The perks enjoyed by employees and entrepreneurs who work at home is often clouded by the sense of isolation that results from the physical separation from colleagues and customers.
According to the Merriam-Webster Thesaurus, isolation is synonymous with solitude. In the work-at-home environment, solitude resonates as a desired perk – an opportunity to focus on tasks and projects away from the many distractions of typical work settings.
On the other hand, isolation often spawns loneliness and leads to stagnation, both personally and professionally.
My conversations with remote employees at our firm as well as with those at many other companies have made clear that isolation is the most common concern for those who work from a home office. Nevertheless, when asked if the benefits of working at home are worth the risks of isolation, the resounding answer has always been yes.
So, how can remote workers conquer the peril of isolation?
Accept that isolation is inevitable. Working away from the main business location will lead to moments of isolation. As the duration of time spent working remotely or at home increases, the perils of isolation become more pronounced if not managed early in your transition.
If you’re already a seasoned work-at-home professional, you may want to reexamine your current situation and renew your efforts of conquering the loneliness and professional stagnation that may have crept up on you.
Identify what is missing. Taking the following steps to identify what’s missing will help determine which techniques to employ. Commonly missed activities include:
• Personal contact: As social beings, at times, we just need to be around other people.
• Sharing workplace frustrations: Sharing with other people such minor frustrations, like the use of antiquated technology or dirty dishes in the kitchen, provides employees with some comfort and reinforces that they are not alone. Not taking part in or overhearing these discussions serves as a reminder that you are separated from the team.
• In-person meetings: Meetings are an opportunity to connect with your colleagues while addressing work content, process and strategies. But messages exchanged through body language and other non-verbal cues are lost when you attend meetings telephonically.
• Training: Remote work environments don’t naturally foster formal training and informal learning opportunities.
• Career advancement: An out-of-sight/out-of-mind attitude may impede considerations for special projects and promotions.
Match techniques to what is missing. Based on which of the above is missing, give the following a try:
• Socialize outside of home office: Make an extra effort to find ways to have face-to-face time with people both within and outside of work. Schedule a breakfast date, work at a nearby coffee shop, eat at your favorite lunch spot and get to know the staff, sign up for extracurricular activities, volunteer with an organization, meet with colleagues, visit the home office, or attend company events.
• Online chat and text messaging for casual camaraderie: Share brief online chats and text messaging during the day with colleagues in the office and with fellow remote workers. A quick “OMG!” and a coworker’s “LOL” can help fill a social gap. Be mindful of your colleagues’ time and limit messages to avoid excessive interruptions.
• Video teleconferencing: If you need more than quick messages to feel a part of a team, utilize web-based video teleconferences, enabling you to view other team members and share work documents during regularly scheduled and impromptu meetings during the week.
• Professional enhancement: Take advantage of the many resources for continued training and professional enhancement through online programs, local colleges and professional organizations.
• Career advancement: Stay connected and be noticed by volunteering for special assignments. Write articles for the company website or newsletter, or provide web-based training internally and externally and mentor colleagues.
Set goals and establish a schedule. Alternatives to isolation don’t occur naturally. Just as your job requires goals and calendars to complete your work, so does taking care of yourself. Take time to determine what is missing from your day, week, month and year; identify the factors that are isolating you personally and professionally.
Then, choose actions that offset the isolation and keep you energized and rejuvenated. Set short- and long-term goals and write them down. Establish a schedule and make appointments to keep yourself on track. Continue to enjoy the perks of working at home and the adventure of conquering the perils.
Barbara DeGray (RN-BC, CRRN, MBA) is Director of Nurse Case Management at Managed Care Advisors, a woman-owned small business specializing in workers’ compensation case management services, employee benefits and disability management consulting. Barbara works remotely and currently manages a remote staff.