Lockdown has taken its toll in a variety of ways. One of the supposed benefits was a shift towards remote working which, while a completely new experience for most of us, seemed like a dreamy eutopia of no makeup, no commutes, and (best of all) no more office politics.
While many companies have reaped the benefits of a remote workforce, opting to ditch the office beyond the confines of a government lockdown, the detrimental effects of virtual offices and no colleagues have begun to seep out. And I’m not just talking about the physical effects (although it’s safe to say that the workforce’s collective back is well and truly wrecked), but the lack of office politics has – believe it or not – proved to be a detriment to the mental wellbeing of many.
A survey by Total Jobs – a leading job site in the UK – found that almost half of participants working from home during lockdown have felt lonely, realizing that interactions at work make up a huge chunk of their social interactions. Of the 2000 participants, 70% felt that this loneliness had a negative impact on their wellbeing, including their sleeping and eating habits, living arrangements, stress levels, and their self-esteem.
Psychotherapist and Coach, Sarie Taylor notes the detrimental effects loneliness can have on our mental health. “Loneliness, like a lot of things, is enhanced by [our] state of mind…We often misinterpret loneliness to be when we are without people when it’s actually much more about connection or lack [thereof].
“In terms of mental health when we feel lonely it can often lead to thoughts about why we are and we can become self-critical and see ourselves as not enough and this is never beneficial for our mental health”.
Of those surveyed, it was clear that women were having a particularly difficult time dealing with lockdown loneliness. Half of the women reported experiencing social isolation and were more likely to have experienced a negative impact across all areas of their wellbeing, with 44% of women reporting a negative impact on their sleep compared to 39% of men.
To have a go at tackling this problem, we spoke to five women who have successfully navigated the loneliness that comes with working alone.
“I’m alone a lot, but I’m pretty practical. Being alone was a problem [and] my condition was deteriorating, so I needed to find a work-around,” says Lucille, who has worked alone for 14 years.
With an incurable chronic pain condition and five children to look after, remote working was her best option and Lucille has been successfully navigating and tackling the loneliness that can come with working from home even before lockdown through several online communities. “[They’re] my link to the outside world,” she tells PC Guide. “I’m never lonely”.
Over the years, Lucille has joined an online community for just about everything she’s interested in learning about; small business marketing groups, photography groups, and groups for creatives. “The very best online communities are those connected with online courses,” she says. “That way, you’re almost guaranteed to find yourself amongst like-minded people”.
In particular, Lucille finds that Instagram is the best social media platform to connect with others because “people on Instagram expect it and actively encourage conversation” and hashtags make it “very easy” to find others in your business niche or with the same interests as you.
Despite a few trolls, Lucille doesn’t have a bad word to say about her time spent on social media and believes it has made the world a lot smaller, “in a positive way”.
“My online connections are useful in a work-sense, but I also really enjoy having the ability to chat to people at any time, 24 hours a day if I want to,” she tells me. “I am absolutely never alone [and] I talk with people around the world on an almost daily basis”.
Emily had really started to feel the lockdown loneliness in April, after being stuck inside for just over a month in lockdown. After spending that time with only her partner, she began to notice what she missed about her everyday life. In order to “maintain a connection with the outside world,” she decided to start a virtual book club.
“[I’ve] been sharing the books I’ve been reading on Instagram for a couple of years now, and those posts all spark the most conversations.
Plus, I noticed that friends and family who were never interested in books before had decided to take up reading to pass the time.
It seemed like people were picking up a lot more books, and I definitely missed discussing what I was reading with friends and colleagues, so I decided to launch The Avid Readers Book Club on Instagram,” she tells me.
The group meets twice per month in a Facebook group to discuss one non-fiction and one fiction book selected by Emily. “I try to choose books that tell important stories, and that are written by underrepresented writers,” she says. “But, overall, I created the book club to be a fun and safe space where people can hang out (and they don’t even have to join a Zoom call)”.
Not only has it been helpful for Emily, but she has also seen first-hand just how great something like The Avid Readers Book Club could be for others, too – even strangers. “I’ve had messages from total strangers saying how much they’ve enjoyed being a part of our chats, and that it’s been one of the best things about isolation for them.
“We’ve all had very little to look forward to lately, so I think having a date in the diary when people know they have plans to socialize over a book has really helped some people through it”.
Emily is hoping to continue building The Avid Readers Book Club beyond lockdown with a blog where Emily shares “bookish” content like new release announcements and genre round-ups. All in all, Emily’s book club has shown her the true value of community, albeit online. She tells me, “It’s been really lovely to be able to create a community that’s provided a little dash of support for people who might have been feeling a bit lonely in lockdown”.
