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Seven Exercises for Overcoming Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home

In the 2020 State of Remote Work survey, respondents identified loneliness as their top struggle with working from home. Even among experienced home-workers, loneliness and isolation are challenges. This year, millions of workers are suddenly sent home to work, indefinitely and with no preparation. Only a select few will be able to thrive in perpetual solitude; the rest will probably need a little help. This post offers seven exercises you can do to overcome loneliness and isolation when you are working from home. Think of these as your ‘daily to-do list’. In fact, this list is a good practice for looking after your mental health in normal circumstances; in present circumstances it has become a lot more relevant.

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#1 Talk to someone

Loneliness is a cycle. The more alone we feel the more we think that other people don’t want to talk to us, and so we don’t reach out. Break the cycle by having at least one conversation a day, with anyone. Talking about how we feel can help see that other people are feeling exactly the same and that we are not alone.

#2 Talk to yourself

We are all doing this most of the time, but we don’t realise it. Psychologists call this our ‘inner dialogue’ made up of recurring thoughts and emotions whirling inside our heads. If we don’t listen to this dialogue, we won’t be able to control it. Luckily, there are some proven techniques to help us listen more intently to ourselves; daily journal writing, labelling the emotions we are feeling, writing a letter to our third person self. These techniques allow us to view ourselves as an outside observer in order to tackle negative thoughts and emotions before they become actions and behaviours.

#3 Keep fit

‘Healthy body – healthy mind’ is not just an expression. Science has shown that physical exercise has a positive effect on our mental state. Intense physical activity releases mood-lifting chemicals called endorphins into our blood stream. Even just going for a walk can make us feel better, due to the fresh air, change of scenery and being around people (at an appropriate distance!). If you can’t, or don’t want to go outside, there are lots of free videos on the internet offering live fitness routines!

#4 Tune out

News channels and social media are full of one story at the moment and while it is good to be informed and in touch with what’s happening on the outside, the noise this makes can be over-whelming and reinforce negative feelings. Tuning-out from news and media can help us to tune-in to ourselves, find some peace and quiet from the noise and focus on doing something that makes us feel good. This is an example of a term that has become highly popularised in recent years – ‘mindfulness’.

#5 Take charge

Get a piece of paper and draw a circle. On the outside of the circle write the things that worry or bother you. This could be anything from becoming ill to a noisy neighbour. Now work in the inside of the circle and write all the things in your life that you can directly control. For example, you can’t control your neighbour, but you can ignore the noise. You can’t control events, but you can definitely control your reactions to them. The area inside the circle is your zone of control. This is the area you should work on and put your energy into because being in control of things gives us positive feelings, compared to worrying about things we can’t control or influence. When you start using any of the exercises in this post you have actually started to take control already!

#6 Do something for someone

Human brains are reward-driven, which means our senses become heightened when we enjoy things. Recognition and gratitude from other people are among the most common types of reward which our brains seek. A good way of doing this is to offer a kind act to someone else. For example, giving a compliment, holding a door open, giving a nice smile. It makes no difference if these things are reciprocated or not; just the act of doing them makes us feel better about ourselves and more connected to others, lighting up those important reward centres in our brains.

#7 Do something for yourself

Acts of kindness also extend to yourself. Being isolated can be a struggle but it’s also a potential gift. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a recipe you haven’t had time to try, a new hobby you’ve been interested in but not had the time? Doing something new can help take your mind away from feeling lonely and build purpose and self-esteem.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you did, and it helped you, you could choose to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing it with someone else – a little act of kindness that could make a difference. You can also share your tips and advice for dealing with working at home, in the comments section below.If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.

Leading a team that is working from home

When workers are suddenly sent home to work they will face plenty of challenges, especially if they’ve never done it before. Team leaders will face an additional challenge: Leading a team that is working from home. In this post we offer a range of tips and advice for how you can do that. To keep it simple and easy to implement we’ve stuck to a 3-step approach:

  1. Start by understanding the challenges
  2. Keep the team working together
  3. Lead your team as they work from home

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What are the challenges?

