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Dear Anna,

I’m working from home due to COVID-19 and I’m finding it much lonelier than I expected. Do you have any tips for getting through the day?

Working from home takes practice. Everyone’s home working environment is different. You might live in a quiet suburb, or beside neighbours who are renovating. Your apartment might be near the lifts, or you hear every happy scream from children in the playground. You may be one of the many sole practitioners who regularly works alone. Some will enjoy the solitude while others will be lonely. Recent research by Ozcelik and Barsade in their 2018 Academy of Management article “No Employee an Island” suggests that loneliness is both an individual and social phenomenon and it does impact job performance. Here are a few different things to try. When it comes to loneliness, a combination of strategies works best to build friendships and expand social networks. 

Schedule meetings and conference calls in the morning to kick-start your day with social interaction. Join the call slightly early or on time and use the time where everyone is joining for social topics with colleagues. Switch from email to phone when you can, and try to include the usual social connection questions – what did you do on the weekend? Do you have plans for the holidays? Did you read that article in LSJ?  Let your colleagues, manager or friends know you are experiencing loneliness. They might be holding back from discussing social topics thinking you aren’t interested or think you are happily enjoying the solitude. Reach out to the people you would normally chat with in the office to see how their day is going. You’re likely to have the greatest success if you can see they are online too. 

Plan a structure for your day to give you focus. Make your to-do list your friend and enjoy the satisfaction of ticking things off at the end of the day. Find a radio station to listen to, or put the news on low in the background. Enjoy a podcast or audio book, especially if they add to your concentration. Use lunchtime as a break. Go for a walk, take a class, or just do some jobs around the house that give you some exercise and take you away from the room you’re working in. All the better if the walk is with a friend, the class has friendly people, or you have a chat with the neighbours while taking out the rubbish. 

Finally, connect with your community. Working from home gives you the opportunity to replace your commute time with a conversation with a parent at school, or a more friendly good morning to a neighbour. You might also discover they are working from home and schedule a coffee in the local park. 

Working from home is about establishing different social connections. Your friends might be pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation or find you are more available on the days you work from home. It’s still a day for work, but it doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Find the right amount of social connection for you.