"Isolation: One of the biggest Problem in Remote Work"

September 4, 2019 ☼ LeadershipRemote Work

In the sixth post of the series Be an effective leader in a remote team”, I wanted to talk about the effect remote work can have on you and your team.

For new readers: To get started in this series - go to the first post.

Not surprisingly, loneliness is one of the bigger problems with work, and remote work especially. In the last State of Remote Work we at Buffer did, loneliness came out as number two struggle (19 %). Very likely you or people in your team already had this feeling of being lonely or isolated. There are many reasons to try and prevent it, whether it is for your own mental health or for your general well-being at work. Feeling isolated and lonely can make you also feel less connected to your team and organization. As a leader it is important to be aware of potential risk and help others and of course yourself to not fall into isolation.

Be open about it and lead by example

The very first thing you can do is to talk about this topic. Acknowledging that it can happen. That either you or your team-members will eventually have this feeling of being lonely or isolated. Sometimes the easy things seem to be the hardest and talking about it won‘t come easy, especially if you are the one feeling lonely or isolated.

If you yourself struggle with loneliness or any other mental health related issue, don’t shy away from finding a therapist to talk to, even if you think it’s nothing serious. I know this might seem a bit over the top, but from personal experience I can tell you that it is not. Unfortunately there is still stigma out there where talking about mental health and seeing a therapist is considered weird”, it is not. I’ve seen a therapist on occasion, a lot of people I know do. I really do consider that we should treat it as the same way as we treat health checkups at our family doctor. Self awareness, and working on yourself is a key skill as a leader and manager, especially in remote teams, where we don’t have our team around us physically.

If going to an actual therapist is not something you want to start with, there are even online solutions you can offer to your whole team. Buffer for example offers all of us free access to Joyable.

Use pair calls and encourage personal stories

Something we use at Buffer to help with those random connections and watercooler moments is called Pair Calls”. We use a bot in Slack called Donut. And what it does is pretty straight forward. It connects you every week with someone else from the team, creates a private Slack DM channel for you both to chat. If time and availability allows the two of you can have a video call and are encouraged to chat about everything you want. It doesn’t have to be work, anything is possible, personal stories, video games, coffee, parenting, etc. This is a very low effort tool you can use to engage your team more and help everyone to not feel lonely at home.

I am also a big proponent of starting out meetings or 1:1s with a casual chat about personal stories or anything happening in your/their life. This really helps to create relationships with your peers and team members. I would almost go so far and say that this is a necessity in remote work. If you don’t do it proactively, you won’t get a chance to know what’s going on in the other persons life. Ask away and share your side too.

Be aware of timezone loneliness

In distributed teams it is highly likely to have team members spread across different timezones. If that is the case for your team, and you have a bigger portion of them in one region of the world, be sure to not exclude those in distand timezones.

For example if one half of your team is in the US, and the rest spread across the whole world, don’t hold all the important meetings on US time. Others might start to feel isolated and excluded if all your company meetings happen at 2am in their night. Coordinating and collaborating across time zones isn’t easy, but being inclusive is very important for your team culture. Shift meeting times around, record the videos and hold special Timezone-Focused Get Togethers” to help fight against that isolation.

Connect with people in your city

Even us remote workers need to have some human contact once in a while. If you like hanging out with like minded people try to look out for opportunities to meet them. Meetup.com is always a great resource to find groups of people who share similar interest. This is a great way to get out of your office and meet new people. If there is nothing there that is of interest, why not create a meet-up and see if you can gather some people who might be in the same boat as you?

Vary your work days

If you notice that your days are always the same and you would love to mix it up a little bit, finding different spots to work from could be a good thing to try. Maybe you like to even be around people once in a while. Coffee shops are a very basic and cheap alternative to try out if that suits your style of working. I personally do this just once a week, normally on Fridays I work from a coffee shop. Be aware that not every coffee shop might be ideal for working. Some might not allow to work from there, others might not have wifi or electronic sockets. Research before you go, and be friendly with the staff when hanging out there.

If you are not a fan of coffee shops you can also check if your city has co-working spaces that offer day passes, if you don’t want to work from there every day of the week. Most of the co-working spaces are well equipped and you don’t have to worry about anything when going there.

Most remote companies do offer a co-working stipend supporting team members to work from there. We at Buffer even have a coffee shop stipend, allowing us to spend up to $200 a month. You can read more about that over on the Buffer Blog.

Here are a couple of more ideas:

It’s also good to check with yourself, whether you are more extro- or introverted. Maybe you don’t like working with a lot of different people around you. Or maybe you do and you definitely need this every other day. It is on you to understand what gives you energy and what takes energy away from your day. Experiment and find the best flow for you.

Remote work is great and a I consider it the future of how we will work, not just in tech-companies. But there are also things we have to look out for and not everything about it is shiny and fun. Please talk about the downsides to and brainstorm on how we can fix them.

Would love to hear how you or your team solve issues around isolation and loneliness. Reach out to me if you want.