Emma is an expat living in London. She moved from New Zealand 13 years ago and has been finding ways to evade loneliness. One of those has been through her food and travel blog: Adventures of a London Kiwi. “One of the most elusive aspects of life as an expat has been making a decent network of excellent friends,” she tells PC Guide over an email. “Since starting Adventures of a London Kiwi…my once barren social diary has snowballed”.
She found a lot of new, like-minded friends through Twitter, where she connected with “some lovely fellow Kiwi ladies” who suggested they meet up for a coffee, and Emma took the plunge. “I’ve met some incredible people with similar interests, pushed myself out of my comfort zone by initiating a few of those coffee dates and even ended up travelling the world with some of these new friends”.
For anyone feeling particularly isolated thanks to remote working during lockdown, Emma suggests looking for people with shared interests and building up a rapport with them online before asking them on a coffee (or Zoom) date. And when you do meet up, “keep the conversation pretty bright and breezy”.
Lauren had been working two self-employed jobs from either at home or a local coffee shop for a while before lockdown, so she was already well-adjusted to her own company. Despite this, she always had something to look forward to pre-lockdown. “This summer, I would have been watching Wimbledon, The Olympics, football, and going to gigs as I love live music,” she tells me. “Taking away the purpose of my day and all the things I was looking forward to, that was definitely a hard and somewhat lonely place at times”.
After a while, Lauren found solace in some of the live events she’d seen cropping up over the first few months of lockdown and quickly found a welcomed routine. “I think I joined in with things online for similar reasons to the people setting them up in the first place – for fun, and the need to do something, but they quickly punctuated each part of the week and we all found it was something we needed, a connection with other people, a connection with the things we love, and some escapism and fun”.
Throughout the lockdown, Lauren has taken part in a weekly online quiz with her local community center, a weekly YouTube livestream with one of her favorite authors and watched a live-streamed gig by musicians Liv Austen and Jon Wright every Friday for three months, where she really found a sense of community (“we all got a little emotional when they did their last one”).
She found that these events – particularly a livestream Flash: A Tribute To Queen – were “just the dose of positivity I think people needed – sharing the love of things we’re all passionate about…and a reason to go and chat to the world online about it”.
At the beginning of lockdown, Lauren really appreciated the downtime and headspace lockdown allowed her. But, she says, “I think everyone reaches their limits and needs something else to connect to and fill the void”.
Angharad has found a way to combat the loneliness of home working in online networking events. “[It] can be really lonely,” she says. “Having a group of virtual colleagues to cheer you on and cheer you up at the times when you most need it, I think is a complete game changer”.
Angharad started The Flex Network – an online business network for freelancers, flexible workers, and ethical entrepreneurs – in 2018 as a way to combat the isolation that comes with flexible and solo working.
She notes that a lot of the time on social media, people tend to hail freelancing as the ideal work style, but it’s rare that they’ll share the struggles that come along with it, at least on a public level. The positive, she says, is the fact that there are loads of Facebook groups and online networking events where people can get together in a more private setting to make connections with people in the same boat as then. “You don’t have to face it alone anymore,” she says.
“I started The Flex Network because I was working for a company having just had a baby and I was finding it incredibly difficult to maintain that lifestyle, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it,” Angharad tells PC Guide. “I just thought, I can’t be the only person facing this…So I wanted to find people, essentially.
“Then I went to a networking event and I came away full of energy…and…super energized, and I just realized that’s what I want to do – I want to bring people together, I want to make them feel positive and combat this isolation that we’re all feeling”.
The Flex Network has definitely seen a rise in interest from members over the course of the pandemic, showing just how important it is to find a network of like-minded people in the same situation as yourself, especially now. Angharad’s biggest piece for meeting new people online of advice is to “give more than you get,” because, “if you’re thinking about what you can offer and helping people and putting out positive energy, then I feel it always comes back because people…want to help you in return [and] you always find the nicest people that way”.
But, crucially, she advises that anyone feeling lonely should talk to somebody about it – anybody – because it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like you’re the only one going through these feelings of loneliness in the moment. “It’s important to process feelings of loneliness,” she says. “Just being kind to yourself is really important”.
Sarie acknowledges the immense value of the internet when it comes to our social lives, especially now. “As human beings, one of our basic needs is connection with others,” she tells PC Guide. “There are no rules about who this should be, it’s simply a grounded, present connection with another human being”.
Sarie works with her clients predominantly in an online setting and says that people can change their lives via contacting online, and she has seen it “many, many times”.
“Although the internet is not that human connection face to face, which often involves touch and ability to more easily read each other’s body language, it is still a connection, just a different version of it,” Sarie explains. “Again if we are present when connecting online…then we are still able to connect and feel the benefits of interacting with another human being”.