How I Dealt with Remote Work Loneliness
When I resigned from my full-time job in February 2019, I felt like I could breathe again for the first time in months. With everything settled, and a good amount of savings to tide me over for a few months, I was ready to make my escape from those daily energy-sucking vampires, er, colleagues. Don't get me wrong; I liked most of them, but having to watch what I did, said, or even how I dressed was exhausting.
As I transitioned to being ‘funemployed’, I found freelance remote work as a writer to keep me busy and productive. As an introvert, working from home seemed like a dream come true - I looked forward to not having to force myself to smile and make small talk about Manila's insane traffic or scorching weather. Freelancing seemed ideal for a hermit like me!
When you start to miss your co-workers
A month into working remotely and of being a hermit, I felt like I had been donning an invisibility cloak; completely unseen by the rest of the world. Despite the steady stream of emails, messages, and smiley-faced emojis from fellow remote editors and freelancers, I had no IRL presence locally.
I could muster up the energy to leave my house and work with my laptop from a coffee shop; but I mean, leaving the house required clothing, makeup, looking respectable in public… ugh. I had really only interacted face-to-face with my immediate family and boyfriend. Curating my IG stories to perfection made up the rest of my “social interactions.”
By removing the office from my daily routine, it became clear that, in fact, I had hardly any friends outside of work. Aside from my tight-knit group of girlfriends from high school, I had a few college pals but meetings with both these groups of friends were sporadic. Hangouts were mostly reserved for birthdays or bi-monthly reunion dates. I started to miss the energy vampires, er, colleagues, despite my peaceful, squabble-free life at home.
I began to feel it. The dreaded L word: loneliness. Looking at social media only made me feel bad about my solo status. Scrolling through travel pics of former officemates who became BFFs highlighted my remote work loneliness. I had no one to have a drink with at the end of a workday, no one to grab a bite with on a weekend, no one to enjoy a yoga sesh or movie with.
Working in marketing, meeting tight deadlines, and hearing tough feedback from clients can be stressful. While my family and boyfriend were always around to hear my work-related rants, they just didn’t get it. As much as I was happy to “get away” from my officemates, I realized that I relied on colleagues to keep my mental health in check.
They understood my exact frustrations about the company culture, workload, and communication issues. They made me laugh with inside jokes and cheered me up on gloomy days by sharing fries. After hours, we’d even bring out a guitar or blast some good music, singing our hearts out to Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars”.
Getting back in touch with old friends
As a full-time employee in an office, I found that meeting new people was extremely easy. After all, you’re confined to a small, shared space. However, I no longer worked in an office, thus I had no practical reason to leave my cozy home just to surround myself with people in the heart of Makati’s urban jungle. A trip to the central business district usually takes an hour or two and would cost a lot, too.
It didn’t help that remote work just made it too convenient to live inside my own bubble. Since there’s no separation between home and office, I’d wake up in the morning and immediately “head” straight into work, i.e. I would pop open my laptop from the comfort of my warm bed. I would get too immersed in my work and realize, after several hours on the job, that I haven’t talked to a single human soul.
To actually do something about the issue, I forced myself to reach out to acquaintances from college. However, getting in touch with a once-close friend (who I hadn’t seen in a minute) would result in my messages being left on read.
It seemed like my past connections had all drifted away. They were all working full-time jobs now, leading busy lives, and had moved on to build communities of their own. Their social circles had shifted (like mine once had) as they became closer to the people they work with, or their romantic partner.
Combatting remote work loneliness
I’ve found that as I’ve changed lifestyles, or moved onto a new stage in life, it’s important to surround myself with like-minded people who I have something in common with. As I made the shift to working remotely, my friends were shifting too; to long term relationships, to busy full-time office jobs, to exploring a new hobby.
It’s important as an adult to maintain your old friendships, but it’s also important to meet new people who can commiserate and understand your current situation. I decided to find a better solution to the loneliness I was feeling.
Here are the three things I did to help combat my remote work loneliness:
1. Join a coworking space
Most major cities have at least one co-working space that is easily accessible. While working remotely, I found co-working spaces to be a great space to network and meet new people who understood the struggle of freelance life.
I also had the opportunity to meet start-up founders. We met for coffee and I was able to learn more about their companies. Co-working spaces are a great place to arrange for informal interviews, expand your knowledge of the industry, and connect with people who work in your field who can mentor or provide advice.
Most coworking spaces also host weekly and monthly talks and events, which increased my capacity to meet professional digital marketers like myself. Sometimes, these events tend to turn into crazy parties, like when a local beer company launched a new flavor and wanted to spread the word about it at our coworking space. I was able to score unlimited free drinks and a bunch of new acquaintances, most of which added me on Facebook the following day.
My tip? Hang out near the food table to easily chat up a stranger, be game to pose for lots of pics, and arm yourself with a smile (and some calling cards because tbh, I couldn’t remember all the names of my newly-found friends). Plus, your professional connections can quickly turn into friends, as well as gain you new clients. Double-win!
2. Take advantage of flexible hours and sign up for activities or classes
One of the perks of working remotely is the fact that you have flexible hours and can take time during your day to get out for a mid-day activity or class. In order to drag myself out of the house, I signed up for a weekly yoga class and met a bunch of new people.
This served a dual purpose: I was able to get out of my sedentary couch/laptop lifestyle and made lots of fellow yogi acquaintances who lived nearby. Being able to meet people who I had a mutual interest in common with, made the conversation flow that much easier. It takes a lot of the pressure of making friends when you can strike up a chat with your yoga neighbor by asking where they got that cute outfit from!
3. Volunteer for a good cause
Since you now have time on your hands due to flexible hours, why not volunteer for a cause you really believe in? Whatever it may be, make sure it’s something that aligns with your interest, so that you can easily relate to the people there and be excited about the program. Because I enjoy singing and classical music on the side, I volunteered at my church choir and enjoyed singing hymns as an alto. I was amazed at how I instantly made new friends who were into Broadway musicals as much as I was. It doesn’t have to be the church—volunteer for a non-profit that lets you teach kids some arts and crafts, or clean up beaches with fellow eco-warriors.
4. Download friendship apps
Being an introvert, the idea of using an app to meet new friends appealed to me. With an app, I could ease into the awkwardness of meeting new people by chatting online with someone first. I also liked that the meetings were one-on-one—no need to approach someone new at a big party.
What I love about using Panion is the fact that you can see people who have the same interests as you. You can actually search for friends that you have things in common with so you know that when you meet up, there will be plenty to talk about. It can be hard to find someone who shares your passions but Panion makes that easier; it lets me filter through users who are also interested in my hobbies (like video games or yoga).
I’m about to meet my first online friend soon and I’m looking forward to venturing out of my comfort zone. I’ll admit that sometimes living as a hermit couch potato can be nice, but staying inside my own little shell can get pretty lonely. Without peers who have an understanding of where I’m at or what I’m going through, life can be a bit of a challenge. I’ve accepted that friends may come and go, especially after resigning from jobs.
But there’s comfort in knowing that thousands of people are looking for the same thing. Like comedian Dave Chappell said, “Modern problems require modern solutions.” From coworking spaces to friendship apps like Panion, there are ways to find someone to talk to as long as I keep trying. Fingers crossed that my new online connection will soon turn into my BFF!