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How To Beat Loneliness At Work

Updated: Nov 11, 2023


As businesses are researching, planning, and creating the Future Of Work, hybrid or fully remote employment might become a regular office fixture. I’ve chatted with a lot of clients who are extremely excited about reclaiming as much as three hours a day by avoiding commuting.


But for many, there is a cost: people are lonely.


Yup! Turns out that as much as you think you despise your office culture, dread meetings with your manager, and have learned to fake food poisoning to avoid conversations with Chatty Cathy from Accounting? When you spend the whole day on your own, you might start to realize that part of you depended on social interaction with your coworkers.


One of our top career coaches recently went back into business because she deeply missed the daily interaction with a team. “I know I am giving up a lot, like time and autonomy, but I feel like I have to,” she shared. “I miss working with others in person so much.”


It’s not just veteran leaders that are feeling the sting of loneliness. Many new graduates are too.


A recent graduate of Arizona State University mentioned that her new 100% remote job has surprised her in this way. “I thought it sounded great,” she said, “but I went from 100% in person with my friends, colleagues, and professors to being all alone in my one-bedroom apartment.”


If this sounds like you, whether you’re a recent grad or a longtime office-warrior—don’t worry, nothing is wrong with you. These feelings are normal. Like dogs, songbirds, or honeybees, humans are a social species, and in general we are no more suited to chronic isolation than an ant or a dolphin or any other gregarious animal. Some of the trappings of modern life help to shore up the illusion that we can (and should) thrive in solitude. (We were certainly told as much during the pandemic!) And don’t get me wrong, there are people who can and do—and that’s well and good. But while it isn’t “abnormal,” it’s rare, like left-handedness or naturally red hair.


So what can people do to help combat the loneliness of hybrid or fully remote work?


Change your environment regularly


I have a writer client who calls the bar at a local restaurant “my remote office” and claims she edited her entire first novel there. There are definitely jobs you cannot easily do from the coffeeshop (or the cute wine bar downtown), but if your role allows you to work from locations other than your home office, it’s a good idea to play with it. We need breaks from our home spaces and contact with other people, even if it’s just a quick chat with your barista and a “Hey how are ya?” to a neighbor or two. Some people find ambient noise soothing. Others are more focused when they get away from the distractions in their homes (lookin’ at you, Mr. “my deliverables are late but my closets are spotless.”). While I’m not here to suggest conducting candidate interviews from a noisy pub with a frothy IPA in your hand, getting away from your house and interacting with other people or even just being around them can help keep you from feeling like you’re losing your grip on reality.


Turn your video on


Are you one of those “Oh sorry, my camera isn’t working” people? Admit it, you are.


This one is near the top of my “should be obvious, yet isn’t” list. Enable your video, doofus. Get out of your jammies, brush your hair, and show up. It helps. It helps other people see you as a real person, and it helps you to feel more connected.



Go outside every day


Yes, people say this all the time but there is a good reason for that. Being outdoors is good for you. Spending entire days inside is not. Breathe fresh air. Be where there are trees, birds, running water—whatever you have access to. Work out, if you have the ability—walking, hiking, jogging, outdoor yoga or tai chi are all basically free and available to most of us (if you have movement limitations or other disabilities you still benefit from getting a little vitamin D in whatever way works best for you). The non-human things in your environment are in fact part of your “community” and can help you feel a little less lonely, even if you’re not up for human interaction. Yes, even yellow jackets count as a part of your community (I know, I hate them too, the little outdoor-dinner-ruining meanies). The benefits of outdoor exercise—even brief, light exercise—are innumerable, but one important one for indoor solo workers is mood management: sunlight and movement are necessary for the hormone choreography that lets us sleep and wake up normally, tolerate discomfort, experience contentment and deal with stress. Underestimate this at your peril!


Find a local community of remote workers


It’s quite likely there are remote workers all over your zip code, whether you’re aware of them or not. Co-working spaces can be great for people who don’t have a comfortable or efficient workspace available at home, and as a happy bonus they can give you regular contact with your fellow humans. Whether you use such a space routinely or just on days when you need a “professional” space for meetings, you can have the benefits of ditching your commute without the substantial drawback of loneliness—even if your fellow remote workers are not people you’d choose to spend social time with, it’s centering and reassuring to trade smalltalk with familiar faces. You don’t have to have a dedicated co-working space, either—maybe you have one fellow remote worker acquaintance you meet up with a couple mornings a week at a cafe or library. It can seriously make a difference. Check your local social media feeds if you don’t have an ample supply of leads. You’ll almost certainly discover you’re not alone. And that’s the point.


Turn off your electronics at 9 PM


One of the drawbacks to working from home is that your work life and home life have a way of bleeding together. This can be disorienting, and stressful. Good advice for everyone but especially for those who work from home? Turn off the networked devices at a set time in the evenings. How offline you can get will depend on the specifics of your position; some people have on-call hours that aren’t negotiable. But where you can, give your days some shape and structure by declaring “no electronics” zones. At my house, it’s “After 9 PM thou shalt not check email.” You’ll know what works for you, but commit to having boundaries. Sometimes when we work from home we become over-responsive out of fear that our managers will assume we’re spending our days in front of Netflix or something. Let that noise go! Trust me, your manager also needs down time, and if they do not recognize your right to it, you have a way bigger work problem than a case of the lonelies.


Adopt a pet


If you’re single, childless, or otherwise on your own all day, working from home isn’t satisfying your need for social contact. Adopting a pet can seriously be sanity-saving—having another being who depends on you for its basic needs can keep you grounded, and focused on things beyond your own mental clutter.



Ask help when you feel you need it


You’re a remote worker, not a polar explorer. If the isolation and sameness of working out of your tiny home office is getting to you, speak up. Call a friend. Spend more time with extended family. Talk to your manager about hybrid options if that’s a possibility—and don’t be afraid to say “I think I’d be even more productive if I were part time in-office; I get a lot of energy from team meetings.” If you need to talk to a therapist, don’t put it off! There’s no special prize for gritting your teeth through optional misery, and you’re not doing yourself or your company any favors by letting loneliness affect your mental health—and trust me, it does. In fact, while I am not a doctor, I can tell you loneliness is also a significant risk factor for chronic illnesses ranging from dementia to diabetes. It’s no joke.


The balancing act


There are advantages and drawbacks to any job and any way of getting that job done. While lots of us were thrilled to have increased normalization of remote work over the last few years, it would be silly to pretend there are no disadvantages to it—as the saying goes, there’s no free lunch, even if you ate lunch at home. (But hey, eliminating daily restaurant or takeout meals from your workday can liberate a staggering amount of money to pay off debts, pad your retirement, or just to keep in reserve for treats, travel and celebrations! Just saying.)


Dismissing loneliness as something you should “get over” is about as smart as deciding you can make that chronic toothache go away by yelling at the tooth. Like pain, loneliness is there to tell us something is out of whack, and ignoring it can have consequences. You can’t ignore loneliness out of existence; you have to heal it. No two people do that in precisely the same way, so have strategies that work for you and your circumstances. Loneliness is not something to underestimate as a health and wellness risk. If you’re feeling it, it’s wise to listen to that feeling, and take what steps you can to feel more connected to your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your colleagues. You’re definitely not alone—and that’s the point.


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