With loneliness a health risk, what can remote workers do to boost team spirit?
The answer could lie at an American software company built around a remote, autistic workforce, and the solutions are simpler than you’d think
Working remotely has many benefits: no commute, fewer distractions from colleagues, comfier clothes. However, it also has one major draw – working outside of your normal team environment can feel isolating and lonely.
A Gallup study of remote workers last year asked 1,900 professionals who work alone what the biggest challenge was, and 21% said loneliness. With many companies planning to permanently shut offices following the pandemic, the question arises as to how we can continue to work remotely but reduce the feeling of isolation.
Really this is a question for those at the top of companies, as combatting the loneliness of remote working isn’t solved easily by individual changes but by strategic policies.
One company that has successfully hit upon an inclusivity-boosting formula is an American software firm called Ultranauts, which has had a mostly remote workforce since its launch in 2013. The reason it is so ahead of the curve with staff inclusion is because 75% of its workforce is on the autism spectrum. To get the best out of autistic employees, it has developed a gentle system of working that cares for individual needs, making sure everyone feels valued and supported.
Some such practical strategies include transparency at the top level of management, with all employees able to access decision-making outcomes via Slack, and a straight-forward corporate culture with “no unwritten rules” that could leave metaphorical trip hazards for staff. Others include checking in with employees each day, using a bot, to ask about how they feel that day – do they feel able to interact with others, what is their energy like, do they wish to submit feedback to management about any issues?
Though this person-focused structure has been designed to work around the aspects of traditional corporate culture that can cause highly skilled but socially vulnerable autistic professionals to falter, it is a great roadmap for fostering inclusivity in all kinds of teams.
For those working within organisations yet to develop robust inclusion strategies, there are small steps you can take personally to reduce the loneliness of remote working. Business and career coach Ashley Stahl suggests swapping the home office for a co-working space. Studies have shown that 89% of remote workers reported feeling happier after joining a co-working space.
Stahl also suggests getting as much face time as possible with your co-workers, be it in person or virtual. Interacting via video calls rather than emails can have a positive impact on productivity and relationships, she says, and where possible try to meet up with colleagues face to face, even if only a few times a year.
With loneliness as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it is important to do what we can do foster the connectivity of the workplace team spirit, regardless of where we physically find ourselves working.