For many of us across the country, it's been anywhere from a few days to a few weeks since we've been asked to work remotely to flatten the curve. For me (as well as for many of my fellow extroverts, I'm sure), working from home has combined with social isolation to create a whole lot of feeling disconnected. Sure, I FaceTime with my family and friends, talk to my partner and take walks to stare at strangers, but especially from nine to five, it can be hard to know how to connect with people in your life and beat out that "I haven't seen anyone but my boyfriend and my plants in eighteen days" loneliness.
Luckily for us, there are women who've been working remote for years who know how to keep up connections and tune out feelings of loneliness, even when you're not physically with people most of the time. Recently, I asked women in the FGB Community who have a history of working remotely to share their best tips for connecting with others and beating loneliness. Like us, these women have lost many of their social opportunities — going to the gym, working from a coffeeshop or going out with friends. But their small ways of connecting with colleagues offer meaningful guidance towards making the most out of the workday, providing a solid social foundation for the rest of your time. Here's their best advice.
1. Don't underestimate the power of instant messaging — especially when it's not all work chat.
Many of the women who responded to me pointed out the importance of having an instant messenger, like Slack or G-Chat, running during the day to keep conversation flowing. Keeping up with your instant messenger not only makes it easier to connect with a colleague on a document or task, but also makes it easier to connect with them about their day-to-day, deepening your conversation and friendship.
"When I'm managing a team, I set us all up with a desktop chat app, such as Slack,"LadyBossCheriSmith, who's worked remote for 20 years, wrote. "This way we can dash off a note from the screen we're working on."
A few women who responded also advocated for company-wide conversations dedicated to non-work topics to help you remember there are humans behind the screens.
"We use Slack for asynchronous and hallway conversations, and team updates," barb_hansen, who's worked remote for about 15 years across the last 25 years, wrote. "We have a 'fun' channel in slack, where people post picture of their pets, their weekend activities and fun memes."
Even if your company doesn't have these kind of channels in Slack or Outlook, making a private group message for a gaggle of colleagues to discuss anything but work is a good step in the right direction.
2. Keep the phone lines open for quick chats and brainstorming sessions.
One thing I wasn't expecting to miss about working in the office was people talking across the table, popping by to pick my brain or asking to work on something real quick. However, it can be hard for these little moments of collaboration to happen organically online — unless you take a certain approach to remote work. Multiple FGB'ers mentioned letting your colleagues know you're available for quick calls throughout the day to foster this sense of connection and cooperation.
"I encourage my team members to pick up the phone to talk to me or someone else on the team if they have an idea they want to bounce off someone — don't save it for the daily stand-up. Ideas are like good virus and we should never keep them to ourselves," barb_hansen wrote.
Yvonne Munyan, who has over 25 years of experience working remotely, took a similar approach on the international team she worked on: "Throughout the day, our team would IM each other and hop on a video chat whenever needed. Those consistent conversations allowed the team to remain close although we were countries apart."
3. Do daily check-ins with your typical work crew.
We've talked about building relationships in group chats and quick phone calls to collaborate, but reaching out to colleagues one-on-one just to hear about them is what can really give you that "we're back in the office!" feeling — or even make your relationship better than before. One FGB'er suggested grouping together everyone you'd normally see on a daily basis in the office and making a point to communicate with them every day.
"Identify those people you would talk to everyday if you were in the office for "'face-time'f and find a way to communicate with them every day — about a project, a questions, an idea, a check in. Keep up the contact," mathisfun, a trainer and advocate who's been working remotely for five years, advised.
4. Prioritize video.
While a phone call probably feels more real than an email, a video call is the closest thing we've got right now to a real, face-to-face conversation. Seeing each other is strangely important context for understanding other people, our conversations and where our relationships are. Just a facial expression or a frantic hand wave (I'm guilty of this one) can communicate a lot and increase feelings of transparency and trust. I think that's why many FGB'ers advocated for using video as often as possible in your conversations with colleagues.
"When meetings are scheduled, utilize your camera," Alexa Cordell, who's been working remotely for several years, said. "Body language, social queues, facial expressions are so important to how we respond to each other."
5. Be yourself.
When you're remote, it's easy to fall into hyper-professional communication habits. It's easy to pick up the phone and get right down to business, forgo typing out an update when a colleague asks via email "how are you?" or ignore calls for silly photos on Slack. But by being away from the office, we're missing out on time to chat on the way to the conference room, shout someone's name across the hall or host an impromptu coffee date — the really human moments of the workday that allow us to tell our colleagues who we are. That means we should be overcompensating with how "ourselves" we're being while working remotely.
"Be yourself," Anne Barnwell advised. "Don't be afraid to let a little bit of your personality come through."
Ask your colleagues questions about themselves, share what you're interested in right now, talk about your problems and what you're grateful for. Especially during this time, we could all use a little more human.