Combating Loneliness at Work
Three easy ways to avoid isolation in the digital age
No matter your industry or profession, the modern work environment can be a lonely place. Even if you’re working in a bustling office amid a clamor of people, the interpersonal disconnect can be isolating, and can even lead to the extreme mental exhaustion known as burnout.
Workplace loneliness is not only associated with serious problems like low energy, decreased productivity, and depression. On the more severe end of the scale, loneliness has even been associated with early mortality risk.
This is why I talk about “mindful technology”. Many times we implement technology into the workplace without taking into consideration the human side or impact on the workday. It’s important we place just as much emphasis on how to continue to create human connection with the gift that technology provides our organization and be intentional on how we build processes around it.
The role of technology and how to reduce isolation at work
The way we interact with our environment plays a major role in the levels of loneliness we encounter at work. There’s no doubt that technology enables us to have limitless connections with people near and far, and can help teams collaborate and work effectively together. But when we interact with technology in excess, or as a replacement for closer connection, we sell ourselves short. Have you ever experienced the sensation of loneliness after sending an email or instant message to someone you could’ve very easily called or spoken with face to face? Could your use of technology be hindering your connectedness with others instead of nurturing it?
Whether you communicate in-person, or via text, could be a direct contributor to your level of loneliness at work. Future Workplace’s 2018 Global Work Connectivity study of more than 2,000 managers and employees showed that nearly half of their day was spent communicating via technology and not in person. Slightly more than half felt lonely "always" or "very often" as a result. The study found that this type of communication was not only detrimental to the wellbeing of workers, it was also detrimental to their productivity — nearly a third said more facetime with coworkers would boost productivity.
While it’s often difficult to choose connection over convenience, a little intention goes a long way. And with these three simple tips, you can combat isolation and create the balance that might be missing in your workplace.
1. Use the three-to-one rule
There’s something special about a face-to-face interaction that you simply cannot get through text. The three-to-one rule challenges us to pick up the phone or visit someone in person for every three digital messages you send. This practice has been very useful for me and my productivity and connectedness with others. For every three e-mails I send, I try to make one call, initiate a video chat (if one of us is remote), or set up an in-person meeting.
2. Get together virtually
Is your team remote? No problem. Technology is meant to connect us — it’s up to us to use it in a meaningful way. To help create more personal connections on your team, try giving your remote employees a gift card for Starbucks and ask them to invite one of their other remote colleagues to a virtual coffee over Google Hangout to get to know each other better. Working remotely should never prevent you from connecting with your coworkers.
3. Initiate and schedule casual gatherings
It’s not always easy to be the first person to reach out to colleagues and create connections. But by showing your willingness to get to know the team, you can lead by example and empower others to do the same. Ask one or two colleagues to have lunch, coffee, or after work get-togethers. Great leaders can always reinforce this by creating regularly occurring events and happy hours for the whole crew. I like to teach yoga classes in the office for those who are interested and get groups together to go on team runs or other group activities.
At the end of the day, the way we use technology can either help us or hinder us. While choosing to shoot a colleague a quick email or chat message instead of getting up to talk with them in person or setting up a virtual video chat may not seem like a big deal, habitually isolating yourself behind your screen can become a major problem in the long run. By creating intention around the way you adopt communication systems at your workplace, you can help your team become more engaged with one another, more focused, more present, and much less prone to burnout.