A third of the people we asked in a recent poll said they were struggling to work remotely. This is the second in a series of blogs on how to overcome the main challenges of working remotely. Here we look at two separate but connected problems that relate to our perception of how connected we are to our colleagues.
Problem: Isolation and Feeling Disconnected
One of the most concerning problems with remote working is the sense of isolation and feeling disconnected. Coupled with strict lockdown measures in many countries, this is a potential recipe for disaster in terms of our mental health.
The reality is that this was an issue even before Covid and the huge increase in remote working we’ve seen as a result. An HBR article in 2019 referenced a study that indicated that more than 40% of people surveyed were feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace. More recent research carried out by Totaljobs in 2020 discovered that 46% of UK workers have experienced loneliness during lockdown with that figure increasing to a massive 74% for younger workers.
“67% of people feel that working from home during lockdown has negatively affected the variety of their social interactions”
When we are working remotely we just don’t have the same number or quality of social interactions that we have when working in an office environment. We can’t always rely on the micro-expressions and subtle body language that we would normally, and we have to listen with so much more attention.
Solution: Connection and Collaboration
Working remotely will never feel the same as being in our usual working environment, but there are many things we can do to decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation and increase our sense of belonging and connection. Here are some ideas:
To build a deeper sense of connection with our colleagues you can start your meetings with a quick check-in and ask everyone how they are doing.
Schedule social calls with colleagues where you don’t talk at all about work, but purely about what is going on in your lives. Another option is to have a virtual lunch or coffee with friends or colleagues.
Schedule a fun activity
Another great idea is to organise a fun non-work-related activity for your team or with colleagues. There are some fabulous options out there like a virtual tapas challenge.
Go beyond your professional circle
For those who feel isolated but prefer to keep their personal and work life completely separate, try to schedule social interactions, breaks or calls with friends or family members during our working day.
Re-design your “working environment”
Co-working spaces can be a great remedy to counteract loneliness or staring at the same four walls for 8 hours a day. If a co-working space is not an option, can you co-work with a colleague or friend via Zoom?
Problem: Fear of being overlooked or left out
The fear of being overlooked or left out is another consequence of remote working. It can be connected to our career development and progression opportunities or our sense of connection or belonging within the team. It is particularly strong if there are others in your team or peer group who are not remote working.
“Out of sight, out of mind”
Any good leader should be accurately aware of how each of their team are performing even when they are remote working. However, the reality is that it can sometimes be difficult to make yourself heard or seen whether remote working or not.
Solution: Visibility and Building Relationships
Depending on which of the fears mentioned above you are feeling, the solution may be slightly different.
If you want to ensure that you don’t get overlooked for any career development or progression opportunities, you need to ensure two things. Firstly, that you are doing a great job. Secondly, that your manager and/or any other relevant people are aware of this.
What that doesn’t mean is emailing your boss every time you complete something, but it does mean ensuring your achievements don’t go unnoticed. The key is balance and increasing your visibility. A good way to do this is when you contribute to meetings or discussions sharing real examples of what you’ve done. For example, if there is a discussion about how to build better relationships with clients, saying something like, “One thing I’ve found has really worked for me is …” When you share your successes and achievements from the perspective of how it can help others, the whole team and benefit (and it doesn’t sound big-headed!).
Another way of increasing your visibility is having regular and open discussions with your manager about your career development. This can be from the perspective of asking for some feedback or exploring how you can develop further by taking on additional responsibilities or ‘stretch’ projects or tasks.
If you feel that remote working is leading to you feeling disconnected from your team, then you might want to think about implementing some of the suggestions earlier. If, however, you find yourself being left out of team activities or updates, it could stem from your colleagues making assumptions. A friend of mine was left out of a team event that took place outside working hours. When he explored why, it turned out that he hadn’t been invited by his colleagues because he had previously expressed that he couldn’t commit to evening events due to childcare commitments. His colleagues had simply assumed that he wouldn’t be able to attend.
The best way to approach this type of situation is to talk to your colleagues, explain how you feel and that you would appreciate being advised of and/or included in any future plans.
Another approach to this is to take the initiative and suggest or organise a team social event. If the thought of doing that seems overwhelming, try to build relationships with your colleagues individually. Invite them for a virtual coffee or ask for their feedback or advice on a work-related issue.
When you lose your sense of connection with others, or feel that you are deliberately being excluded, it is easy to feel powerless. However, implementing one or more of the actions we have suggested above is likely to influence both how you feel about the situation, and how others respond to you.
If you’d like to find out more about how the Emotional Salary Barometer can help you or your team implement a solid action plan to increase your fulfilment at work, get in touch.