Topic 2 | Tracing the Roots of Remote Work Isolation and Loneliness

Defining Loneliness and Isolation

Everyone feels lonely from time to time, but the experiences of loneliness and isolation can differ from person to person. However, it is not always the same as being alone.

For the most part, loneliness occurs when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships remains unmet. Isolation is not too different, and this feeling is often the result of feeling cut off from the world and even from one’s loved ones. For this reason, you can be in a crowd or surrounded by your family, and still feel lonely and isolated.

In contrast, you can be alone and not feel lonely at all. Many people even find great comfort and fulfillment in solace, and this is perhaps partly why they go on to opt for remote working arrangements. Not having noisy colleagues or a boss looking over your shoulder can create a peaceful and thus, a productive environment for many introverts.

Still, this does notmean that remote workers are immune to loneliness and isolation.


Loneliness and Isolation: Who Is At Risk?

In the same way that some people are better suited to seclusion, there are also those who are especially vulnerable to experiencing loneliness and isolation. Extroverts, for instance, typically crave constant company. They thrive in social situations, and so, they may find the naturally solitary nature of remote work to be particularly difficult.

Still, even introverts can feel loneliness given certain circumstances, such as:

  • Living alone and having no family or friends nearby;
  • The absences of friends,
  • Family estrangement;
  • Single parenting or being in charge of a sick relative’s care, which can make it difficult to maintain a social life;
  • Mobility or financial problems, which can result in exclusion from most social activities;
  • Bullying or discrimination based on one’s race, sexuality, or gender.


Steps to Trace The Roots of Isolation

1. Acknowledge any feelings of loneliness.

Solving a problem always begins with acknowledging that there is one. If working remotely occasionally makes you feel especially lonely or isolated, recognize the feeling and accept it, and then move on to the next step.

2. Identify your lonely thoughts.

If you can, keep a journal and list down your thoughts. No need to self-edit as you’ll be the only one reading the entries, so make them as accurate as possible.

After a week or so, read your entries and try to find solutions. For instance, if you’ve been writing about constantly feeling lonely while working at home, you can commit to meeting up with friends at least once a week or at least venturing out to a public venue, such as a park.


3. Recognize the possible causes of loneliness.

Remote work isolation can be brought about by several various factors. Identifying the real culprit behind each case is the first step towards figuring out the best solution.

Most of these factors are inherent in typical work-from-home set-ups, but there are one or two that everyone who’s ever worked a day in their life can identify with:

Cabin Fever

Even the most introverted person will start to feel claustrophobic if they frequently spend all day alone in the same enclosed space. If your remote working space is your home office, this can be a common occurrence.

If your home office does not have any windows or similar forms of ventilation for light and air, you may lose sense of time as the days can seem to blend into each other. This form of disconnect can feed into feelings of isolation as you may feel detached from your environment.



Absence of Healthy Boundaries

Ideally, remote work is all about achieving optimum work-life balance. Ironically, the blurred lines between your home and your workplace can make this more difficult to achieve.

All too often, remote workers may feel as though they are on call. While a work from home set-up can bring about flexibility since the focus is on the output rather than the time spent working, this can also mean that your time beyond the usual work hours is fair game. Thus, it is not uncommon for many remote workers to continue answering emails from their bosses or clients after 5 PM and on weekends.

The largely digital nature of remote work can also make it hard to unplug. Time differences aside, everyone is just a Skype call or email away, so this can make the usual work-life boundaries fall by the wayside.


Regression To Unhealthy Habits

Working alongside others does bring one significant advantage: colleagues can function as automatic accountability partners. Social dynamics would compel those who work in offices to be neat and tidy about their appearance, refrain from constant snacking, and at least attempt to socialize with those in nearby cubicles.

In contrast, working from home makes it all too easy to fall back on old habits we have been trying to break. Sure, it is great to stay in your pajamas all day from time to time, but your external state can reflect your internal mind before long, and sloppy and disorganized is the last thing you’d want the latter to be.

Constant snacking, especially on high-sodium and high-sugar food, can make you feel bloated and guilty, which can exacerbate feelings of isolation. Finally, having only small children to socialize with instead of your peers can also make you feel especially isolated.


Workplace Bullying

Despite the fact that the world is growing increasingly interconnected and that remote work attracts scattered teams from around the world, it is still possible to encounter bullying due to one’s ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Being singled out in such a way or being subjected to stalking or trolling can take a toll on one’s mental health, even if it is done online.


General Incompatibility With Remote Work

Sometimes, remote work just isn’t for you. After a trial period, you may find that you rather like getting up to shower, dress, and see the world outside on your commute to work, not to mention physically hanging out by the water cooler at the office rather than just virtually chatting.

This, of course, is normal and perfectly fine.

Once you have acknowledged your feelings of isolation and/or loneliness, it is time for you to deal with it. Find out how in the succeeding topic.