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Social isolation and working

May 20, 2020

So, you’ve listened to the government announcement on work and you realise that you aren’t going to be able to go into your workplace for some time. Your isolation is going to continue with uncertainty over when you will be able meet your work colleagues again in the flesh and whether you will have a job in the future.

It might feel like it was a long time ago, but before the pandemic, working from home was seen as a positive way to take some control over your life as people felt it gave them a better work life balance, greater flexibility and reduced their stress levels.

Now, maybe it’s the time to reappraise whether working from home is going to work for the numbers of employees for whom home working isn’t a choice anymore. Studies are beginning to show that isolation is becoming more widespread for home workers. Maybe this is going to accelerate during the pandemic. Recently the head of a UK bank, suggested that having large numbers of staff working from their kitchen was a good thing, but how many of his kitchen workers are now longing to get back to the cut and thrust of their office?

I’ve found that it’s easy for Isolation to creep up on you. I realised after a couple of weeks of the lockdown that I was hardly going out of the house and I had begun to feel that I was beginning to lose what I considered to be proper contact with my staff and with colleagues from other organisations. Virtual meetings are ok, but you are still isolating, with the hard stop of each meeting where as before you could and would linger to have a chat with someone you haven’t seen for a while.

Research tell us the problem is that social isolation is difficult to talk about. There’s some shame attached to it, as nobody wants to be perceived as a loner or a shut-in. This prompts people to try to pretend that everything is fine A few people I’ve talked to about the reality of working from home is that they feel that professional advancement is slowing down, that they are more out of sight and mind than before and it might be difficult to get involved in new opportunities.

A recent blog post highlighted a lot of the issues that are missing with working remotely. “The main way most of us are connected to our local, geographical communities is through work.” “When you remove that – when you’re not commuting, you don’t bump shoulders, you don’t meet the guy who happens to have a cousin on your block and now you’re friends – you have to work harder to feel connected.” (1)

So, what can you do?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, taking control is one way of being able to manage working remotely. This can be difficult as it’s easy to get sucked into looking at the news and social media as a way of distracting yourself from your remoteness.  I find that the way news or stories are presented as facts, turning probability into certainty is disturbing. Cutting down on looking and consuming news and media is one of the ways I’ve chosen to manage this and I’ve found it wasn’t difficult to do.  Other things I’ve found to be useful include:

  • Keeping in touch with family and friends on a regular basis via Skype, Facetime and Zoom.
  • Keeping in touch with someone you know who is without family or friends, contacting them and asking them to contact you if they want to.
  • I write a ‘to do’ list that I need to do the next day as I find it helps me keep my focus.
  • I exercise every other day. I find running for at least 30 minutes energises me for the day ahead, but any exercise is fine. There are lots of online fitness sessions to choose from.
  • A friend who has 2 young children has ‘on’ and ‘off’ duty days with her partner. On her off duty days she gives herself a treat which is to listen to audio books. She says it diverts her mind from the pandemic.
  • A lot of friends have started to cook more and made lots dishes that they hadn’t thought of before.

The pandemic has meant that the world of work has changed and the chances are it won’t go back to what it was like in March 2020. This may mean that working from home is an option or an employer’s preferred way of working for some. This will mean people will have to develop strategies for maintaining their resilience is a slightly more remote working environment.

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/mar/25/extreme-loneliness-or-the-perfect-balance-how-to-work-from-home-and-stay-healthy

 

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