Remote work is an amazing way of life for so many people and companies around the world, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges.
Including my time at Buffer and the year before I started working on the team (when I was working independently), I’ve been working from home for the past four years. While I love working remotely and am so grateful to work with my amazing team, my biggest challenges are the moments of feeling lonely.
At Buffer, we’ve found that putting some thoughtful intention into our days and workweeks can make a huge difference in minimizing feelings of loneliness.
Below, we are going to explore ways that we’ve found help to conquer remote work loneliness at Buffer, and share advice, stories, and learnings from Buffer and 7in7—a conference and community for digital nomads, remote workers, and location independent entrepreneurs. Some of these folks work remotely for a company at a home base, some are full-time digital nomads, and others are location independent, as they work for themselves.
Know that you’re not alone in how you feel
From my experience, it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one experiencing loneliness, and then to pass judgment on ourselves. Like one community member expressed: “I wish someone would have told me that it would happen in the first place. Everyone talks about the freedom and positives of remote work, so when the loneliness hits for the first time it’s a bit overwhelming!”
Similarly, here’s the advice that Kit Whelan, one of the founders of 7in7, wishes she had gotten earlier in her remote journey:
“Learn from what others are doing, but don’t try to be them. It’s so tempting to fall into the trap of following in someone else’s footsteps, but the truth is there are no shortcuts to building a life you love. So while you can take courses, follow thought leaders on Instagram, and read every advice column on the internet…the work of actually creating your best life is yours alone. Which is freeing and terrifying at the same time. The best thing I ever learned is that all the most successful people feel stressed, anxious, and unconfident a lot of the time. There is no secret ingredient or finish line. We’re all always improving.”
Incorporate human connection
Many of the folks who join the Buffer team are working remotely for the first time, and we’ve found it to be incredibly important to help our new teammates learn that human connection is an important part of our remote work culture.
Right off the bat, all new hires get matched with a different teammate every week for what we call “pair calls.” It’s a chance to get to know someone new (often someone who they don’t work with directly), and for each person to share more about themselves, their goals, and the ways they’re working on self-growth.
On these calls, our new teammates get to tell their story and have a conversation with someone who is 100% focused on listening to them–which can be quite a meaningful experience. We’ve found that these pair calls are a wonderful way to gently guide new teammates to prioritize making thoughtful connections with others during their workdays.
Understand your own unique personality type
At our team retreat in Madrid in 2017, the entire Buffer team took the 16personalities test, and it was a fantastic way to learn more about ourselves and our fellow teammates. If you haven’t taken a personality test before, I highly recommend trying out this one or another one!
For me, one of the most important things I’ve learned about myself through working remotely is that I am an extrovert, through and through. I recharge my energy levels by being around people, so when I feel sluggish or disconnected during a workday, I know I need to leave the house and find someone to talk to. Knowing this information about myself can help me proactively plan my weeks so that I can replenish my energy while getting lots of focused work done.
Take time to reflect on your needs
In order to really dig in and learn about ourselves, we need to set aside the time to do it. Here’s Kit’s advice on why and how to do this:
“Often when we first strike out on our own, we feel like a lone explorer setting out into the great unknown. That can be a great opportunity to learn about yourself–what you like, how you work, what you need to be happy. But it’s not sustainable for most of us.
So my advice is to use that time to really dig deep and try to understand what makes you tick. This can be difficult when you feel like you’re scrambling to find your footing, but taking time for yourself, whether it’s through long walks, journaling, or meditation, is key.
Incorporate the right amount of variety for you into your days
Once you know how you work the best, you can structure your workdays to help you feel as connected as you need.
For me, this means making sure I schedule days working in coffee shops, meeting up with fellow remote working friends, or heading to a coworking space, so that I’m not home alone every day of the week. In addition to a variety of environments, variety can also exist in the kind of work we’re doing. Mixing up a workday with solo focus time, collaborative group projects, and video chats with teammates can be a fantastic way to bring new and different energy to your day.
Allow for serendipitous interaction throughout your day
While it is easier to stay at home every day, it can really help to put yourself in situations that lend themselves to opportunities to talk with other people. One of my Buffer teammates, Adam, shares his story:
“This past winter was a rough one for me. The kids were at school and [my partner] was helping a friend by watching her baby as she returned to work. That left me at home by myself for majority of the day. It forced me to be intentional with my morning schedule to then allow me to get out of the house, and I found that it forced me to be intentional with my interactions during the day. Where I typically like to slip in and out of places–I started to hold a few conversations here and there and casually chat about things. Purposefully putting myself in a position to interact with others–no matter how I felt initially about getting out of the house–was such a huge part of my ‘winter survival.'”
Get involved with an online community
In this day and age, there are so many communities forming in a plethora of online spaces. There are Slack communities, Facebook groups, Twitter chats, and private community forums that bring people together–I encourage you to try a few out until you find where you feel the most connected!
As remote workers at Buffer, we know how valuable it is to be part of a community, and so it’s important for us to create that experience for our users. Our Slack community has become a space for Buffer users, social media marketers, and anyone else interested in learning more about social media to come together and support each other’s growth.
I always encourage people to step out of their comfort zone when joining an online community space–in my experience, you get out what you put in! When you offer others advice about the challenges they’re experiencing, or start a conversation about something you’re passionate about, or simply say hello and introduce yourself, that’s when the good conversations can really start.
Be open to new community experiences
Whether you’re digital nomading around the world or working at your local coffee shop, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to meet others.
Perhaps you’ll hear about a coworking space you didn’t know about, or an event coming up that’s right up your alley. Often, simply smiling and say hello to someone in a coffee shop can lead to wonderful conversations, or perhaps something more.
Embrace 1:1 connections
Inevitably, through these communities, you’ll meet others–online or in person–who you really connect with. The next step–cultivate these relationships! Suggest a lunch together, a virtual coffee chat, or even a Twitter conversation back and forth. It’s great to have a go-to person or people who you can reach out to when you’re feeling especially lonely.
At the end of the day, the best solution I’ve found to remote work loneliness is to talk to someone about it–a boss, a teammate, a spouse, a friend at home or a friend online. When you open up and share what you’re feeling, you give someone the chance to support you and, in my experience, that’s when the loneliness tends to slip away.