Technical

An immediate priority for leading a team that is working from home is to ensure that team members have the tools to do their jobs remotely. This includes both productivity and communication tools. As a leader you can approach this with the whole team by checking they have what they need and discussing which kinds of communication technologies work well for them. Not everything will work as it did in the office and as a team you may need to decide to use ad-hoc technologies as a temporary solution.

Emotional

Some team members may feel isolated and this can have a serious impact on motivation. This is best discussed in a one-to-one setting. Individuals will all have different emotional and psychological challenges and you need to know what these are in order to help them. A simple question like, “How are you looking after yourself?” can open up a discussion and go a long way to making team members feel supported individually. Read more on this topic in our post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home.

Personal

Don’t forget to also look after your own needs and work through your own personal and logistical challenges. If you don’t address these, you won’t be as effective at helping other people with their issues. Get advice on how to do this in our post Three Steps to Adapt to Home Working.

How do I keep the team working together?

In the 1970s, MIT Professor Thomas Allen discovered that team cohesion is strongest when employees are physically closer. His ideas have been taken forward by some of the most successful companies who engineer ‘collisions’ between employees to strengthen bonding and group affiliation; simple things like coffee-machine conversations, team social events, sharing stories, etc. So, how can you do this with a team that works in physical isolation from each other? Here are some ideas we have seen that work:

  • Set up daily check-ins or ‘stand-up meetings’ at the start of each day where the team shares their priorities for the day and any impediments they face. This can give team members a reassuring routine which is both work and socially focused and help to overcome feelings of isolation. It also gives you a helicopter-view of what’s happening each day.
  • In team meetings always add an agenda item with a question like, “How is this arrangement working for us?” This helps to address emotional/psychological issues of individuals and build trust. Avoid closed questions (asking “Is everyone ok?” won’t give you much information) and use “us” and “we” to reinforce team togetherness.
  • Monitor team communication patterns to pick up on problems, side issues and tone that team members are using with each other. This doesn’t mean using spyware! You just need to go over conversations that are happening on Slack, Teams and other conversation channels.
  • Use video in team communications; humans bond much better to faces than to voices and non-verbal communication sends powerful signals of belonging and empathy. Seeing faces also puts more energy into calls, which helps to overcome feelings of isolation.
  • Create and manage social interaction to replicate what normally happens in the office; have a virtual lunch together, share internet memes, play games together, just get people laughing and having fun. Social interaction is the base of creating trust in a team; you just need to do it a bit differently in a virtual work setting.

Which skills do I need for leading a team that is working from home?

 You don’t need new skills to become an effective leader of a home-working team, but you will need to use some of them more. Here is a short list of where to focus your leadership skills:

Be available

You may have an open door policy in the office but that won’t work in a remote team. So, be explicit about when and how team members can contact you. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, check in with them and ask how they are. At the same time be careful that you also ring-fence the time you need for yourself and your own tasks.

Solve problems

This is probably the biggest thing your team will need from you, at least at the start. You may need to be flexible and change processes if necessary, for example lifting constraints on how and where data is stored and shared. Focusing on outputs rather than processes will help push the team towards purposeful activity and away from missing their old physical environment.

Make rules and hold people accountable to them

It’s important to establish some ground rules with the team, for example on which communication tools to use for different tasks, how and when to contact each other. You then need to monitor that the team is sticking to those rules and jump in when they are not.

Continue to manage performance

Research shows that employees value their performance being managed and they rate managers highly when it’s done well. This is still true in a home-working environment, but it will take more communication and more regular, smaller steps to address the distance and isolation. A practical start is to set some short term performance goals on adjusting to home-working at the beginning.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.

 

Three steps to adapt to working from home

In March 2020 it is estimated that a quarter of the world’s population is confined to their homes in some form or other. For millions of workers this means having to adapt to working from home. In this post you will read about the 3-step approach to make that change a bit smoother and a little less painful. Even after this current crisis has ended, there may be times in the future where we need to make a radical and sudden shift in the way we work due to external circumstances. This could be anything ranging from unemployment or re-location, to geo-political events. So, we have put together the advice and approach in this post to be helpful in any situation where we need to change the way we work.

