The Downside of Working from Home: Loneliness

Everyone loves working from home! No commute. You can get the laundry done and protect your packages from porch pirates. And, you don’t have to deal with annoying coworkers who listen to loud music, constantly snack on crunchy foods, or have less than perfect hygiene habits.

But, you know what you don’t have when you work from home? A lot of face-to-face interaction with live humans.

Zoom meetings are different. Slack conversations are different than sitting at lunch with someone. While people who worked together for years and then switched to work-at-home two years ago can more easily maintain those relationships, it can be difficult for new hires to make friends and fit in.

While managers and HR should be wary of making friends with their employees, it’s okay to make friends with peers.

If you’re feeling lonely, here are some things you can try to make new friends.

To keep reading, click here: The Downside of Working from Home: Loneliness

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13 thoughts on “The Downside of Working from Home: Loneliness

  1. Unfortunately, in the US, it’s still not safe to be interacting, in person, with people outside your own household. There are simply too many people who are not yet fully vaccinated and boosted. Since COVID, I’ve been allowed to work out of an alternative workplace, at other Agency location, much closer to my home, where I am ensconced in an interior office deep in the bowels of a huge building, and can — often — go a whole day without seeing another human being. When I do see someone, it’s usually a brief encounter, “in passing.” That’s good, since my “normal” workplace is issuing almost daily notifications that yet another employee has tested positive for COVID. Even though some of those notices say that the affected employee has not, physically, been in the workplace recently, they’re still a cause for concern. That facility consists of spacious — and socially distanced — executive offices, in a modern, clean, well-maintained and seemingly well-ventilated building, with soaring high ceilings in the office, atrium and stairwell areas. If employees there are catching COVID at work, it’s most likely in the shared spaces: elevators, restrooms, breakrooms and mail rooms, all of which are kept scrupulously clean. Custodial staff are always present and are, constantly, cleaning and re-cleaning surfaces. Disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, masks, rubber gloves, touchless fixtures, etc. abound. If people are getting sick there, it’s hard to imagine any workplace that is “safe.”

    1. OMG this is crazy. I had covid last Feb. I have had a T Detect test done and have more immunity than triple vaxxxxxxed and boosted people. But you would probably have me put in a facility to keep me away. Everyone I know vaxxed has recently had Omicron. I am being so careful that I have not had even a COLD since I had covid.

      Stop saying that the unvaxxed are the problem when the vaxxed are getting and spreading it – often with little or no symptoms. I have heard people at work say they have a cold and are not testing because they are vaxxxxxed and cannot get it or pass it on. THEY are the problem.

      1. No one is trying to “put [you] in a facility to keep [you] away.” Paranoid much? However, the fact is that the unvaccinated are much more likely to contract COVID-19, much more likely to remain infectious for a longer period of time, much more likely to get seriously ill, require hospitalization and ventilation and much more likely to die. If someone is resisting the common-sense public health measure of vaccination, they may also be ignoring other such measures, such as masking, social distancing, hand-washing, testing, quarantining, etc. All of these factors make the unvaccinated much more likely to spread COVID-19, and — as long as it continues to rapidly spread — the more variants will arise, prolonging the pandemic and increasing the number of illnesses and deaths, many of them preventable.

  2. It’s one downside, certainly. It’s hardly the only one, though.

    It’s a fact of human nature that we prefer to work with people we know. While it’s possible to build relationships remotely, it’s much more difficult, and basically renders chance meetings impossible–you can’t go to the coffee pot/water cooler, much less randomly bump into someone who needs a skillset you have and therefore opens up new opportunities for you. This is fine if you’re in a clear career path, know the key players you need to deal with, and are comfortable putting in extra effort when it comes to building relationships. For new hires, junior staff, and lower-level employees looking to move up the ladder, it’s going to be a nightmare. Unfortunately we won’t see these effects for a few years yet.

    Another downside is overhead costs. Unless your company is providing a stipend for WFH, workers are expected to subsidize certain costs that were always considered part of doing business–power, water, sewage, coffee, printer ink, internet connection, and the like. Back when WFH was a perk that was fine; it was a price you were willing to pay in exchange for the benefits you got. But if we’re going to make this a normal way of working it’s something we need to seriously consider. And remember, this will impact lower-income people disproportionately, as they often don’t have spare rooms they can convert into offices or spare income they can spend on these bills (whether decreased commute costs make up for it or not in the long run is an open question).

