Tackling Loneliness in the Remote World of Work

Working remotely can be a lonely business at times. As opposed to its contented siblings, solitary and independent, this word gives off all kinds of negative connotations. But what used to be something of a taboo has now found its place in workplace conversation, especially as we’ve shifted to a ‘learn-to-live-with-it’ post-pandemic world. More and more, loneliness isn’t a problem for individuals to solve alone; it’s a shared responsibility for workplaces to embrace.

Of course, there are plenty of benefits when it comes to remote working – productivity, autonomy, flexibility, and so on – but it’s important to look at both sides of the coin. So I asked some fellow remote workers from the Salesforce ecosystem to share their own insights and experiences. How do they really feel about working in a remote environment, and what are their top tips for the community? Let’s talk about it…

What Does ‘Remote’ Mean to You?

Before we hear from the ecosystem, it may be useful to ask what remote working means to you personally. For some, it’s a natural habitat offering a calm and solitary workspace. For others (like me), it’s a relatively new environment to navigate; I have an up-and-down relationship with the word “remote”, which now holds a very different meaning than it did this time last year. 

After all, I didn’t just take a sidestep into the Salesforce ecosystem 16 months ago, I took an almighty hopscotch from the education sector (an actual school); I swapped playgrounds and sandboxes (with actual sand) for, well, Trailhead playgrounds and sandboxes! Having worked alongside dozens of colleagues with the constant, low-level buzz of children bustling around, shifting to a remote office (in my house!) was a complete gear change. It took a little while to adjust.

Shifting industries and physically moving environments are just some of the many factors that can increase feelings of isolation. Surely the most impactive thing we can do is “normalize the conversation” – Salesforce published a great article earlier this year with insights from experts, as well as practical advice for promoting wellbeing (and combating loneliness). 

From setting boundaries and reducing screen time, to prioritizing self care and exercise, the article promotes positive action that can be introduced in bitesize chunks. It’s clear that wellbeing can (and should) be supported by individuals – not only those experiencing feelings of loneliness, but also by the wider team.

“While companies can offer benefits related to mental health, individuals can also play a role. You don’t need to be an executive or even a people leader to help create a culture that makes people feel less alone.”

– Ari Bendersky,Combat Loneliness and Help Employees Feel More Together

So, whether we’re lonely as individuals or underprepared as organizations (or perhaps a little bit of both), it’s clear that we have a collective responsibility going forward.

What Do the Numbers Say?

Stats and surveys can be a little alarming, so it’s important to keep the context in mind. After all, remote working isn’t a new conversation; we have plenty of experience with it by now. However, as we have moved far enough away from the necessity of remote working (post-pandemic mode), we are now beginning to see the real ramifications of being quite literally screened off from our colleagues. 

The question of remote working featured heavily in Mason Frank’s annual Careers and Hiring Guide. It’s clear that the opportunity to work remotely is a priority for Salesforce professionals.

Of respondents, a whopping 83% of unemployed Salesforce professionals said that the option to work remotely was an important factor when seeking a new role. And of current professionals, almost half answered that they would prefer to work in a fully remote environment. This preference has gone beyond ‘nice-to-have’, with many companies now offering a hybrid option to retain/attract the best people.

Source: Mason Frank’s Careers and Hiring Guide 2022-23

Salesforce Careers and Hiring Guide – Key Findings

Meaningful Connections for Young Colleagues

Remote working is great for those who require flexibility, as well as those who value a solitary workspace. But how about our younger teammates? Those fresh out of school or college may not have any experience of a professional ‘office’ environment and all of the role models, routines, disciplines, and social interactions that come with it. 

Spontaneous conversations at the coffee machine that flourish into lifelong friendships, dedicated mentorship from more experienced colleagues, unexpected opportunities to learn because you were in the ‘right place at the right time’… These things are not so easy to replicate in the virtual world.

