Physical Distance Doesn’t Have to Mean Social Isolation

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My son had 24 books ready to pick up at the local library. I didn’t know this when I went to pick up his stash. There I was, with my one inadequate canvas bag, ruing the day I taught that child how to do a simple catalog search. He’s a ‘more is more’ sort of kid. I swear he requested every Minecraft book in the entire library system.

Still, the one bag might have held everything if I hadn’t promised to pick up a new series called The Unwanteds for my daughter. And of course I had books waiting to be picked up. So maybe this is more of a ‘apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ sort of situation.

I wear red in a town that loves grey. I’m already conspicuous. But today, the three other people in the library were giving me the side eye for a different reason as I lined up my stacks of books at the self checkout. It was like they thought I was trying to prepare for a quarantine. Or maybe a toilet paper shortage.

Really, if I was going to buy up irrational amounts of anything, it would be tea and chocolate. Some would argue I already do. I don’t hang out with those people any more.

All joking aside, I wanted to talk about something you should be collecting for a possible long stint inside your house.

We Should Call it Physical Distancing, Not Social Distancing

Unless you live under a rock outside of wifi range, you’ve heard the term social distancing. And the thing I don’t like about this term is that it conflates physical togetherness with social togetherness. There’s a reason we do that of course. Most of us gather in physical groups in order to be social. Getting together is fun.

But we don’t have to gather physically to hang out with people. And that’s important if we need to stay home. One of the number one struggles remote workers face is feeling isolated. Fortunately there are things you can do now to fight this particular issue down the road.

Far Away But Still Ready for a Close Up

Thrive Global has an excerpt from my book called How to Connect Socially With Your colleagues, Even While You’re Working Remotely that you can read for free. It focuses on the world of work, but a lot of the advice can be adapted to purely social gatherings.

For instance, you don’t need to be a business to download video conferencing software. Skype, Zoom, and Whereby all have free versions. Load one onto your device. Then set up standing appointments to meet up with your friends and family over video calls.

Holding a happy hour over video feels a little awkward at first, but I can tell you from first hand experience that you soon get over it. And talking to friends on social media isn’t always enough. We need to see each other’s faces. Consider doing this even if you live with other people. I love my children, but there is an upper limit to the amount of Minecraft chat that I can listen to and stay sane. I’m sure there are other people out there in the same boat.

And if you try it out, drop me a line and let me know how it goes. I’ll be over here planning video calls with far away family and tripping over the Minecraft books covering the floor of my house.

Loneliness and the Remote Worker


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In Buffer’s 2018 survey, 22% of surveyed remote workers said that loneliness was a top struggle, tying for first place alongside communication and collaboration issues. This is worrying on a couple of levels.

In an age where we are less likely to know our neighbors, workplace friendships have an increasingly important place in our social lives. The coworker you chat with today can become your movie buddy tomorrow. According to the folks at Gallup, having a best friend at work can also lead to better business performance, both in terms of profit and fewer safety incidents. Lonely workers, therefore, can miss out on a chance to feel fully engaged and to work at their full potential.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Working remotely doesn’t have to lead to loneliness. There are many remote workers who make work friends, and enjoy a sense of camaraderie with people whom they never meet in person. They may occasionally feel isolated, but they have a set of steps they follow to bring more human connection into their lives. Those steps vary, depending on work configuration and personality. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. If we share what works for us, then that may help someone else to think of a strategy that will work for them. Anything that can help someone to feel less isolated in their office of one is a good thing.

How You Can Help

And this is where you come in. I am conducting research on how remote workers make work friends. Can you spare five minutes to fill out this survey? Once I’ve compiled the data I will write up an article with a toolkit of resources for making friends at work, and share it. Together we can help remote workers feel less isolated.

When the Remote Job Gets too Lonely, Do This

When you feel cut off from the rest of the world, here’s what you can do.


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You may love working remotely, but occasionally feel a little short on basic human contact. Fortunately you can do something to feel better. Try these three things.

Get Outside

Science tells us that walking outside can make you feel better. This is true whether you see people outside or not. I’ve been surprised at the number of people outside in the middle of the day, even when the weather is stupid. Making eye contact and nodding at the passers by may not cure loneliness, but it’s human contact. Walking through a neighborhood is also a great way to find public spaces like libraries and coffee shops.

Work in Public

Think about libraries, coffee shops, bars, and parks. Get a little creative. I’ve lived in cities with malls that have had some great common spaces. My general rule is that it must take no more than 20 minutes get there, and cost about $5 to be there. I can usually make this work at a coffee shop if I drink tea. Also consider coworking spaces. Some of them have drop-in rates and social events to help you get in the mix.

Join a Slack Group

Sometimes you need someone to commiserate with while you work. Fortunately no matter what you do, someone has created a channel on Slack for it. A quick search for ‘Remote Slack group’ yielded THIS set of results. Be aware that some groups charge a fee. On the other hand, if a Slack group keeps you out of therapy, it’s money well spent.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Remember that occasional feelings of loneliness or isolation are natural. It doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out to be a remote worker. If you develop a set of tools to use when loneliness hits, you will ride the wave and feel more connected in no time.