Running a business is a lonely endeavor. Even working in an office that bustles with energy and people can still make you feel alone.
It's a growing problem. A 2016 study in Burnout Research suggested that loneliness was a leading contributor to worker burnout, and a recent CEO Snapshot Survey found that half of CEOs experience feelings of loneliness in their role.
Technology is often at fault. While it does enable greater workplace collaboration and productivity, if overused, it can create the opposite effect. According to Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, when you replace emotional connections with digital ones, you lose the sensation of being present and feeling alive. "Every time you choose to send a message instead of picking up the phone or walking a few feet to the office next to yours, you miss an opportunity to engage with your teammates on a deeper level," he writes.
Future Workplace's 2018 Global Work Connectivity study of more than 2,000 managers and employees showed that nearly half of their day was spent communicating via technology and not in person. Slightly more than half felt lonely "always" or "very often" as a result.
This loneliness affects well-being. It also reduces productivity--nearly a third of respondents said more face-time with co-workers would make them more productive. Here are five strategies that can help you and your team combat that isolation:
1. Do more phone and in-person communication.
Face-to-face interactions creates deeper connections. The next time you're about to send an email, challenge yourself to pick up the phone or walk over to a colleague's desk to talk to them instead.
I like to follow the three-to-one rule. For every three e-mails I send, I make one call, initiate a video chat (if one of us is remote), walk by someone's desk, or set up an in-person coffee meeting.
2. Set up virtual get-togethers with remote workers.
To help create more personal connections, I give my remote employees a gift card for Starbucks and ask them to invite one of their other remote colleagues to a virtual coffee over Google Hangout to get to know each other better. I also encourage my team to collaborate using Slack, an online collaboration tool, and to meet with each other to work out how to move an initiative forward.
Working remotely shouldn't prevent you from connecting with your coworkers.
3. Help to cultivate more workplace friendships.
To help my employees create friendships, I regularly bring them together to socialize during or after work. This includes team lunches and get-togethers after work. I also teach yoga classes in the office for those who are interested and get groups together to go on team runs or other group activities.
This helps with loneliness--and it can improve company loyalty. According to the Global Connectivity study, 60 percent of employees say they'd be more inclined to stay with their company if they had more friends at work.
4. Find accountability partners.
Your business relationships don't have to be only at work. Reach out to people who are in different but related businesses.
You can share the ups and downs of work with them--without having to worry about your business image. Reach out to local chapters of business associations or service clubs that may cater to business people like yourself. Encourage your team to do the same and offer to share the cost of memberships fees.
5. Celebrate achievements in person.
Whenever a project is completed or a goal is met, don't do a quick email blast congratulations and move on. This is an opportunity to bring people together to bond over everyone's one common interest: the work.
Host a team lunch or after work outing where people have a chance to relax and talk. Ask for suggestions too as people will be more excited to attend something they choose rather than going where they are told. Even sending a quick, personal thank you note to someone for a job well done can help people not feel so alone.
Loneliness has become more of a workplace problem as technology has made it easier for people to work alone. This can have a profound impact on people's health and a business' bottom line, yet there are many ways to help you and your team address loneliness and use technology for collaboration, rather than isolation.
If you intentionally employ technology and create proper rules of engagement for using it, your team will feel more engaged in your business. Everyone will feel more personally invested in the team and your customers, too.