In the same way, large on-screen meetings, while beneficial for many reasons, risk isolating younger teammates. It’s worth asking if your onboarding goes far enough to help new starters (young and old alike) to feel fully integrated. Managers need to provide ongoing “mentorship and networking opportunities” to ensure continued engagement and wellbeing, especially for younger colleagues.

“To keep younger employees engaged, managers can commit to ongoing conversations about their future. It’s not just about having successful onboarding, but continued education and one-on-one meetings where managers discuss people’s near- and future employment goals.”

– Ari Bendersky, ‘Combat Loneliness and Help Employees Feel More Together

The impact on younger colleagues is an increasingly important part of the conversation – especially as “people under the age of 24 – typically referred to as ‘Generation Z’ – are now the loneliest generation, according to new research” by UK-based charity, Eden Project Communities.

Beat the Burnout

How about the subject of burnout? Is this amplified or alleviated in a remote environment? Sure, you don’t have to fight the traffic/crowds on the commute, but what about all of that extra screen time creeping into your day? And how about the absence of physical camaraderie when you need to let off some steam, and the inevitable question: Is it just me feeling this way? 

It’s clear that symptoms of burnout can lead to a sense of profound loneliness; colleagues may feel trapped, depleted, detached, and alone as they work through their day-to-day tasks, which can be magnified in a remote space.

Earlier this year, Safiyyah Gareeboo launched an insightful project on the subject of mental wellbeing, which emphasized the importance of ‘company culture’. Whether yours is an office-based, remote, or hybrid setup, a positive and supportive culture is integral to employee wellbeing – and one that I’m fortunate to experience each day.

“Burnout can be hard to recognize, often only addressed when it’s too late. It helps to be aware of the signs and talk to people you trust about how your work makes you feel. Try having a ‘virtual coffee break’ with a colleague or even a friend who also works remotely. When we’re burnt out it can feel like there’s no time to rest, but pausing is essential to recharge and reconnect with others.”

– Safiyyah Gareeboo, Salesforce Consultant

Mental Wellbeing Among Salesforce Professionals: The Findings

Productivity is also an increasingly important part of the conversation, especially in terms of Salesforce employees hired during the pandemic (and presumably into a remote environment).  

Marc Benioff has suggested the possible reasons behind this notable drop in productivity – asking “for a friend” if it might be the result of various factors, including the challenges of onboarding, and Salesforce’s current office policy and culture.

Either way, following years of widespread flexible working, many are beginning to see the real challenges of remote office environments. Certainly food for thought!

Marc Benioff tells Salesforce workers that new employees are ‘facing lower productivity’

Keep in Touch – There’s an App for That!

For Salesforce Ben, it’s called Slack. For you it might be called Microsoft Teams, or Discord, or Google Chat. 

Real-time chat platforms have become an essential communication tool for remote teams – a straightforward, speedy way to keep in touch with colleagues and your extended work community. From emojis and gifs to calls and huddles, Slack offers a fun and informal space that brings people together. 

For us at Salesforce Ben, Slack provides an effective platform for checking in with colleagues (both individually and as a wider team), as well as a touchpoint for ‘quick answers’ – helping to avoid any necessary and time consuming meetings. 

Check out these Slack hacks for promoting wellbeing and productivity. On the flip side, be mindful of ‘Slack fatigue’ – a symptom of alert overload that can add to the vicious cycle of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, isolated, and – you guessed it – lonely.

Drowning in Pings? These Tips Will Keep You Focused and Productive

Engage with Events

Some Salesforce events are virtual, which makes trips to the other side of the world far more convenient! Others are the in-real-life, hop-on-a-train kind of event, with doors you can actually walk through – a fairly ordinary activity, but also pretty exciting when you’ve been stuck inside all week! 

The impact of these events should not be underestimated, especially in terms of the happy hormones they can generate. Fresh air, spontaneous conversation with strangers, and hearing phrases like “I’m just popping to the bar”… In-person events put all of these opportunities back on the table. There’s just something about face-to-face connections that can’t be matched by virtual environments. 

