The novel coronovirus pandemic means that remote work is set to become the new way of working for many workplaces and individuals.
In response to the rapid spread of novel coronovirus governments across the world are asking anybody who may have been exposed to the virus to self-isolate and work from home. For those of us who are accustom to this new way of working, there is little to be lost. However, for those who are new to this way of working, the possibility exists that loneliness and isolation could become significant factors in keeping productivity and quality at the expected level.
‘There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators’
Definitions and Language
In listening to people discuss what is now viewed as mental health, or what was once known as stress management, I find very often that we confuse a physical circumstance with the actual feeling. Isolation is the circumstance, loneliness is the feeling. Subsequently, isolation as a problem is much more easy to resolve than the feeling of loneliness. For example, in order to remove myself from isolation during a remote work day I can relocate to a local cafe with my laptop. However, it is well evidenced that people can feel lonely even in a crowded room. Therefore loneliness is a much more complex emotion to overcome than the circumstance of social isolation.
George Stavrinidis (CEO at Lone Worker Solutions) has the following to say about loneliness in his LinkedIn blog article “Beating the blues: overcoming lone worker loneliness“.
It’s important to encourage a more open culture in talking about loneliness. It’s also how we talk about it. We don’t have to ‘admit’ to ‘suffering’ from loneliness, which are both common ways to describe it. People aren’t suffering from anything horrible or shameful – they’re just feeling lonely! Normalising the language around loneliness is a big step into losing the stigma.
What is a connection?
Strong connections in life are built on reliable and respectful communication.
Much of the evidence today regarding overcoming loneliness looks at and involves connections.
Ask yourself, how many people:
- are you actually connected to?
- would you call or talk to in person on a weekly basis?
- are there in whose lives you are actually involved?
- could you look in the eyes and tell them how you feel about them or what you see in them without them becoming overly emotional towards you?
On social media you may have a virtual connection to hundreds or even thousands of people but these relationships are weak. Strength in human connections comes from a common element that actually bonds two people together. For example:
- Are you both in the same sporting team?
- Did you attend the same secondary school together?
- Are your partners friends?
Dan Schawbel in his blog “How technology created a lonely workplace” states the following observations.
Technology has created the illusion that we’re all highly connected, and social, when in reality we are deprived of real human interaction, which has led to a loneliness epidemic and lowered team commitment…As a result of our technology overuse, our productivity, loyalty and relationships have declined.
How strong are your connections with your friends and what is their foundation?
What do you value?
We all perceive the world differently and we hold different views as a result about what is valuable.
Personally, I make my most significant connections when I feel understood or when someone really gets what it is to be me. Such people are my friends. They share the same values as me and I can use them as the guideposts in my life to know when I have overstepped the mark or taken a wrong turn in my life’s direction and vice versa. This does not necessarily mean that we do everything in exactly the same way but is instead a common desire for the ascertainment or maintenance of life goals. Such goals might be, the maintenance of relationships via the ending of family violence, dealing effectively with climate change or utilising technology to the best possible advantage in our given fields of interest.
What is it that you value when you make a connection?
Maintaining the balance
There is no perfect overarching (political or otherwise) available solution to any mental health issue. As my own therapist said to me – “If it was that easy we would all be out of a job!” As with most health related issues it is all about the maintenance of balance in the individual. Thus loneliness to me, may not mean the same thing as it does to you as we are all unique and individual.
As we move into a new era of remote work, maintaining balance will include shifting your own balance towards working in a more isolated environment. Brooke Zimmatore, CEO, Massive Alliance makes the following five recommendations to assist with this adjustment on the individual level:
- Work with people you care about
- Schedule social activities
- Commute part-time
- Put work in it’s place
- Work from a public space
Whilst Jennifer Moss (Workplace expert, International public speaker, and award-winning author) offers her suggestions for the workplace management of loneliness in remote workers in her article ‘Helping Remote Workers Avoid Loneliness and Burnout’.
However you and your workplace decide to manage loneliness remember to be kind to yourself during any time of transition. Loneliness and isolation can be overcome, it is all a matter of balance.