If you're a business owner or a manager, chances are you've got some employees who are now forced to work from home. In normal times, working from home is a perk, but if there's one sure way to turn a perk into a pain, it's making it mandatory.
If you're new to managing employees who are working from home (or if you're new to working from home yourself), you'll soon discover that a potential downside of working from home is loneliness. It's likely to affect both you and everyone else on your team.
This loneliness is more than just a personal problem; it's a productivity problem because it makes everyone feel less engaged and less connected to the team and its goals. It can also lead to depression, which is massively demotivating.
According to a trio of researchers at the Rotterdam School of Management, those suddenly thrust into a WFH situation become lonely because:
Face-to-face work interactions, the opportunities to give, support, and help our colleagues or clients can make our work more meaningful. By working remotely for a long period of time, we lose the vast majority of our spontaneous interactions with others. Also, nonverbal information from virtual work interactions is limited. For example, we can't see a friendly smile or a worrying frown through email exchanges and instant messaging. These signals, however, provide strong socio-emotional values to keep us feeling connected.
How, then, to counteract that loneliness, both in yourself and those with whom you work? Here are five suggestions:
1. Share your emotions appropriately.
Obviously, you don't want your team to see you in a full meltdown. However, expressing your feelings about the current situation helps build connections, especially if everyone on the team is going through the same experience. Note: Never complain about your own situation if you're better off than others on the team. "My yacht feels like a prison" ain't gonna fly.
2. Focus on how you are helping others.
A great truism of business is that you get more of whatever you focus on. Therefore, if you focus only on getting tasks done, your work life becomes nothing but tasks. A better approach is to keep in mind the positive effect your work will have on other people. Rather than think "I've got to get this done by dinnertime," think "this will really help Joe out" or "our customers will love this."
3. Provide extra support and advice.
Rather than simply focusing on your own tasks at hand, offer to help others at their job or provide advice if you sense they're having problems. In a workplace, this informal mentoring takes place serendipitously. When everyone is working from home, you need to make it intentional.
4. Say thank you more often.
Recent neuroscience research has shown that your mind and body become healthier when you feel the emotion of gratitude. There are many reasons for this, but one is that expressing that gratitude creates a stronger social bond. This is true whether it's expressed face-to-face, via email, or real-time online.
5. Reminisce about the good old days.
Surprisingly, simply remembering times when you weren't lonely can make you less lonely. The Rotterdam researchers explain:
The next time you feel lonely working from home, try recalling a happy outing with your colleagues or eat something you might eat in the office canteen -- our brains automatically associate comfort food with meaningful relationships. You may also share these "old" stories and pictures with your colleagues on socializing platforms -- for the sake of nostalgia.