It’s well worth adding some meetups to your calendar. Why not find a local Trailblazer Community Group to join?

Salesforce Events

The Importance of Self-Care

Luckily, the Salesforce ecosystem is a friendly and supportive place to be. So when I reached out for advice, I wasn’t surprised to receive some wonderfully practical tips from people in the same boat as me. A lot of these tips centered around looking after yourself and finding time for activities to boost wellbeing.

I caught up with Beth Clements, who heads up Operations (a little bit of everything!) at ProvenWorks, one of the longest-established UK-based ISV partners.

I’ve been working remotely for the past five years and I am pretty much fully remote apart from the occasional trip to the office for some collaborative team sessions.   

Naturally, I’ve had some highs and lows surrounding remote work, so here are my top tips (they can also be applied to hybrid working too!):

  • Don’t feel guilty for taking a coffee break. Breaks are so important and it really doesn’t matter if you appear to be ‘away’ from your computer on whatever you use internally for group chats. If you struggle to remember to take breaks, schedule them in your calendar.  
  • If you’re missing the conversations you would typically have whilst making a coffee in an office, go and stretch your legs and give a colleague a call under strict instructions to not talk about work for ten minutes. It can be super refreshing!   
  • Take your lunch break! Although it may be tempting to work through lunch, make sure you at least get outside for a walk or some fresh air. Shutting off from work temporarily can seriously help tackle the afternoon slump.  
  • Finally… and this is one that has impacted my productivity the most. Remember that instant messaging doesn’t have to be instant! You may feel the pressure to reply to internal messages straight away when you’re remote but it can actually mean that your day is thrown about all over the place. Take control of your day and your to-do list will thank you! 

I also asked Ankit Taneja, a freelance Salesforce Architect, to share his experience.

Working remotely can be very isolating, especially when you work as a freelancer like myself. It’s definitely hard to make new (work) friends just via video calls. Add to that the tag of being an “outsider”. 

The simplest way to tackle loneliness is to set up non-work related meetings with colleagues with whom you want to catch up. You would be surprised how appreciative your colleagues are for taking the initiative because they also feel the same as you.

Meditation, journaling and exercising are no-brainers. Remote work or not, one should try and do these activities everyday. Going out to get lunch and some fresh air is always a good idea. I have some friends who live in my neighborhood who also work remotely. We try to go to lunch together at least once a week.

Lastly, find a hobby that you can practice at home. I am learning to play drums and I have a practice-pad in my home office. If I find a 15-30 minute slot, I will just bang out a few drills. It works as a nice massage for the brain.

Next, I reached out to Tom Bassett, a Solution Architect at Trigg Digital.

As a Solution Architect who works from home four days out of five, it’s important to keep my physical and mental health in check. 

Here are my tips:

  • Engage with others regularly via video meetings (e.g. Zoom) instead of just messages. 
  • Communicate openly and constructively – this will lead to others doing the same and building trust.
  • Salesforce plush toys are great emotional support animals!
  • Harness the power of the Salesforce community via Trailblazer Community and Community Groups such as Salesforce Women in Tech and Salesforce Marketer Group.  
  • Just because you are physically alone doesn’t mean you have to be mentally!

Final Thoughts

Thanks to Beth, Ankit, and Tom for sharing their experiences of remote working, as well as their practical tips for managing their day-to-day wellbeing – I will certainly be incorporating some of their suggestions into my own routine this year. 

Loneliness is a big word, and I don’t mean to reduce its gravity in any way. But it’s also an important word to include in everyday conversation – all I can do is share my own experiences in terms of adjusting to a remote role. For me, combating feelings of loneliness is a shared responsibility – something I actively take part in alongside my teammates. I’m fortunate to be part of a supportive team that prioritizes wellbeing and collaboration.  

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience, or maybe you have some top tips to share. Either way, feel free to let us know in the comments. It’s good to talk!

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