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Step 1 – Acknowledge

The first step to dealing with any big change is to acknowledge what is happening. If we don’t do this, we may get stuck in a little bit of denial, which will prevent us from dealing with the present situation effectively. Here are examples of what you can acknowledge in the current situation:

  1. For a lot of people right now, being asked to work at home full time is not voluntary. This is a decision made for us, not by us.
  2. This situation may last a long time. At the moment, authorities and businesses are talking about isolation as ‘indefinite’.
  3. ‘Working from home’ is not the same as ‘being at home’. There will be obstacles you will need to overcome, from dealing with family members to the state of your home internet connection.
  4. You will need to adapt by making changes to both home and work life. Put another way; you will need a new set of rules for both.

There will be other things you need to acknowledge – everybody’s situation is different. Spending a little time considering what is different or missing from your new home working situation is a good way to prepare to make some changes, which is our next step.

Remember that difficult periods can also be
personally rewarding. As someone once said, “the worst that
can happen is that you might learn something about yourself”.

Step 2 – Make Changes

Now that you have acknowledged the situation, you’re ready to make the changes you need in order to adapt to it. A good way to approach this is to make a list of difficulties/things you miss and then come up with counter-measures to each one. We did this exercise recently in our own team, and we discovered that although our team is made up of experienced remote/home workers, they still have challenges that they need to work on. Here are some of the things from their lists:

Difficulties I Face/Things I Miss:

  • Making a mental and physical separation of work and home life
  • Knowing how to organise my day
  • Being able to stop and tune-out from work
  • Seeing and socialising with colleagues
  • Little routines e.g. morning coffee with a croissant in the canteen!
  • Interruptions and distractions from family members
  • Feeling like I’m at work rather than at home
  • Team huddles and bouncing ideas off each other

Counter-Measures:

  • Find a dedicated space to work (can be anywhere) and put on work clothes in the morning
  • Start the day with a ‘stand up’ team meeting on Skype – hearing others’ priorities can help us shape our own priorities and organise our days
  • Set up rules for family members e.g. knock on your home office door if they want something, put a sign up ‘Can talk/In a meeting/Busy until 11.’ etc.
  • Stick to your old routines where you can e.g. schedule a coffee break to go grab a coffee somewhere local
  • Use technology to connect to colleagues and agree how to use them, e.g. WhatApp group for idea bouncing, Zoom for team meetings
  • Make time for fun with colleagues to relieve boredom and lift your mood (e.g. sharing internet memes, funny videos, doing online challenges)
  • Talk often to colleagues about feelings on working at home
  • Fix a daily schedule and stick to it (share it with family members and colleague so that they can help you)

Step 3 – Look After Yourself

Sudden changes to our lives can be traumatic. In Step 1 we advised spending time acknowledging the change. Step 3 is all about managing your mental and physical health through a period of sudden change. Here are some practical ways you can do this:

Get some exercise

Even if you don’t wear a fitness gadget on your wrist, you will soon realise that working from home means moving much less compared to being in the office. So, plan some exercise into your daily routine, even just a 30 minute walk at lunchtime can help. Research shows that lack of exercise and fresh air has a real impact on our mental capabilities.

Ask for help

From colleagues and especially your manager. This could be asking for solutions to technical problems, or for a bit of slack if the home/work balance is getting overwhelming. We are all in the same boat and asking for and giving help and support is what we need to do now. You can read our tips and advice for managers in the post How to Lead a Team that is Working from Home.

Be kind to yourself

You are not going to make this change successfully in one day or even one month. It’s ok to be frustrated, angry, impatient and it’s healthy to consider the emotions you are feeling and where they come from. It’s also important to understand the emotions of those around us – whether family or colleagues – and be kind and understanding of those people too. You can find tips and advice on dealing with the emotional side of home-working in the post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation When Working from Home.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home.