How offices are crucial to preventing loneliness

Loneliness is one of the most prevalent issues when discussing remote working. A huge selling point for working remotely is that it significantly improves employees’ productivity and efficiency. Without the distractions of the bustling workplace, being in your own space allows you to focus on your work.

While efficiency and productivity are the bottom lines of your business, you have to think about the mental wellbeing of your workforce foremost. Employees can’t be productive or efficient if they’re not in the right emotional space to do great work. Many workplaces closing down due to the coronavirus pandemic could make employees more susceptible to loneliness.

Why are experts saying the workplace is over?

A lot of articles have recently claimed that COVID-19 will mark the end of the workplace for good. This is a bold statement and one that, while true for some businesses, isn’t the case for most workplaces. Some businesses have notably ended their leasing contracts and decided to work remotely full time. This is a viable way for businesses to cut back on costs during the financial struggle caused by the pandemic.

Closing down your physical office is a great money-saving exercise. However, requiring your workforce to work remotely 100% of the time after being in a busy office with colleagues will be a culture shock to many. One of the great things about the workplace is daily interaction and relationship building. If this is taken away from your employees’ everyday routines, they may experience feelings of loneliness.

Why does the workplace help prevent loneliness?

The practice of getting up, going to work and coming home provides structure to life. The distinction between the home and workplace is instrumental in allowing you to focus then switch off when you need to. Being in the workplace, you’re surrounded by creative inspiration, branding, colleagues and resources that give purpose to the work you’re doing. 

You feel a sense of belonging and community with colleagues all working towards the same business goals. A huge benefit of the workplace is collaboration. Being able to bounce ideas off your team members, build shared interests and develop relationships is meaningful for your workforce. These interactions can build a strong company culture that unites your employees.

Your physical wellbeing is supported by being in the workplace too. Quality employers make sure you’re equipped with the ergonomic equipment needed to support your body. Ergonomic chairs and desks prevent neck and back strain, while desktop monitors and suitable lighting can reduce eye strain and headaches. If your employer is asking you to work remotely full time, it’s important that you’re equipped with supportive furniture that ensures you can work comfortably as you would in the workplace.

Why does remote working increase risk of loneliness?

Remote working won’t result in every member of your workforce experiencing feelings of loneliness. Remote working offers amazing benefits to some employees that love to get their heads down and work alone. They often find their productivity and efficiency increase without workplace distractions. There are also the benefits of no commute to work which saves money and adds more time onto your day to either work or relax. 

Employee’s that live alone, have to care for others or experience mental health issues may be more vulnerable to experiencing loneliness because of their circumstances. The furniture company, Vitra, recently released a report detailing loneliness caused by remote working during the pandemic. A particular point made by the company is that businesses must aim to support the “main caretakers of households and children” who, when working from home, are faced with the responsibility of home and work at the same time. This can place pressure on your staff in this circumstance who feel the pressure to perform their best both at work and at home.

How can you recognise loneliness in your colleagues?

It’s important to note that you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. Those in busy workplaces and households can experience loneliness if they feel they can’t express themselves to those around them. Campaign To End Loneliness reported that over 9 million people in the UK across all adult ages are either always or often lonely. This shows there isn’t just one form of loneliness, it’s completely subjective. This does make it difficult to recognise signs of loneliness as they aren’t the same for everyone.

Before requiring your employees to work from home full time, you should get to know them and their circumstances. Spend time with your workforce to understand if they have personal circumstances that may put them at increased risk of experiencing loneliness. They may not want to share this information so watch for changes in behaviour and body language. They may avoid interaction with team members on calls or video conferences, they may look down or experience a drop in performance. You should check in with them if you notice these signs and ensure they have a safe space to discuss their feelings.

How do I combat loneliness when remote working?

You can also make sure you establish a positive and engaging company culture when working remotely. Here are some ways to engage employees that may feel lonely working from home:

1. Have flexible working hours

Flexible working hours allow team members, particularly those who have caretaking and childcare commitments, to work at times that suit their emotional wellbeing. Discuss which hours work best for them and ensure the rest of your team are aware of when to expect work and communications. Flexibility reduces the pressure your staff may be feeling when trying to perform their very best while having too much on their plate.

2. Keep communication at the core

Stay in touch with your workforce throughout the day to make sure you know how they’re feeling. Emails and messaging are great but try to have phone calls and video calls so you can actually see and hear each other’s voices. If someone experiencing loneliness would feel overwhelmed by a call with the whole department, try to create smaller group activities where they can feel involved. This could be a quiz, workout or general chat about your days.

3. Create an optimal workspace

If your team members are now required to work from home full time, make sure they’re supported with the right technology and equipment. An ergonomic chair and desk will help them feel comfortable throughout the day. The right technology and software will make sure your team members can stay connected with one another throughout the day.

Remote working has its advantages and has been a welcome way to cut costs for business during the COVID-19 pandemic. While productivity and efficiency are important for bottom-line business, the mental wellbeing of your employees should always come first. For those experiencing loneliness, whether caused by or worsened remote working, your business should do more to support your employees. 

  • Introduce flexible working hours to take the pressure off those balancing caretaking roles. 
  • Open up avenues of communication, particularly over the phone or video call, to make sure your team members can stay connected remotely. 
  • Create an optimal workspace with ergonomic equipment so your employees are comfortable and don’t compromise their physical wellbeing too. 

By working together and looking out for each other’s circumstances, you can spot signs of loneliness and support your colleagues.