Enjoying the Company of Virtual Coworkers
You have just been sent home to telework. Armed with your office issued laptop and all of your paperwork, you figure this is going to be a piece of cake. After all, what's the difference between sitting at a desk at your office or a desk at home?
And one of the primary differences has nothing to do with your work product.
After a few hours on your first day working from home, you hit the time you usually grab a few colleagues for a coffee run. Unable to enjoy their company today, you toss another Keurig in the machine and press on. Now comes lunchtime — where again, you are used to eating lunch while socializing with your peers.
Today, you are seated at a table for one. As the afternoon progresses, you begin to miss the bustle of your office environment, not because of the impact on concentration, but on social connectivity. This exercise assumes that you have a job that permits teleworking, which unfortunately, not everyone does.
But if you do, thankfully, there are ways to ease this transition.
You Can Fight Lonliness
If you have ever felt lonely, you are in good company. Research indicates that people living in North America are lonelier than ever. According to research cited within a separate study by Ashley V. Whillans and Elizabeth W. Dunn (2019), an estimated 40% of Americans experience feelings of loneliness, a statistic that has doubled in the last 30 years.
This is true even though we are as electronically connected as ever before.
Perhaps the issue is the quality of our connections, whether virtual or live. Consequently, employees who are sent to work at home are faced with the challenge of maximizing the social value of work, without compromising productivity.
People who are just dipping their toe into the world of remote working can learn from those for whom such conditions are the norm. Many writers, for example, prefer a distraction-free work environment conducive to sustained concentration.
But in the internet age, this no longer means solitary confinement.
Accordingly, long gone are the days where loneliness and depression hung like a cloud over home-based professionals, no doubt sometimes contributing to the infamous writer’s block, and a general inability to concentrate.
Virtual platforms can provide ways to work alone but connected, which is great news for employees for whom the social value of the workplace is one of the biggest benefits of the job.
Working 'Alone Together' Has Benefits
As Olivia Judson recently wrote inThe New York Times, in "Working at Home? Self-Isolation Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely," working together virtually is a great way to decrease feelings of isolation and boost productivity.
Describing loneliness as her "personal demon," she identifies something many people might begin to experience for themselves when they are suddenly deprived of the social value of their usual office environment. Even those who might never have described themselves as prone to loneliness might find themselves re-evaluating this vulnerability once they begin teleworking.
As with so many other things in life, sometimes we fail to recognize how important social interaction is until it is gone. This might be particularly true for people who live alone.
Thankfully, due to the wonders of modern technology, working at home does not have to mean working in isolation. Judson describes being a part of a "virtual co-working group," geared to arranging a time to work together. Logging onto a shared platform of choice, Skype, Zoom, or whatever each participant finds easiest to use, everyone mutes their lines and works together.
They cannot hear each other, but they can see each other. She notes that although she has never met her virtual work mates, she looks forward to "seeing" them.Judson’s example is different from the type of virtual meetings many people already participate in as part of their jobs, because not everyone’s job description involves working in a group. For employees who do not work in community, teleworking with virtual strangers (pun intended) can foster a sense of closeness and community, even when everyone is working on something different.
Working Alone Without Being Lonely
The bottom line appears to be that even if you have never worked remotely before, there are ways to maintain productivity without being lonely. Whether or not teleworking becomes the new normal, there are steps employees can take to ensure that social distancing does not become social deprivation.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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