Although most of us are yet to settle down into establishing long term ‘back to normal’ ways of working, it’s clear that hybrid working is here to stay for thousands of employees across the UK. The Silicon Reef Research Report, carried out in February 2022, highlighted the emerging theme of loneliness for the hybrid worker. As a business Silicon Reef has encouraged remote and flexible working since our inception and so, for us, hybrid working and the challenges that go with it are nothing new. Here we offer some of our best ways for employees – and business leaders – to combat the common, but surmountable, issue of loneliness.
With a large proportion of the working population now spending a considerable time working outside of the office, we’ve looked in detail at the impact that remote and hybrid working is having on employees. In our research report, published in March 2022, we uncovered the issue of loneliness in hybrid working practices. Although more than a quarter of employees choose to work outside of the office or home to ward off loneliness, 84% still feel lonely or disconnected from their colleagues. And, despite 44% looking for leaders to facilitate mental breaks in their daily schedules and 41% expecting a platform for more social online interaction with colleagues, there are plenty of things that the employee can do to tackle their own loneliness independently.
The first step to overcoming loneliness is recognising what you are experiencing. You may find yourself feeling overly tired even though you are sleeping well and are in otherwise good health, or maybe you are binge watching tv shows into the night, spending a lot of time on social media, or finding small things overwhelming. Understanding that these are all possible symptoms of feeling lonely can help you to begin to tackle the problem and find a way forward. Isolation is a slightly different issue, being more related to the experience of being left out of meetings or activities or becoming disconnected, and our survey showed us that half of all workers (48%) felt disconnected from colleagues. It can be easier to raise issues of isolation with your manager or colleagues as these are tangible external problems. Feeling lonely can feel much more like a personal problem, harder to pin down, and often more challenging to express to your co-workers. It’s just as important to share your feelings of loneliness with your employer as there are plenty of ways they should be able to help you, and support they can give you to help yourself. And remember, if you are just beginning to work remotely, being alone does not necessarily mean that you will feel lonely. Many people find energy and focus when working alone and find they are more productive and efficient.
When you are feeling lonely or down it can be tempting to let personal standards slip, but by focussing on dressing well and making an effort with your appearance you can show up to work, even in a virtual setting, with optimism and energy. Dress well, brush your hair, and even put on proper shoes, and you will be more ready to turn on the camera, to feel confident, and make meaningful connections with colleagues. Feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time, so the sooner you start to carve out ways to combat loneliness, the sooner you will be able to help yourself feel better.
Turn on and check in
If your day is punctuated by virtual meetings, turn on the camera! Seeing other people, and being seen, is a big part of feeling connected. 46% of workers told us that they find it harder to communicate with colleagues when they are working out of the office, which is going to make a significant contribution to feelings of loneliness. Small talk – as well as work-based conversations – is vital and that can be made more straightforward when you can look teammates in the eye, smile, and interact as human beings. Social chat is as important for remote workers as it is for teams based in the office and it is simple back and forth exchanges – finding out that a colleague loves dogs, plays football, or loves a particular band – that help you to build rapport and trust.
Embrace the tech
Technology is at the heart of making hybrid working possible, but also plays a massive part in helping to combat feelings of loneliness. Use the tools available to you and look for the ways you can use apps to compensate for the things you are missing from the office environment. Instant messaging and chat threads in tools such as Teams allows you to have spontaneous conversations with friends and colleagues in the same way that you might chat at your desk, at the water cooler, or even on the way to the toilets! You can hold conversations with multiple people at the same time and continue them in the context of documents you are collaborating on, or even pick them up in a video call. All you need is a mobile or laptop and WiFi and you can stay connected with your colleagues. With 41% of workers looking for more social online interaction with other employees, and 38% looking for more opportunities for ad hoc communications, it’s vital that you have tools like these to work remotely.
Find the balance that’s right for you
Depending on your role, and the flexibility your employer gives you, you may be able to structure your day to give you opportunity to socialise and connect with people. You may choose, for instance, to work early and take a long break in the middle of the day with enough time to visit the gym, have lunch with friends, or spend time with your family. You may be able to build your working day around the school hours to give you the chance to spend more time with your children, or work at home for part of the week and in a social working space for the remainder.
Even if your working hours are fixed, you can look for ways to connect with people in real life through the working week – by seeking out classes or groups that meet after hours. The rise of hybrid has also brought with it an increase in communities designed to connect remote workers. Meetup, for example, is a vast network designed to help you make new friends, get support, or even simply build your professional circle. Joining members-only coworking clubs and spaces – which have sprung up everywhere since the pandemic – or seeking out local groups can help you make new connections and friends that work to a similar schedule to you.
You are not alone
One of the most important ways to combat loneliness is to create the work life balance that works for you, and hybrid working is the perfect opportunity to do this – with the right support from your employer. Because you are not alone. Your employer has an important role to play in helping you to combat negative feelings and taking care of your mental health. The business should be building structures into their ways of working to help keep all individuals connected – wherever they work. From organising regular all-company in-person events and facilitating virtual social occasions, to providing the tools and flexibility to ensure you can engage with work in the best way for you, the organisation needs to play their part.
So, if you are feeling lonely, don’t be afraid of asking for help. Chances are that your employer will be ready and willing to make things better for you and – by being honest – you can work together to find the solution that suits you both. After all, a happy employee tends to be more engaged, more effective and, ultimately, more productive!