Since the global Covid-19 pandemic, millions of UK employees are now working from home on a regular basis, either with family and friends bustling around them or quietly tucked away in their home office. Though for many this has been a welcome change – and our 2020 Work Happy survey found 44% reporting a notable fall in their stress levels, and 67% finding more time for themselves – working remotely from their teams has also brought some feelings of loneliness and isolation for 79% of our survey respondents.
When our need for rewarding social contact and real human relationships is not met, we can feel lonely and isolated. Even surrounded by family and friends – and the noise and commotion of everyday life – an individual can experience feelings of extreme loneliness if they cannot find ways to satisfyingly communicate and exchange with like-minded people.
In the days of the first full lockdown – when we couldn’t meet with friends and colleagues – technology came into its own, offering video calling to the masses, live chats and Facebook groups for posting and sharing. But now, with the impact of the pandemic meaning we have had a positive rise in people working from home, we still need to keep an eye on our employees for signs of loneliness and isolation.
Stay in Touch
Staying connected on a regular basis is essential to combat isolation. An employee who knows they have a regular check-in meeting at 9am every morning is going to be subtly reassured that they’re going to be speaking to someone – no matter what. Use Outlook to schedule daily Teams Calls and collaborate on projects. Bring up Microsoft 365 documents on a call and share them with meeting participants, using the whiteboard function to illustrate points or explore ideas, co-author plans and work on documentation.
Use Teams Chat to fire off ad hoc questions and thoughts throughout the day to maintain the feeling of constant connectedness with text style communication that feels like banter over the desks.
Managers – try not to cancel a call when you don’t have work related information to cover. Remember this is your employees’ chance to check in with you, and could be the only time they speak to someone all day.
Employees – set up regular calls with mentors and peers, even without a fixed agenda. A weekly 15-minute chat can help spark ideas, maintain relationships and build knowledge.
Faces, faces, faces
Humans are sociable animals and – like it or not – we all need people. Seeing each other is a terrific way to feel more connected – in a virtual meeting with multiple attendees or a simple one-to-one. Seeing someone’s face makes it easier to read and convey emotion, to see more of their personality and to pick up on non-verbal cues.
Microsoft Teams gives you a world class video calling experience, with all the added value features you need to feel as connected as possible. The default Gallery view allows you to see up to 9 people at once on your screen, and Large Gallery shows you up to 49. There are a wide range of other features to make meetings feel as close to reality as possible: you can elect to maintain Focus on one person – regardless of who is speaking – or even enter the new Together mode to give you an auditorium-like view of the participants.
And, tempting though it can be to turn it off to hide your bed-head hair or the terrible wallpaper in the spare room, switch the video on! Teams Backgrounds feature allows you to select from a range of virtual wallpapers to disguise the room behind you, or to use the blur function to keep your environment private.
Managers – Listen to what the employee is NOT saying and watch for the non-verbal cues that indicate that they might be struggling. Are they as positive and upbeat as usual? Are they noticeably unkempt or consistently looking more tired? Feelings of loneliness can lead to sleep problems and depression, which can mean people stop taking their usual care. Take care, look for patterns and offer help.
Colleagues aren’t just for work
A full-time employee will spend more than 80,000 hours at work in their lifetime. That’s a whole load of time to spend with your colleagues – whether in person or virtually – and making meaningful human connections with these people makes a massive difference. For the at-home employee, particularly those who live alone, this is even more important. When the opportunities for chatting in the canteen or over coffee during a break is limited, the Microsoft 365 platform provides many opportunities to connect outside the boundaries.
Microsoft Yammer is an employee platform for at-work social networking that gives those working from home the opportunity to chat beyond the remit of work, projects and the daily tasks. Using visuals, graphics, GIF animations, emojis and gamification to support open communication between colleagues and friends, genuine likes and dislikes can emerge in these connections, giving the isolated employee a unique sense of connectedness.
Yammer also allows you to broadcast streamed content and rich-media, keeping all employees in-the-loop and able to engage in simultaneous, interactive discussion – as if they were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the audience – wherever they are.
Friday night socials, virtual pub quizzes and even fancy-dress parties. Lockdown showed us that nothing – not even working from home – can stop a team coming together socially when they want to. Teams is just as valuable for the fun stuff as it is for the work. Get creative and get inviting.
Take Time and Get Out
Working from home often gives you the opportunity to put more time into the things you like to do outside work. Having a hobby that takes you out of the house and helps broaden your social life can be an excellent way to avoid loneliness. For employees stuck in a rut – and maybe feeling isolated – walks in the countryside, making time for calls or time with friends, and joining clubs are just a few ways to feel connected. Volunteering or doing something for others is also a sure-fire way to improve mood, lift the spirit and energise yourself when lethargy and depression are starting to set in.
Microsoft 365 app MyAnalytics can show employees patterns in working behaviour, allowing you to see your most productive times, where you collaborate best and where you are at your least productive. MyAnalytics can also set aside focus time in your calendar, helping you make space in your schedule to work through that to-do list, or to make sure you allow time for a daily walk. Focused on maximising individual well-being, MyAnalytics will suggest strategies to capitalise on natural patterns and re-focus energies.
The vital ‘quiet hours’ tool also allows you to ‘switch off’ for key points in the day – to go for a stretch and a walk, take a gym class, make a call to a friend or simply watch a bit of TV. Quiet days can protect your evenings and weekends, keeping your work/life balance in check and – most importantly – give you the opportunity to connect with friends and family.
Remember that, while working from home is excellent for improving a sense of well-being and bringing balance back to most people’s lives, some people may find it brings a sense of loneliness in the long-term.
Employees – Look for patterns in your working day, are you working longer and longer hours? Are you becoming less productive? Are you sleeping, and taking care of yourself?
Managers – Keep connected, bring them in, look for those visual cues and remember, it’s not all work, work, work!
For more help with feelings of loneliness and isolation there are plenty of organisations to provide support or opportunities to meet up with people and groups, such as:
Meet Up Mondays for regular meet up opportunities: http://www.meetupmondays.org.uk
NextDoor to connect with people in your neighbourhood, online or in person: https://nextdoor.co.uk
The Cinnamon Trust for volunteering opportunities: https://cinnamon.org.uk/home/