For many professionals and businesses, remote work has opened up an entirely new realm of possibilities. Employees who can work entirely from home, or even part of the time, can truly work in almost any condition. Remote work opened the door for flexible and personalized schedules, international teams, and travel working. A new market for remote jobs welcomed back at-home parents and disabled professionals who can work best in a home environment. However, when paired with the quarantine element of the recent remote transformation, it has become impossible to ignore the element of remote work loneliness.
Remote Work as an Isolating Force
A lot of concerns were raised about remote work when the movement started. As it turns out, security and accessibility have evolved to meet the industry needs. But the human need for interaction has been - as could be expected - variably impacted by working at home.
Millions of people have been getting their primary social time at work, talking and spending time with co-workers and clients. Remove that, and the adult work-life balance can tip into an unhealthy place. Those who live alone are even more susceptible to remote work isolation without reliable social interactions at home.
From an employer's perspective, it's also important to consider that rapport and routine are not growing between team members who are isolated by remote work. So how can you, as a team leader, prevent remote work loneliness and cultivate a productive and socially engaged team?
Keep a Live Channel Open
In every office, there is one underrated channel of communication that is constantly open - the airwaves. Calling over the cube walls, asking a quick question in the break room, and popping your head into the boss' office are all part of an open-channel management style that promotes collaboration. Your open-door policy and teamwork culture need a channel in the virtual, remote-work-accessible, world as well.
So open a chat channel through Slack or Google Meet or your favorite platform and let your team speak casually. Use this one channel for comments, snark, movie recommendations, suggestions, and casual questions to recreate that open office vibe among remote working professionals.
Hold Weekly Planning or Wrap-Up Video Meetings
Weekly face-to-face meetings can do a lot to help your team stay familiar and friendly. People like to see each other, and video meetings are the current best way to do that with a remote and hybrid team. If you have a hybrid team, equip everyone with an individual camera. Or you can explore the multiverse with animated avatars instead.
The purpose is to bring everyone together in a live meeting where you will check in on project progress, build further collaboration plans, and generally coalesce as a team. Start-of-week meetings can be a collaborative effort to build a plan for the week ahead. Wrap-up meetings are often more casual, touching on what you accomplished, and more inclusive of games and Friday activities.
Share a Virtual Bulletin Board
Most workplaces have a bulletin board, and not just for regulation posters. People post party announcements, advertise for found litters of kittens, and share good news. Bulletin boards get decorated for every season in a temporary and fun way, with cards and ornaments pinned to the board for the group to enjoy. It's a tradition that brings coworkers together without even realizing it.
Create a virtual bulletin board for your team and invite people to post announcements and personal events. Bulletin boards can help your team coordinate their own after-work video meetings, support each other's goals, and sometimes share promo codes that benefit the team.
Provide Access to Mental Health Resources
Many people keep busy and maintain good company in order to manage mental health concerns. From depression to post-traumatic stress disorder, being alone for too long is not good for some people, but these are not really issues they want to bring into the virtual workplace. As a compassionate employer, one of the best ways to help with remote work loneliness is to provide mental health resources.
Simply making these resources available and visible can help your team manage their private mental health matters and reach out for help when they need it - while also tailoring their work persona in the way that we all prefer when it comes to personal struggles.
Broadcast Team Music or Jukebox Player
Did your team once share an office radio? Listening to the same music playlist can bring a team together without requiring any social interaction at all. Many teams have benefitted from shared virtual radio stations and sometimes even power-streaming the same background-noise shows. One fun way to share music is to use a jukebox program where each person can add a song or two to the playlist, sharing musical tastes and sources throughout the work day.
Incentivize Weekend Activities
Help your remote-based team members (and everyone else) get out of the house by creating incentive programs for weekend and after-work activities. Provide rewards for those who get involved in one of many listed charity opportunities like cooking in a soup kitchen or building for Habitat for Humanity. Roll this into your physical wellness program and equally incentivize bicycle tours, martial arts, family swim lessons, and other activities that keep your remote team members social and meeting new people beyond their coworker social circle.
Connect to Roommate and Pet Matching Services
Certain brands deal with a large number of young adults or people at a stage of rebuilding their lives. Trade schools, skills development centers, educational programs, and intern programs can all benefit from a few extra services that most professionals might not need. This is especially true for remote team members who are at a higher risk of complete isolation and loneliness.
Consider making a roommate matchmaking service available, or linking employees to local pet shelters and matching services in their cities. Helping a remote employee find the right roommate or pet could have a significantly positive impact on their mental health and work performance.
Share Friday Evening Virtual Events
Last but not least, host your own Friday coworker gatherings with virtual events. A virtual event is an experience created through a video meeting platform that gets everyone to participate and have a good time. Trivia nights, escape room and murder mystery puzzles, and even shared craft projects are all a hit. Virtual events are free and easy to plan, and create a friendly casual atmosphere between your team members who attend.
Employers lately have been swapping their in-office lunch budget for virtual event boxes that provide a little equipment (and snacks) to remote team members to really enjoy your shared virtual events.