physical and mental resources, it is all too easy to succumb to loneliness and other negative feelings.

  • To offset the tendency to overwork, make sure you are realistic about how much you want to take on and remember to take into account the initial learning curve of any new position. At first, it can be difficult to arrange your day when you are suddenly without the structure you used to rely upon, such as a start time, lunch, and afternoon coffee breaks. Your tendency may be to ignore these important milestones. However, this can quickly lead to feelings of disengagement from regular life. If necessary, write down and follow a detailed schedule for your day to ensure you eat properly, engage in daily exercise, and have rest periods.

2. Pay attention to your family relationships

Working remotely can bring sizable changes to the relationships you have with the people you live with. In most cases, these individuals are your primary social support system. This can mean family members or roommates depend on your situation. Since you work from home, they expect you will help more with chores or improve your parenting. However, working from home can also result in disruptions to set patterns in long-term relationships. Combined with overwork, this can result in work-family conflicts that quickly spiral out of control, leading to remote work loneliness and depression.

  • Especially at first, remember to be patient with family members, and make sure you are not taking on too much work or extra home duties. Also, develop and maintain opportunities for daily or weekly communication to identify any issues that arise or discuss potential problems. The good news is current research suggests working remotely can eventually lead to lower levels of work-family conflicts.

3. Develop and maintain strong social support structures at work

One can expect a certain amount of social isolation when transitioning to a remote work arrangement. You are removed from daily office interactions, both formal and informal. For many people, this can be a big adjustment, especially if they enjoyed strong social relationships at work. This lack of social interaction can lead to feeling “cut off” from work friends and groups.

  • An easy way to offset the isolation that sometimes comes with remote work is to have a partial-remote — or hybrid — work arrangement, where you go into work periodically. In-office time can range from three days a week to once every three months; what works for you may vary. One study found that the happiest remote workers come into the office one day a week. Other studies found the effects of professional isolation kick-in when employees spend more than three days a week working remotely.
  • Another option to combat professional social isolation is scheduling regular meetings (via telephone or video calls) with supervisors, coworkers, and other team members. Besides helping you stay on track with work duties, frequent meetings can also help you forge and maintain more personal relationships.
  • Many companies are also adopting strategies to prevent isolation and build social support systems among their remote employees. These can include activities like virtual team parties and coffee chats. They may also promote an online community via intranets or social media applications. Find out and take part in the opportunities your company may offer.

4. Address other potential sources of professional isolation

Social isolation is only one component of the isolation a remote worker may experience after taking a remote position. Problems collaborating or communicating can lead to three additional types of isolation: resource isolation, opportunity isolation, and development isolation. Below are several strategies for developing social support systems and avoiding these potential sources of remote work loneliness.

  • Resource Isolation. Sometimes working remotely means a lack of information and access to key people. Try to identify any problems you may have in accessing important work resources. Then work with your supervisor and coworkers so, together, you can create new access points or digital resources to streamline your work processes.
  • Opportunity Isolation. In some situations, employers overlook remote workers for opportunities for no other reason than that they do not see them in the office. Engaging in regular and frequent progress updates can help offset this disadvantage and ensure that your supervisor and coworkers are aware of your productivity and achievements.
  • Development Isolation. Working remotely can sometimes result in a myopic view of your skills and work outputs. Without the opportunity to compare and adjust your skills and work approach with coworkers, your career may stagnate. To mitigate this possibility, take part in group projects or partner with coworkers whenever possible. During these activities, make sure to ask questions and compare notes.

5. Seek out social support structures in your community

Take advantage of your newfound freedom and spread your wings. Use this opportunity to explore what type of relationships you may find inspiring. Some common examples of community social support options include:

  • Coworking Spaces. These are the perfect options for people who like to work in a communal environment and make friends. For example, some offer multiple locations, specialized programming, child care, and so on. With coworking spaces, you get to work and network at the same time. The downside is that some locations are expensive. However, most coworking spaces provide a free trial.
  • Professional/Business Association. Getting more involved with the local chapters of a professional association can counteract the opportunity and development isolation that comes with working remotely. These organizations can have a significant impact on your big picture career, as you make lots of great contacts.
  • Personal Interest Group. An alternative option to social support related to your profession is to join something less related to your work. Many people use the flexibility of remote work to spend more time doing passion projects (e.g. volunteering or traveling) or using other skills (e.g. painting or mountain climbing). Getting involved in activities like these promotes social connections and personal fulfillment.

Stay Connected and Thriving

Combatting remote work loneliness doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. By implementing the five strategies we’ve discussed, you can create a balanced, fulfilling remote work experience. These simple yet effective approaches will help you stay connected and thrive in your remote work life. Remember, remote work loneliness is a common challenge, but with a proactive approach, you can overcome it and enjoy the many benefits of working remotely.

Take the Next Step to a Fulfilling Remote Career

Don’t let remote work loneliness hold you back. Discover a community and opportunities that can transform your remote work experience. Become a Virtual Vocations member today and find your perfect remote job. With access to exclusive job listings and resources, you’ll be well on your way to a balanced, rewarding remote career. Join now and take the first step towards overcoming remote work loneliness and thriving in your professional journey.

Do you have tips to combat remote work loneliness? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

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