    All of this is ignoring the strain it puts on the company. People often hold the last two years up as proof that we could have abandoned offices a long time ago. Folks in IT, on the other hand, hold the last two years up as proof of just how much they are capable of. We pivoted without adequate preparation, and only truly Herculean efforts on the part of numerous staff that have currently gone unrecognized has allowed us to keep society running as well as it has been. In other words: These last few years are a testament to our ability to handle adversity, NOT to our ability to work remotely.

    There are in fact a lot of downsides to working from home full-time. There are a lot of benefits too. But right now we’re just starting to come out of the Honeymoon Phase, where all we could see was the perks. We haven’t taken a hard, honest look at the situation. And like teenagers in the throws of infatuation, far too many people are unwilling to even listen to any potential problems that this new situation could bring about. Until companies AND employees do that, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. It’s basic management: We need to do a realistic risk assessment of this new process.

    1. Thanks for acknowledging IT workers; I’m one myself. It reminds me of the millennium, when so many computer-related bad things were predicted. When almost none of that materialized, many people said, see, we made too much of that, it was no big deal. What they didn’t see were the tens of thousands of hours that IT professionals worked to make sure the bad stuff didn’t happen. I know in my shop we started working on the issues two years before the cutover. So yup, thanks to all the IT staff that keeps us able to WFH!

  3. Great comments by both of the previous people, who emphasized the fact that WFH has hidden problems that all affect the labor cost of staffing, The main question should be how can an adequate program be developed that takes care of the issues and continues the perks of WFH? Of course, this situation of WFH only works with jobs that don’t need a physical presence at a specific location to do the job. For me, I would like to see more information on how to help adapt safer workplaces for those jobs that can not be done WFH, which are the majority of jobs.

    1. “The main question should be how can an adequate program be developed that takes care of the issues and continues the perks of WFH?”

      That question presupposes that WFH is the ideal. I disagree entirely. The ideal, it seems to me, is to accept that WFH and butts-in-seats are two ends of a spectrum, and that, as with so many things in the human condition, people and organizations fall somewhere along that spectrum. Organizations should be striving to create a culture that accepts a broad range on that spectrum (the culture of the organization itself must be considered, obviously, so few will be able to embrace the full range). I, for example, am FAR happier with an office away from my home–I compartmentalize pretty strongly, and I enjoy having physical separation between various aspects of my life. The company I work for, on the other hand, is perfectly happy to let people in certain roles work from home; saves on overhead.

      As for making workplaces safer, the best thing we can do is for each company to require vaccinations. It’s basic occupational health. There are three ways to mitigate a risk: engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE. Masks are PPE, the least effective mitigation measure (masks without training don’t count as PPE). Social distancing is an administrative control, akin to telling a worker in a loud environment they can only work there for one hour, then need a half-hour break. They’re still exposed to the hazard, we’re just trying to minimize the damage. Engineering controls are things like building a sound-proof room for the person to work in–it eliminates the hazard. Vaccination and herd immunity are on that level. (I am leaving aside “do something that doesn’t have that hazard” since that is not an option in a pandemic.) We have established, at least in the USA, that OSHA doesn’t have the authority to mandate vaccinations; however, we’ve also established that companies are allowed to be more strict in their safety protocols than the law requires. At this point, it’s a matter of personal responsibility, not government mandate.

      1. I agree with just about everything you said. I do believe that companies should mandate vaccinations. Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions, they have to defy mandates from political so-called leaders banning vaccine and masking mandates.

      2. One big advantage to WFH is that it requires butt-in-seat managers, who measure productivity by whether people look busy, to learn better management skills. I’d want continued WFH if it made the difference between being treated like an adult professional rather than a kid in study hall. But those skills could be brought back to the office if managers and their employers are willing to make a point of it.

      3. You can’t vaccinate against a coronavirus because it has animal reservoirs. Unless you simultaneously vaccinate all the animals in the world. Good luck.

        1. ? Of course you can vaccinate against a coronavirus. If enough people got vaccinated, we could achieve herd immunity, which would — radically — slow down the spread of the virus, and it variants, to both humans and animals.

          1. You literally have no idea what you are talking about. At all. Please Google and understand what “animal reservoir” even means before commenting again.

  4. It’s great to find a friend at work, but it’s rare. Most of the people there I classified as people I had to tolerate for the sake of my career. So, I never felt lonely working at home and enjoyed being able to live my life without having to constantly “tolerate” which is exhausting. The mass quitting exodus of office workers confirmed what we always knew—office culture is a toxic environment and I am Happy to see it die.

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