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Remote Loneliness is Killing your Happiness (& Productivity)

Work

Lawrence Haywood 21 Sep 2022 4 min read

If you work in a modern company, you may be used to a culture of tracking and measuring everything. Email open rates, feature adoption rates, the amount of times Paul goes to the bathroom in one hour, etc.

Still, there’s probably one metric that you’re not tracking: your own happiness.

Your happiness is the only metric that matters when it comes to your success in life. Sacrificing it for a job that offers the twin perks of home comfortability and convenience is never the best move.

That raises a question: can you really track your own happiness when it comes to remote working? Well, maybe you can’t, but the Mappiness project can…

Mapping your Happiness at Work

In 2011, the Mappiness project began collecting data on what makes us happy. From a 4 million-strong data set, it found that sex, gardening and museums are the things that make us the most happy.

The worst? Work.

Turns out we spend an enormous part of our lives doing the one thing that makes us the most miserable.

But, there’s a caveat to that. If you work with friends, you’ll be considerably happier.

For many of us, our in-office friends are the ones that keep us sane and, on the odd occasion, actually excited for work.

Yet for the increasing scores of people working remotely, work friendships are harder to come by. You’ve probably found, just as I have, that it’s just so much harder to connect with others through a screen.

Making friends through a screen is never easy. Image courtesy of Atlassian.

We’re lonely. If the COVID pandemic paved the way for the work online culture, it also paved the way for what might possibly become the next pandemic: loneliness (seriously, it’s already an epidemic).

You probably don’t need the experts to tell you how loneliness can lead to a lack of motivation and productivity at work, but they’ve done it anyway. According to the American Psychiatric Association, loneliness can ‘limit individual and team performance, reduce creativity and impair reasoning and decision making‘.

Much, much worse than that is the obvious one: loneliness makes you more miserable than anything.

If you’re a remote worker, and if you haven’t already, you’re in danger of succumbing to a loneliness epidemic that will cripple your happiness and productivity.

So, Back to the Office?

Woah, steady on there.

Now we know loneliness is catastrophic (it’s about as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day), but ask yourself this one question:

Did you ever feel lonely in the office?

Loneliness is not merely being in the presence of others; it’s about interacting with them. It’s about having conversations, playing games, having meetings or pranking Paul on his 12th visit to the bathroom.

If you never regularly engaged in at least one of these activities in the office, chances are you’re one of the 72% of global workers who report feeling lonely on a monthly basis, both outside and within the office.

Oftentimes in the office we find the conversation completely passing us by. We sit at our desks and listen to coworkers’ laughter swirl around us, but never muster up the confidence to join in.

It can end up weighing on us the whole day and draining us of any motivation to work or seek interaction elsewhere.

So before you start clamouring to get back to your workplace, think about whether or not you were truly socially fulfilled there. If so, you can clock in tomorrow, but if not, you might be better at home.

At least at home it’s silent, right?

Will we be Lonely in the Future?

Loneliness was declared an epidemic in America a few years before COVID even began isolating us from others. But after living through a pandemic, are we more or less prepared for a remote future than before?

While the future of work is most assuredly remote, loneliness will get worse before it gets better.

With more and more of us going remote, work practices and technology will have a long way to go to recreate the true atmosphere of a real office (if you’re thinking holograms and virtual reality, you might be onto something).

Facebook’s vision for virtual reality workspaces. Image courtesy of Designboom.

Sure, these technologies may help quell the feeling of loneliness when working remotely, but they’re currently still confined to the realms of sci-fi. For now, a growing number of us will have to battle loneliness as its existence as the number 1 drawback to working from home.

Along with that, it may not help that the youngsters entering the workforce today are inherently more lonely than their older colleagues. One study found that 33% of people under 25 feel lonely, while the same could be said of only 11% of people over 65, the group we typically assume are the loneliest.

The loneliest generation are starting remote jobs at companies that do little to combat loneliness, and are more than twice as likely to quit because of it.

Don’t be surprised to see that epidemic upgrade to a pandemic in the near future.

It’s not all Doom and Gloom…

Realising the problem is always the first step.

While companies are still getting to grips with loneliness in the remote work space, there are things you can do to fight back.

Most of it starts with simply talking. Striking up conversations yourself, rather than waiting for them to come to you, is the best way to feel included when faced with the barrier of a screen.

Being active in making plans with the ones you love will also really help to banish some of the negativity that hangs around after a lonely working day.

You can also encourage your boss and HR department to focus a little more on team building, check-ins, surveys and simply remembering that there are members of staff that are working by themselves all day, every day.

Maybe you could map your own happiness, before and after these changes are made. It still may not be as good as sex, gardening or museums, but I’m sure you’ll feel a whole lot better.

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