In recent months when I ask my coaching clients how they’re doing with working from home, they describe some highlights — I guess I sleep a bit more — and lowlights – we’re struggling for space and getting cabin fever — of the experience.
But lonely is the overtone. So how do we meet that challenge?
I’ve been speaking with people aged 20s to 60s, Graduates to Executives, across varied industries and roles. Their circumstances vary but they all describe feeling more alone than usual. They’re also unsure of what to do about it when the reality is that they’re likely continuing to work from home, with no defined end in sight, against the backdrop of the pandemic.
Even though most people logically understand how extraordinary these circumstances are, many are still convinced they’re doing something wrong, that it’s a failure of their time management or productivity skills somehow, if they don’t feel as fired up and connected to work as they once did.
When we zoom out (no pun intended) and look at the trajectory that work has taken for many organisations and staff in 2020, our loneliness, and uncertainty about how to address it, is not surprising.
Working from home used to be an exceptional arrangement, something we might have longed for or tried to get approval for here-and-there as a perk.
A report by the Office for National Statistics in 2019 showed that the number of employees working mainly from home was around 5%. That figure jumped to about 49% of employees working mainly from in June 2020, then declined in the recent months before rising again as we face tighter UK lockdown restrictions.
Those figures are pretty striking. They remind us that we’re in uncharted waters as a workforce. It’s no wonder so many of us may be feeling adrift and unsure of how to work well at a distance for months on end.
Of course some people are loving being based at home. Others are loathing it, for various and valid reasons.
Wherever you find yourself in that spectrum, it’s fair to say that we’re collectively in a living experiment about how we can remain connected, engaged and motivated about work without having meaningful, in-person interactions with colleagues.
I’m sharing food for thought and approaches that I’ve picked up from clients and colleagues, various podcasts that discuss work fulfilment and engagement amid the pandemic, and my own experimentation of home-working habits.
All of them revolve around the same stake: To make our contact with each other more regular, more honest, more fun and more human.
Bring back the “coffee-machine chatter” when working from home
We may have never expected to miss small talk while waiting for the kettle to boil, but the in-between-meeting moments and informal conversations seem to be getting when most of our contact with each other is diarised and down-to-business.
Allow a few minutes to quite literally sit and chat over a beverage. Even 5 -10 minutes at the start or end of 1:1s or team meetings can go a long way to building positive attachment in the team and broadening our base of trust and comfort with each other.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, structure in ‘unstructured’ time with your colleagues
Yes, many of us are coping with meeting fatigue and might groan if someone were to suggest another video call. But we shouldn’t underestimate how powerful it can be to have a phone or video chat where we catch up as people, beyond the scope of work.
If you’re in charge of a recurring meeting, start it with a short check-in
This can involve asking people to name a word or a couple of sentences about their headspace that day. It’s a chance to get a temperature check on how people are doing when we aren’t otherwise getting much interaction with each other.
Normalise what you’re hearing from your colleagues
People are experiencing remote working in many different ways, with variations of highs and lows. Sometimes it can make all the difference to simply be able to talk about our own reality and have someone empathise and understand where we’re coming from.
If you’re a leader or manager working from home, do what you can to give practical support
This might mean flexing a colleague’s working hours to accommodate caretaking responsibilities, facilitating team conversations to gauge where people can tag-team tasks so they aren’t feeling isolated and buried, or advocating for caretaking stipends.
Broaden your support base beyond work
Many people I’ve spoken with, particularly those in senior leadership positions, recognise that they need to be able to let down their guard and connect with people who aren’t colleagues. They need somewhere independent and external to get support. Seeking out people and forums — friends, family, networking groups, training programmes, professional support like coaching and / or therapy — can give us a more dynamic, broader base of support while working from home.
Listen out for what people are finding difficult about working from home AND what they’re finding helpful
You might find a grab-bag of various strategies people are coming up with to stay motivated, engaged and healthy while working from home. If you’re a leader in the organisation, these strategies can be compiled and shared informally or formally.
These approaches won’t replace what we get from being side-by-side with each other, able to organically strike up chat, gauge each other’s moods, stroll to get tea and share stories of the weekend, etc. But they can be part of the important work to revitalise our sense of connection to colleagues, to our work, and to ourselves in the weeks and months ahead.
Get in Touch
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been working from home a fair bit this year – how has your experience been? Any strategies you’ve found beneficial? Feel free to send your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org)