In today’s hyperconnected world, social isolation has, quite ironically, been on the rise. Social isolation can be seen in many aspects of our lives, with the workplace being one particular area in which many people report feeling lonely.
In fact, social isolation has increased as more people turn to freelance or remote work models, meaning some days their social interaction doesn’t extend beyond placing an order at their local cafe.
Social Isolation in Today’s Workplace
We desperately need to address the loneliness epidemic. Social isolation and even perceived loneliness can have devastating effects on an individual.
Social isolation can also affect your career, as you may start to feel like you don’t belong in your team or even the company as a whole. This may result in a half-hearted effort, gradually worse work performance and ultimately, a resignation.
Studies have shown that the risk of social isolation to your health and well-being is the equivalent of 15 cigarettes a day.
At the same time, the modern workplace is rapidly changing, presenting new challenges around isolation and loneliness. Freelancing and remote work is becoming more popular by the day, reducing how much people get to interact with coworkers.
In some work environments, the tradition of mingling around the water cooler may have been replaced with the pressure to hustle and be superhumanly productive.
1 in 4 Australians report feeling lonely at least once a week
– Australian Psychological Society,
While these challenges continue to grow, there are measures that both companies and workers can take to beat social isolation in the workplace.
How Companies Can Work Towards Reducing Social Isolation
Managers play a huge part in reducing loneliness among employees, and should therefore keep their finger on the pulse of the social connectedness of their workplace. This includes keeping track of how many people telecommute or work remotely, and how often.
Managers can also help to foster new relationships by introducing new employees to each other, or suggesting an employee get a coffee with a senior they look up to.
This socialisation should also be encouraged during the onboarding process, with HR connecting timid recruits with more outgoing seniors who can train them and help them integrate into the team.
Collaborative spaces and hot desking areas are also wonderful ways of facilitating flexible working arrangements while keeping people close to one another.
Be wary of completely open plan offices however, as people might become more insular by using noise-cancelling headphones in order to block out their colleague’s phone chatter, or opt to work from home altogether in order to avoid distraction.
For the remote workers in your team, try to go for video conferences over phone calls and emails as much as you can to allow for face to face interaction. Internal communication is important for keeping everyone in the loop and allowing for greater social interaction across your team.
How Individuals Can Reduce Their Sense of Loneliness at Work
If you find yourself feeling lonely in the office, try taking the initiative to join group activities.
This can include asking management to set up team building activities and internal events like lunches and company retreats, or simply grabbing coffee with a new colleague or striking up a conversation with your teammates about the latest Game of Thrones episode.
If you spend the majority of your time working remotely or work completely alone, you might feel even more burdened by a sense of loneliness.
Thanks to modern technology, however, you can still be part of a professional community.
There are plenty of Facebook groups and online meetups geared towards workers just like yourself, allowing you to chat online as well as meet up in person to socialise, work together or just blow off some steam.
You might also want to switch up your work environment to immerse yourself in different social settings.
For example, working in a cafe allows you to chat to customers and staff, while also bouncing off the productive energy (and endless caffeine!) in the room.
Better yet, consider becoming a member of a coworking space – you’ll not only have your own desk and handy office amenities but also be able to network, socialise and connect with like-minded professionals.
A community of other freelancers and remote workers will also help you realise that you are not alone in feeling lonely sometimes!
It’s easier than ever to stay within our own little cocoons in today’s online world. However, using the tools around us can help us make meaningful connections at work, both for ourselves and our teams.