Working from home comes with many benefits, from avoiding the morning rush on public transport to being able to spend more time with family and friends. Although setting up for the day on your sofa might sound like a dream come true, home-working does come with some downsides.
Loneliness is a big problem for many people who work remotely. According to data from global staffing firm Randstad USA and Apartment Guide, a majority of workers want flexibility, but more than a quarter (26%) feel isolated when working from home.
“Initially the idea of working from home felt completely amazing, but I noticed I was struggling to motivate myself and felt quite down in the middle of the day,” says Lorna Harris, 44, who runs a PR agency.
“Offices are designed for people, but if you live alone and work alone the day can be long,” she adds. “I now rent some office space a couple of days a week to break up the working week. Interacting with other freelancers is also crucial for me. Facebook and networking groups have been a great help.”
There are plenty of people who are happy working remotely, or who prefer the quiet and solitude home-working can provide. But even the most resilient of us benefit from having people to connect and collaborate with. We often forget how important socialising with colleagues is – whether it’s grabbing lunch together or a quick catch-up over coffee – and how helpful it is to bounce ideas off other people.
“It's not necessarily about work, but the small little things which you might not notice you no longer have in place, but someone making you a cup of tea if you're busy, someone to bounce an idea off, or someone who you can complain about a frustrating experience,” says Matthew Knight, founder of Leapers, a support community with a focus on mental health for freelancers.
“In an office setting, we have these micro-interactions which relieve stress and anxiety. When remote, the small things being kept inside, can add up over time.”
That said, home-working can be great and isolation can be avoided by redesigning the way your day-to-day routine.
One of the key things is to create social habits, Knight says. “Build something into your regular working week where you are creating connections with others. Perhaps it's a weekly call with a mentor, or a Google hangout with other remote workers or freelancers to have a ‘team meeting’ even if they're not your colleagues. Creating a regular thing in the diary means it's less likely to get missed.”
It’s also important to build new connections via communities and support groups within your area of work, so you can find people who understand your professional experience. Social media – particularly Facebook – can be a good place to look for these kind of groups.
“Many of these groups have regular meetups too, or suggest a work together, where a group of you work from the same place for the day,” Knight adds. “There are specific groups, such as FJ&Co for journalists, or general groups like Leapers.”
It’s also worth scouting out co-working spaces in your area, where you can work alongside and meet other people.
There are steps employers can take to make sure remote workers feel included too, adds workplace psychologist Stuart Duff, head of development at Pearn Kandola.
“I would encourage managers to get to know their remote workers as well as possible,” he says. “If you know that you have an introverted person on your team, it’s likely that you will need to provide that extra bit of encouragement for them to communicate.
“One way that leaders can encourage more interaction within their teams is by factoring social time into teleconference calls. Try to set aside a few minutes at the beginning of the call for social exchanges, or if there is time, even invite colleagues to dial into the call early for a quick catch-up.”
“Where possible, it’s even more beneficial to communicate with video-conferencing facilities such as Skype and Facetime,” Duff adds. “The ability to make eye contact, and to read facial cues and body language, adds an additional layer of connection which can’t be achieved over the phone.”