While I can (and do) work from anywhere, my preferred place is my home office. It’s a quiet, cozy space with an enclosed garden. I have great coffee, an electric sit-stand desk, high-speed Internet, and a neighbor cat who comes over to visit. This is the place where I am happiest and at my most productive.
We all have different needs when it comes to productivity and being social. Some people, like me, love working alone. But many remote workers struggle with loneliness and isolation. Depending on your situation and your personality, you’ll need to customize a solution that works for you.
I’ve interviewed over 50 people who work remotely and wanted to share some of their tips for how you can combat the loneliness of working alone and build connection into your day.
How to Combat Loneliness and Disconnection as a Remote Worker
Leave the house.
If you’re working on your own and want to physically be around other people, you’ll need to leave the house. It’s as simple as that. Even just going out to exercise can help combat the feeling of being lonely. If you’re looking for a new place to work, the first things that usually come to mind are coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. But if you want a place where you can spend more time around other solo professionals, find a coworking space, or ask to work from a client’s office (which has the added benefit of relationship building). If you want to set up a more permanent workspace outside your home (where you can set up external monitors for example), try renting an office together with others.
Work out loud.
It’s not just working on our own where we can feel disconnected. It can also happen when we’re working with a remote team. One of the best cures for this is working out loud. Working out loud means narrating your work and making it observable to others. Basically, it’s a way of working that helps us know what others are doing.
My personal favorite way of working out loud is by using a group instant messaging system (like Slack or HipChat). This acts as a place for group discussions and as a virtual water cooler. You can talk about everything from the marketing campaign to how cute your pet looks right now. The most powerful aspects of a group IM are that you can choose the discussion channels you want to belong to and you can scan lengthy conversations quickly. In this way, communication has more of a lightweight feel over using email. This kind of rapid, lightweight interaction helps people communicate better as a group and it builds a sense of team at the same time.
Turn the cameras on.
A lot of people resist using video, and some people simply aren’t able to spare the bandwidth. But if you have the bandwidth, then turn those cameras on! Even if only for the first five minutes of the day to say hello. As a remote worker, seeing each other helps us feel more connected. There are lots of options for video collaboration these days: Skype, Google Hangouts, Sqwiggle, and Zoom to name just a few. And remember, it doesn’t always have to be work related. Lots of teams are having virtual lunches, coffees, and even virtual dance parties!
Find collaboration partners.
Years ago, when I was a remote worker in the Netherlands, I started working with a woman in California on a project for a mutual client. We enjoyed working together so much that when the project ended, we continued our collaboration sessions together. Every day, we’d meet for a few hours on Skype and work (on our own projects) as if we were in a room together. It’s nice to have someone there to check in with, bounce ideas off of, or just to talk.
This technique is not just limited to two people. Teams can work this way as well. Simply have everyone on video with the mute button on, and when someone needs to ask a question to the group, they unmute themselves. It’s a great way to simulate the office online.
Engage on social media.
Regardless of if you work on a team or on your own, there are no shortages of opportunities (for better or for worse) to engage with like-minded people on the Internet. Joining LinkedIn and Facebook groups or Twitter chats gives you access to people and knowledge from all over the world.
As you can see, there are many ways to combat the loneliness of working alone and build connection into your remote working day. If you’re someone who needs a lot of interaction, then make sure to reach out. If you like working alone, make sure you don’t have the same routine and environment every day. If you’re trying to connect with your team more, try working out loud. Whether you work on your own or with a remote team, take the opportunity to create a space where you are most productive and happy.
For more tips, check out this interview with Swedish creativity expert Teo Härén, where he talks about working from the place where you are most productive (available as video and podcast).
Lisette helps teams work together from anywhere by sharing inspiring stories and offering online and in-person workshops. She is a specialist in creating online collaborative communities with over 10 years’ experience with web-based collaboration tools and online community management. Her goal is to get the best people working together regardless of location. She co-authored Engagement Management: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Thriving Social Network and she is now working on a new book called Collaboration Superpowers: Stories of Remote Teams Doing Great Things. Learn more at CollaborationSuperpowers.com.