You settle in at your desk, the smell of fresh coffee a delightful foreshadow to what you suspect will be a productive day. You don’t have any video calls today, so you had briefly entertained the idea of working in pyjamas before deciding it was better to be dressed just-in-case. After all, Amazon is delivering a much-anticipated package today, UberEats is bringing your lunch, and the dog might need to go out again. And what would the neighbours think if you were still in your pyjamas at 11:30 am?
Working remotely has a plethora of benefits including comfort, flexibility (including flexibility in childcare arrangements), reduced commuting time and being able to live in a location of your choosing. For some people those benefits might include less day-to-day workplace politics and interpersonal conflict.
And yet, a question I have often been asked is: how can we feel more connected when we work remotely? Because although working at home has benefits, it can significantly reduce the number of people you interact with on a regular basis and can contribute to feelings of loneliness and to social isolation. This can especially be felt if the reason your job is remote is because you moved to a new location, where you now have no traditional workplace to attend and possibly few people outside of work to spend time with in your new area.
So here it is! To you on your computer screen from me on mine: these are 6 solutions that have helped people feel less alone and more connected as remote workers.
And remember, you don’t have to pick just one! Many people who work remotely make use of, for example, a coworking space plus time at home to get the job done. There’s not a lot of research on these topics, so for now it’s on us to find options that work. I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments below!
1. Coworking Spaces
When I explore new places on foot, I often stumble across beautiful shared workspaces. One unique aspect of a coworking space compared to a traditional workplace is that the people around you are working, but they aren’t your colleagues or supervisors. They aren’t working on the same projects, trying to meet the same deadlines, or checking up on you. And yet, they are working on some projects, trying to meet some deadlines and may have similar, competing, or complementary interests to you.
Essentially, coworking spaces have the potential to provide social support but this social support may look a little different than that of a traditional workplace. For example, despite not sharing interests in the same company, coworkers may have a sense of unity in shared values like collaboration, community, and sustainability. [as described in 1]
In addition, we know from older research that even the mere presence of other people can help us get stuff done. We’re still learning more about how social factors and social support take shape in coworking spaces, but I’m certainly not the first person to wonder about it either.
One of the first quantitative studies into coworking spaces and social connection investigated two questions:
Does social support occur in coworking spaces?
What does social support look like in coworking spaces and how does this differ from traditional workplaces?
As it turns out, coworking spaces allow you to be surrounded by other people, but also to be supported by other people. Examples of social support in these workspaces include conversations over morning coffee, exchange of information, brainstorming, coaching, collaborations and feedback on projects over lunch. Occasionally, these non-colleague coworkers can become people who you enjoy doing things with outside of working hours as well. 
As for the second question, coworkers in a coworking space and colleagues in a traditional workplace both benefit from social support in that it improves their self-rated satisfaction with their performance. However, in the coworkers, a time crunch stimulated efforts to obtain social support. This was not seen in employees in a traditional workplace. 
This is an interesting realization because as the authors of this paper point out, when you’re working remotely you don’t necessarily have someone sitting at a nearby desk to check in with when you have questions, and you may have to be more active in getting the support you need, since it is not readily provided.  Coworkers can potentially fill this important void in support.
Additional benefits from using a coworking space rather than working at home include: 
Increased job satisfaction
Taking breaks more regularly
More ergonomic workspace
Better separation of work and personal life
More social interaction
Greater productivity and concentration
If you’re feeling unsure about trying out a coworking space in an “I can’t go to the gym because I’ve never done it before and other people might see me using the exercise equipment wrong” kind of way, consider this: 45% of coworkers previously worked from a home office. Plus many of them still do some of their work at home as well as at the coworking space.  So if you’re about to try this type of transition too, you won’t be alone!
2. Coffee Shops
Coffee shops may be a little distracting for some types of work, but can provide a nice change of scenery if you’re needing a break from the house. Having spent an incredible amount of time at coffee shops it becomes obvious that people like to hang out there to work or study. You’ve most likely noticed this yourself.
This may also provide a good space for working while travelling or not otherwise near a coworking space. As long as you have some good headphones to block out noise and you’re not working on anything requiring the utmost secrecy (patient information, patents, etc) this could be an option. Besides, it’s a coffee shop which can be an advantage all of its own!
This type of setting may not provide the same kind of social support or interaction as a coworking space, but does give you the opportunity to be around other people, to feel like you are participating in the hustle and bustle of life and to potentially meet new people if you’re so inclined.
3. Working Outside
Working from home means you’re likely spending the majority of your day focusing intently on a computer screen. This is our cue to bring in concerns about the effect of this on your eyesight…but wait! What if you move your desk outside?
Ok this specific intervention of dragging a desk outside isn’t in the research either BUT spending time outside does provide a protective factor against nearsightedness.  Even if you bring your computer out with you, chances are you will look up from your computer once in a while. When you do, instead of staring at a wall two feet in front of you, you have the option of staring into the distance and giving your eyes a much better workout.
To keep yourself from being glued to the screen you can also set a timer for breaks. Ideally, incorporate some movement into these breaks. This is, obviously, not the same as spending large amounts of time outdoors on far-vision activities, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Setting up an outdoor workspace will depend on where you live, what season it is, and what type of living accommodations you have. We could very easily get off topic here by discussing all the side benefits of working outside – fresh air, sunshine, vitamin D, nature – all depending on your set up.
