Dealing with isolation as a remote worker

In Featured, Work Life by JD Dillon

I’m spending a few minutes every work day sharing my thoughts and practices around remote work. Yes, there are many, many, MANY organizations sharing recommendations on this topic right now. In reality, this series is just as much for me as anyone who takes the time to read it. Thank you for everything you do!

I initially struggled with the title for this post. What terminology best describes the challenge of workplace isolation, especially right now? I considered “working through,” “overcoming” and “fighting.” In the end, “dealing with” just seemed to strike the best balance. 

Everyone’s situation is different. Some may relish the opportunity to work away from the team. Others may struggle with the isolation that can come with working at home for an extended period. Still many are just getting introduced to the concept and finding their own rhythms. I go back and forth. Sometimes can enjoy the heads-down focus that is possible when there’s no one to randomly knock on your door. But I often miss the casual interactions and simplified communication that takes place in the office. 

I tend to balance my isolation with a combination of travel and public workspaces. These familiar tactics are now off the table for an extended period. So, I’ve spent the last few days rethinking the idea of remote work isolation and what I can do to deal with it more effectively. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Chat about more than work

Group chat, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, is a mainstay of remote work. But these tools can also become overwhelming, especially with a much larger group relying on them for ongoing communication. Your team should establish guidelines with regards to how these tools are to be used. Work within these guidelines, but find ways to leverage chat for more than just work talk. My team has dedicated Slack channels for social topics, including movies, sports and pets. For the past 24 hours, we’ve been sharing photos of our remote work setups. It may not be the same as casually chatting with someone in the office, but it can definitely fill part of that gap. 

Balance text and video/audio communication

Relying too heavily on text-based communication can add to feelings of isolation. Look for opportunities to connect directly with someone via audio/video chat rather than an extended email. It’s faster, more timely and more personal than chat. You shouldn’t blow up people’s phones all day, every day just like you wouldn’t want to distract them in the office. Get to know your peers’ remote work preferences and find opportunities for more human connections. 

Make virtual lunch plans

Who do you have lunch with at work every day? That doesn’t necessarily have to change when you go remote. In fact, you may be able to expand your network both inside and outside of your organization. Schedule lunch time in your calendar every day. Invite different people to virtual lunches throughout the week. Then, sit in front of your webcam and chat while you eat. Again, it’s not the same as doing it in-person, but it can definitely be helpful. 

Move around

Once we put together a remote work space that we really like, we can sometimes accidentally isolate ourselves be treating it like the only place from which work can be done. Work from the patio for a little while. Take a walk while you join a call. Eat lunch away from your desk. Ride your bike around the neighborhood. Physical isolation does not have to become total social isolation. Take advantage of your surroundings. Connect to the outside world however you can. 

Work alongside your family members

Do you have family members who are also working from home? Are your kids completing virtual schoolwork? Consider simulating the office environment by including the group in your work setup. Adjust your schedule to include group work times, but continue to have a dedicated space where you can go head-down or join a call without distraction. Make sure everyone understands how they are expected to behave in a group setting so everyone can benefit.

Share your experience

You may be isolated, but you are definitely not the only person facing this challenge. Suddenly, entire teams are discovering what it’s like to work away from the group. Some will take to it right away. Some will struggle. Either way, the group may benefit from hearing about your individual experience. Discuss with your peers. Share discoveries, success and failures in a group chat. Start a blog or video series. Working through your experience out loud can be amazingly beneficial. 

How do you overcome feelings of isolation as a remote worker? 

Check out more entries in this remote work series: