The Internet of Things, the modern gig economy, and digitization have combined to give us more remote work opportunities than we’ve ever had access to in history. In fact, 70 percent of the world’s population now works remotely at least once a week, and 99 percent of survey respondents say they’d like to work remotely at least part of the time for the rest of their lives.
What was long touted as a trend has turned out to be a genuine tectonic shift. Remote employment is at an all-time high.
So is loneliness.
A surprising study from 2018 revealed that at least two in 10 U.S. adults feel lonely, left out, or isolated either always or very often. Huge portions of certain demographics also reported that their most trusted source of companionship was either their pet or electronic device.
There are so many of these kinds of reports and statistics that it can be overwhelming. Public health officials take all this loneliness so seriously that they’re calling it an epidemic, and countries including Denmark, New Zealand, and the U.K. have initiated national campaigns to fight it.
Is loneliness connected to working remotely? It’s impossible to say with certainty. By many measures, people who don’t commute for work are actually happier — but that doesn’t mean they can’t be lonelier at the same time. In fact, loneliness is reportedly the biggest struggle remote workers face.
That said, there are a number of things remote workers can do to lower their risk of feeling lonely. Here are five ways to do just that:
1. Work with people you care about
If you’re engaging on a daily basis with people who you consider not just colleagues, but friends or confidants, you’re less likely to feel socially isolated. Of course if you’re already locked into a job, changing who you work with might not be very feasible. But if you’re considering taking a remote position, definitely spare a thought for whether the people you’ll be working with will be supportive and enjoyable to talk to.
2. Schedule social activities
Don’t just think about getting out of the house — pencil it in on your calendar and stick to it. Schedule coffee or happy hour meetups with friends, join a bridge club, take part in a sports league — whatever actually motivates you to spread your social butterfly wings and get some face time.
3. Commute part-time
Part-time remote work is more common and more feasible than you might think. Even if you feel less productive in the office (or hate the commute), it can be worth it just to shake off the isolation a few days a week.
4. Put work in its place
The insular nature of working from home or out of a private office can sometimes lead to the sense that work is all there is — an all-consuming lifestyle in and of itself. In case you hadn’t heard, though, “working too hard” is one of the most common deathbed regrets. Don’t work too hard — prioritize your personal relationships and goals, too.
5. Work from a public space
You don’t have to interact with people to mitigate the home office blues; sometimes just being around others is enough to balance out your hormones and secure your sanity. If the coffee shop cliché is too much for you, try the library or some other public space. You can also join a coworking space, which often has events in the evenings and other remote workers with whom you can build relationships.
You don’t have to be lonely — not even remotely
Loneliness is bad for your health. That might sound alarmist until you see the research, which indicates that being lonely is as much of a health risk as smoking and obesity. And while ultimately, staying healthy ought to take priority over your career, it’s also true that being lonely will make you less productive in the long run.
However, the flexibility offered by remote work is also valuable. It’s great to be able to walk your dog in the middle of the day; pick your kids up from school without stressing about leaving the office during rush hour; work out on your own time; or run errands like going to the DMV during off-hours. Your ability to manage your own time is extraordinarily helpful, and offers the kind of freedom that can enhance the quality of your life — which is why it’s so appealing in the first place.
Remote work, therefore, isn’t something to be given up entirely. But acknowledging the cost of loneliness on your life and health is vital, and something to be closely monitored. The goal, of course, is to live a connected life, where you feel at ease in your work and at peace at home.