But back to our main topic - how does this keep you connected to other people? Well for one it makes you much more aware of your neighbourhood, especially if you live in a condo. Plus, it makes conversations with your neighbours a more regular occurrence, and positive social interactions with your neighbours are associated with wellbeing.
What’s my favourite response to my outdoor workstation? A neighbour flies into the complex, slows to a stop, rolls down the window and shouts at me, “I love your office!”. Thank you, neighbour. I do too!
4. Lunch at the Park
Maybe outdoor workspaces aren’t right for you. Perhaps you live in an apartment and don’t have a balcony or it’s simply too distracting. Taking a lunch break away from your house is another option.
Where I live there’s a park pretty close by. Within walking distance actually. Whether you eat your lunch first and then spend the rest of your break at the park or whether you head straight to the park and find a bench to sit on while you eat you’re going to have the benefits associated with incorporating a little bit of sunshine, nature, and movement into your day.
You’ll also meet other people. If you have a dog good luck getting out of the park without meeting someone. This may only result in a simple “hi” as you walk past someone but over time, you may find the same people tend to show up around the same time during the day. There are definitely a few regulars at my park. Then again, “read” people and don’t bug them if they are giving you every clue in the book that they aren’t interested in talking.
If you know anyone in the area who either works at home or takes a lunch break at the same time as you, ask them if they’d be interested in meeting you there for lunches. Even if it’s once a week, it’s still a break from the house and a chance to catch up with your friend.
If there’s no park close by or it’s not an area you feel safe in, the food court at the mall, a coffee shop or other more populated location may be better for you. Last time I was at a food court by myself I had the most delightful conversation with a complete stranger and it absolutely made my day.
Little interactions like “wow that food looks great where did you get it?” when you’re genuinely interested, a comment on something in a shop that both you and another customer are eyeing up or a “thank you” when someone holds the door can add up. They don’t just make you feel good, they can make other people feel good too.
5. Greater Use of Video Calls
If we can’t be with other people in-person, videos are probably the next best. There are a couple ways to incorporate more video calls. But first, let’s talk about why you’d want to do this in the first place.
When we communicate with each other, we use a wide variety of cues to get our message across. Our verbal messages have layers of tone, volume, inflection etc that can be delivered in-person, through a phone call or through a video. However, with a video (as opposed to a simple phone call), we can also receive and convey facial cues such as facial expressions and eye contact as well as body movement and situational cues. These are important pieces of both getting our message across and understanding the messages of others.
With this in mind, using platforms like Zoom to more fully participate in company meetings could help you feel more included in the team, and help you to better grasp messages being shared as well as chime in with your own.
If this is not an option in your company, another way to incorporate video calls is to FaceTime a friend who also works from home. This may sound odd, but it can be fun if you find a good workmate to do this with. Living away from my own country and family has led me to get creative with staying in touch. My sister and I will FaceTime each other and then silently work together while still on camera. Once in a while we’ll chat or share something funny but mostly we do our work and it’s rather pleasant to have each other’s company.
6. Volunteer Activities
Across a wide variety of volunteer contexts and locations I have heard over and over again that my fellow volunteers were motivated to participate because they were lonely, needed to get out of the house, wanted to meet new people, or wanted to contribute to their community.
And they love what they are doing! And they do meet new people. And these wonderful people are making a difference in so many areas.
Part of the mental health benefits associated with volunteering are thought to stem from the social connectedness rather than directly from the actual volunteering.  Does this mean volunteering is useless for mental health? No!! It simply underlines the importance of social connection, and volunteering is one way to make new connections.
This being said, if you are happy with your level of social connection in your life already, have meaningful work (I include raising a family in this phrase), and aren’t able to add more to an already full schedule, volunteering isn’t an absolute in order to live a fulfilling life or contribute to the world around you. Please remember that the work that you do every day and the person that you are every day are also meaningful contributions to the world around you, whether you’re paid for them or not.
If you’re looking to expand your networks, however, volunteering can be a fun way to get out there, meet people and feel really good about doing it. And not all volunteer positions require a regular commitment. Some can be scheduled as it suits you while others are one-time events.
7. Profession-Specific Support Groups
I realize I said six solutions but the fact of the matter is that many of these are based on options that are geared more towards information workers, knowledge workers and basically the people that work primarily in front of a computer screen. Many other types of remote or work from home jobs exist – for example moms, farmers, and construction workers on remote sites.
If you’re part of any of these professions, I haven’t forgotten you! There is not a lot of research on improving social connection and decreasing loneliness for all professions, and because I have not done these jobs and will not pretend to know more than you, I encourage you to seek out peers who understand the unique challenges in your specific role.
Help me to help you!
Here are three questions to consider:
How have you used these six options in your work?
What peer supports are available in your profession?
And what other ways of staying connected have you found helpful?
Share below and let’s find solutions together!
Gerdenitsch, C., Scheel, T. E., Andorfer, J. & Korunka, C. Coworking Spaces: A Source of Social Support for Independent Professionals. Front. Psychol. 7, 581 (2016).
Robelski, S., Keller, H., Harth, V. & Mache, S. Coworking Spaces: The Better Home Office? A Psychosocial and Health-Related Perspective on an Emerging Work Environment. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 16, (2019).
Xiong, S. et al. Time spent in outdoor activities in relation to myopia prevention and control: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Acta Ophthalmol. 95, 551–566 (2017).
Creaven, A.-M., Healy, A. & Howard, S. Social connectedness and depression. J. Soc. Pers. Relat. 026540751771678 (2017). doi:10.1177/0265407517716786