How to overcome feelings of isolation when working remotely

When you were plucked from your humming, social office and thrust into remote working (likely overnight, sometime in 2020), the effects it would have on your mental health were largely unexplored. How prepared were you to combat isolation and distraction to remain productive, and most importantly, happy?

A woman sits on the floor in her lounge on her laptop.

While many people extol the benefits of working from home, the change from an office to a room at home (often a bedroom for those that don’t have the luxury of a home office), can be jarring and in some cases, it can negatively impact your mental health.

The office was never just about work. Passing a colleague in the break room, swinging by a friend’s desk, or stopping by the fabled watercooler, were all valuable interactions afforded by working in a physical space together. 

While feelings of loneliness and isolation are complex and their causes are myriad, there are a few small steps you can take as an individual to ease feelings of isolation when you’re working from home. 

Tip #1: Get outside when you can

Whether on your lunch break, or maybe just while you’re making a cup of coffee, try to take a few moments throughout your workday to get fresh air, and where possible, engage with nature. 

Even if you’re in an inner-city apartment, taking a stroll around the block can help you relocate yourself—surround yourself with people and you’ll be reminded you’re a part of a community.

Tip #2: Socialize through technology

The tools we use to socialize are growing more sophisticated every day. You can utilize social apps to make and sustain connections with your colleagues online. Here are just a few that can help:

  • Donut allows you to link with your colleagues in a watercooler-esque manner. Once you’re bonding over shared interests, you’ll forget that it was an app that made the connection in the first place. 

  • Kahoot is an app that can facilitate themed group calls, where you can play trivia or other games with peers.

  • Zoom is something we are all familiar with, but using Zoom calls outside of business can be a simple yet effective way to feel socially connected with your colleagues.

Tip #3: Make plans after work

While there are many small things you can do to reduce feelings of isolation, the best solution is to socialize.

This doesn't have to be with colleagues (although that’s great), but having a plan to leave the house after work will give you something to look forward to and help ease the feelings of isolation throughout the day. 

When there is no rush-hour traffic to beat or train to catch, sometimes it can be difficult to call it a day; making plans after work will encourage you to stop working at an appropriate time.

Tip #4: Reserve a few minutes of each meeting for socializing 

Conversations about things other than business break up the work day; they’re stimulating in ways that work can’t be. Having those conversations at the beginning of online meetings will do a lot to combat feelings of isolation. And your meeting doesn’t have to suffer—all it takes is five minutes.

It will allow colleagues to form bonds that extend beyond office hours, find shared interests, and ultimately feel more connected.

Tip #5: Have company-wide online catch-ups

Having all company meetings promotes inclusion and transparency, and fosters community. A feeling of closeness is difficult to replicate when people are in different places (or even different time zones), but a large Zoom call where people feel seen and heard together can go a long way. 

Tip #6: Turn your camera on during meetings

Turning your camera on for meetings can gently remind people working from home that there’s a human at the other end of the connection. Implementing a ‘cameras on’ policy during Zoom calls (where appropriate) will bring your virtual meetings one step closer to reality. 

It’s important that whoever is implementing the policy is aware of Zoom fatigue, though, and allows for periods of audio-only engagement or other mitigating measures.

Tip #7: Try to work outside of your house for one day a week 

Co-working spaces are a great way for hybrid businesses to preserve an office culture. But the reality is that you might live somewhere that makes getting into a co-working space unrealistic. In that case, working from libraries or cafés can promote productivity, while also providing a social and lively setting. 

Plus, having a physical separation between the place where you work and where you relax can help you keep those important boundaries when it is time to stop working. This is especially pertinent to those whose home office setups are in shared rooms, bedrooms, or dining rooms.

Feeling connected is the key

Humans have an innate desire to feel connected. Isolation is a natural feeling when you’re working remotely, but through technology and small, conscious efforts to socialize, the negative impacts can be reduced, so you can focus on the benefits.