Lara Mulawka

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How to combat isolation and loneliness in the office

Isolation is becoming more common in work settings. The rise of office isolation is partially due to technology, long working hours, and office design. Furthermore, with high expectations to complete more tasks in less time, we have created our own isolation by staying late at the office, skipping social engagements, and overcommitting to work schedules. We dedicate ourselves to work at the expense of losing social ties. We are left feeling alone and helpless against the system.

Remote workers suffer from isolation on an even greater scale. While they are free to explore a variety of workspaces within their cities, social interaction is lacking. This leaves them feeling the pains of isolation. Without support from visible colleagues, remote workers must depend on their own dedication as a device to get the job done. When no one is around to check-in or up, this augments isolation rapidly.

Connection in the workplace matters

Connection in the workplace fosters collaboration, boosting morale and retention rates. Connection builds a sense of belonging lowering stress, increasing happiness and wellness, and promoting loyalty. Connection combats loneliness. Both employer and employee benefit by building a workspace that’s functional and fulfilling.

For employers who seek to decrease isolation in the workplace

Employees do not just go to work for money, they go to work to feel included in something bigger than their at-home world. They want to be involved and part of the workforce tribe.

  1. Recognize employees

    Employees want to be noticed for a job well done. Employers can highlight those who have gone above and beyond. This gives incentive to others who crave recognition for their efforts. Recognition can have many formats including immediate positive feedback, a brag board, a company newsletter, an external announcement and/or awards.

  2. Encourage employees to communicate in person

    Set up a system of communication between colleagues that goes beyond emails, apps and texts. Encourage employees to have at least a handful of face-to-face interactions throughout the day. This includes face-to- face interaction with the boss.

  3. Promote social interaction among employees

    Create updates, notices, and flyers to build a sense of belonging and foster inclusion and recognition between employees. For example, an employee newsletter that includes monthly activities (weekly walking, book clubs, or yoga sessions, some of which could be 30 minutes of paid time to join), employee highlights, and affirmations. Fliers to reiterate common goals and company values. Events to promote team-building and social events inside and outside the office.

  4. Friendly office layout

    Ensure the office layout and breakrooms are user-friendly and encourage social interactions between coworkers. Look into office design for social stimulation.

For the employee that feels isolated

If you feel isolated or lonely at work here are some steps to inspire you to seek actions that diminish isolation.

  1. Make time for social interaction

    Carve out time in your busy day for social interaction. Instead of eating lunch at your desk invite a different colleague to lunch or coffee. Make time at the end of the workday for social interactions with friends and/or family.

  2. Branch out

    Ask colleagues if they know about upcoming activities that you might be able to join. The people you meet outside of the work sphere will help diminish isolation, too. The more you connect with others, the more you’ll feel you’re a part of something bigger.

  3. Write

    Write down your ideas; getting the thoughts out on paper can alleviate a great amount of internal stress. Much like journaling or using a diary, studies show that communicating our feelings through writing can decrease their effects on our mental health.

  4. Create small social groups

    Hold small meetings, based on social meet-ups and clubs, to foster more human connection. Create an office survey and ask colleagues what their interests are outside of work. This can be an activities team (outdoor or sports) or a creative group (arts and crafts); all of which can be highlighted in an employee newsletter, perhaps as seasonal social gatherings.

  5. Include mindfulness practices

    To combat isolation, start a yoga or breathwork group that meets on a regular basis and include mindfulness activities. Find time before, during, or after work for short, impactful in-office meditation sessions.

  6. Remember, small, sustainable steps matter here instead of going for long, intense sessions. Office yoga is an excellent way to promote unity and heal the pains of isolation. However, it should only be done under guidance and with enthusiastic agreement. Not everyone needs to be involved nor feel obligated. Employees can benefit from doing mindfulness exercises outside of work, too.
  7. Make a phone call

    Today, we are so attached to emails and texts that a phone call seems foreign; however, the phone call still holds immense power. Change your day and someone else’s by making a five minute phone call. Call someone to thank them for their support. It will make all the difference towards community building.

  8. Do small acts of kindness

    Ask at least a handful of people how they are everyday. Bring in healthy snacks and pass them around the workplace. Smile at someone you don’t know. If someone did you a favor, leave them a small thank you note. If someone helped you on a project, give them a small token of appreciation.

  9. Say goodbye to social media

    Turn off social media which further compounds isolation sensations. Studies show that social media leaves us feeling disappointed and depressed. Therefore, sign-out, then sign-into your present surroundings. Stop sending friend requests and build real face-to-face friendships at work, ones that battle isolation.

  10. Create a sense of belonging

    Hang pictures in your office or cube of you with friends and family to remind yourself that you are social and that you’re not, in fact, alone. Even looking at old pictures can combat feelings of isolation. Some studies say that looking at photos of nature can help alleviate loneliness and depression.

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