Virtual Teams

Building Community and coping with isolation and loneliness when working from home

We have specialized in training people to work remotely for the last 25 years so, as you can imagine, we’ve been pretty busy supporting our clients in this unprecedented time where people are suddenly working from home, often with very little warning.

We’ve been talking to a lot of people in the last 2 weeks and running some very large-scale webinars for people who may have experience of working from home for the odd day before, but now need to organize around working remotely for an extended period, perhaps for many weeks. None of us have had much time to prepare for this, and we are trying to bring some insights, practical tools and reassurance to help.

This second free video in our working from home series is  Building Community and coping with isolation and loneliness when working from home is designed to give some ideas, tools and reassurance for people working from home during the CORVID 19 crisis. You are free to use it for non-commercial purposes.

Part 1 of this series is – New to working from home

Subtitles in a range of languages will be added a couple of days after the initial posting.

These and future videos will be shared via our dedicated Vimeo channel on working from home during the COVID 19 crisis

Please feel free to circulate these videos more widely to anyone who you think would find them useful at this difficult time

Transcript

We’ve been talking to a lot of people in the last 2 weeks and running some very large-scale webinars for people who may have experienced working from home for the odd day before, but now need to organize around working remotely for an extended period, perhaps for many weeks. None of us have had much time to prepare for this, and we are trying to bring some insights, practical tools and reassurance to help.

In these early days a lot of the concerns are just around the logistics of getting set up from home and getting organized.

However, we are already hearing a lot of concern about social isolation, loneliness and how we can maintain community when people are working from home.

Whilst this is clearly a real concern for many people, I think it’s important to put it in perspective.

Sometimes the language we are using is not helpful, governments and news outlets are talking about social isolation and social distancing. if you look up the phrase “social isolation” on Google you’ll see some scary articles about the consequences for health and wellbeing, but please realize a couple of things.

First – Social isolation concerns in many of these articles are about people who have existing mental health problems or who have suffered painful social rejection where they feel, rightly or wrongly, that people don’t want to connect with them.

It’s important to realize that this is not what is happening here. In fact, by working from home we are socially isolating in service of our community not in rejection of each other, we are all doing it to protect our families our friends our colleagues and our wider communities. This is a much more positive reframing of our reality.

There have been studies in the past of people who’ve been isolated for quarantine reasons and this did not have a negative effect on people‘s mental health.

Social isolation at the moment is just a reality, we are physically distant from our colleagues, but we don’t need to practically distant thanks to the communication technology that nearly everyone has access to on their phones or computers.

The second word that people worry about is loneliness. Loneliness is our emotional reaction to this social disconnection. Humans are a social species and loneliness seems to be an evolutionary trait that warns us that there is somethings lacking in our network and relationships and motivates us to do something about it.

If you’re working from home and you feel lonely, accept that this normal, but use that feeling as a stimulus to connect, pick up the phone or, even better, link to someone by video.

In our work in remote and virtual team training we tend to talk about maintaining community – It sounds much more positive and active.

People are connecting spontaneously

It’s been fantastic to see already many examples of how people have tried to connect and build community across distance, whether that’s Italians singing from their balconies to each other or colleague sharing pictures of their workspaces and pets with each other. Take a look at #WTF on Twitter for the kind of things people are spontaneously sharing.

On the video you will see more than 20 examples I found this week on public and in-company social channels of things you can do to reach out and connect with your colleagues at work or your remote family members. Check out #WFH on Twitter to see how sharing and commenting on our experiences and learning can help.

It just shows that people need community and shared fun and will spontaneously reach out and connect.

Virtualize your socializing

As work is an important source of community connection for many people, we need to make it easy and natural to connect with our colleagues too.

A technique you can use here is to make a note of all the ways that you socialize at work.

Now simply look for opportunities to do that exact same thing virtually, you can see some examples on the video

For example, when you break for a coffee, why not set up a video link and share a virtual coffee with a friend.

In our team we’ve started a Friday afternoon collective video coffee break, set up some small communities of practice to share learning about this new experience and made more use of video calling rather than telephone. In my family we had our first video Friday night drinks this weekend to wrap up the week and keep in touch.

It doesn’t really matter what you do, the principle is to reach out and connect with people; your colleagues, your friends and your local community and of course to do this within the constraints of your local health advice.

Monitor your own connections

Different people have very different needs to connect. I’ve spoken to some introverts this week who are quite looking forward to working from home alone. You might want to monitor yourself – just keep an eye on how often you are picking up the phone, entering an instant message conversation, seeing people on video and engaging with your colleagues. If you start to feel disconnected or if the volume of that connection falls off, that it might be worth establishing some routines to keep the level of connection up to something you feel engaged by. Because its hard for others to see how we are feeling remotely we have to take some personal ownership for signalling this.

A sense of community and belonging is a universal human need so I’m confident that most people will find ways to connect. If you’ve got a pre-existing condition that is being made worse by these exceptional circumstances, then of course you need to seek professional help.

Please

• Stay connected and positive
• Look out for each other
• Get help if you need it

I wish you good luck and we will keep posting ideas that we hope will help. If you need more support, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

See an interactive graphic of our working from home learning path and training module contents. Download our latest white paper on working from home.

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