Loneliness is on the rise among American adults. According to a 2019 study from Cigna, 61% of American adults are lonely, up from about 46% the previous year. Now that people are social distancing and working remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, those numbers are bound to keep rising.
This is bad news for everyone. Loneliness leads not only to declines in worker productivity and engagement, but also to potentially significant mental health consequences. During a global health crisis, when the need for strong interpersonal relationships is greater than ever, the negative effects of isolation can be even more severe. And those feelings can hurt career development, too, leading workers to retreat instead of reaching out to their network and engaging in other brand-building activities.
Before COVID-19, remote work was often associated with freedom and independence. Now that employees are working from home on a mass scale, it has become evident that isolation and loneliness are the pain points of a remote infrastructure.
So what’s the solution? Technology. Although that might seem contradictory, the same tools that facilitate remote work and “cause” loneliness can also help you combat it. However, you must use it deliberately. “Technology can impact our unconscious mind, and we all must become aware of how the products we use can impact our thinking and behaviors,” says Christen Montero, chief marketing officer at Blue. “At Blue, we want our technology to maximize social opportunities and lead our users back to in-person social behavior.”
Montero’s company develops solutions that allow customers to combine their physical and digital identities. She views technology as a means to an end, not an end itself. By using digital tools to emulate real human interaction, you can ward off loneliness and build stronger interpersonal relationships, no matter where you are. What’s more, personal branding was going digital anyway, so this is the perfect time to ramp up those efforts. Here’s how you can use tech to stay connected:
1. Host a virtual networking event.
By hosting your own virtual networking event, you can begin building a community of valuable business contacts that spans the entire globe. Just keep in mind a few best practices to ensure a positive experience for everyone: Make the event as easy as possible to join (consider time zone differences), try to limit the number of attendees (invite eight or fewer), and prepare to facilitate the conversation (offer an icebreaker question). This will allow everyone to participate and maximize opportunities for meaningful interaction.
If you want to ensure further success, introduce participants to one another via email beforehand. A short bio for each participant, along with a link to their LinkedIn profiles, will help your attendees adequately prepare prior to the meeting. Networking might not be your top priority at the moment, but strong business relationships are vital to building your personal brand. Don’t let the pandemic prevent you from developing them.
2. Start a company book club.
While the pandemic has undoubtedly underscored society’s reliance on technology, it has also reignited our passion for literature. A Nielsen Books survey found that 41% of Britons are reading more than they were prior to the U.K.’s government-mandated lockdown, and recent research from WIRED magazine revealed that U.S. book sales reflect a similar trend. If you’re an avid reader, starting a virtual book club is not only a great way to share your passion but also a means for strengthening your company’s culture.
Krissee Chasseur and her team at Zappos found that starting a book club helped everyone stay connected and bond over something other than work. “We were putting together ideas to keep our team digitally engaged, and a weekly virtual book club seemed like an easy fit to blend our core values of ‘pursuing growth and learning’ and ‘building a positive team and family spirit,’” she says. Club members should feel free to select a book that reflects their authentic selves, helping the group get to know each other better. That’s a win for everyone.
3. Set up virtual coffee breaks.
Spontaneous office face time helps employees get to know their jobs and one another better. That’s why you should make virtual coffee breaks an official part of every employee’s weekly schedule. Your team may be working remotely for the foreseeable future, so virtual social interactions will be vital to continued success.
Nisha Garigarn, co-founder of the co-working app Croissant, believes that deliberately scheduling informal meetings is especially important for remote workers. “When you work in a set office, the environment is constant, and you’re always surrounded by like-minded co-workers,” she says. “Having the freedom to work from anywhere is great, but also means you’re going to have to go out of your way to find inspiring and productive work environments. It takes time to find your groove!” In a socially distanced world, any time spent connecting with others over shared interests is time well-spent.
Casual virtual interactions might feel strange at first, but they offer great opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals. These three tips will help you maintain your sanity and stay front-of-mind with decision makers until you can return to the office and safely meet with your peeps in person.