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3 Ways to Avoid the Loneliness of Working Remotely For cash-strapped startups, forgoing an office space is a keen way to save money. But what do you do to keep loneliness at bay? Here are some tips.

By Walter Chen Edited by Dan Bova


Working remotely can be ideal for people with a thirst for travel and new adventures. I'm currently typing this out in a casino in Las Vegas and I haven't missed a productive beat. It's great if you like the glitter of neon and the chiming of slot machines.

But as a major advocate for the remote working lifestyle, I understand all too well the difficulties that come along with it. The top item on the list is loneliness and it's a hugely important concern that's not to be overlooked. In the words of Mother Teresa, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."

The fact is, if remote working isn't implemented into the team flow properly, it can become a drain on productivity and it may threaten the livelihood of your company. If this lifestyle is to become a sustainable work option, then the difficult question of loneliness must absolutely be addressed.

Here are three cutting-edge techniques for how to do just that:

1. Consider "timezone syncing."
The best way to remove the disconnected feeling between team members is to close the distance gap with communication. Basically, talk as much as possible. This can be done through a technique called "timezone syncing," which involves ensuring that there is an overlap in your schedules across time zones where you are both working. If you know you'll overlap for a few hours daily, then during those few hours, communication becomes the number one priority.

Qualtrics, a Provo, Utah-based data company, is an extreme example of this technique. Its staff started work at 3 a.m. MT for over a year to accommodate the European workday and be time-zone synced with their European customers.

Related: From Drab to Fab: How to Embody Co-Working Esthetics on a Budget

Sqwiggle is a web-based tool that's a great way to stay connected with your team members when you're timezone syncing, by offering an "always on" video workroom that runs on very low bandwidth. Keep Sqwiggle running while you're timezone syncing and you'll see the face of your teammates in your web browser. Rather than having to call them on Skype to start a conversation, just click on their picture and you're immediately in a video chat session. We love Sqwiggle because it makes remote work feel like you're sitting around a table together, working face-to-face.

2. Be radically transparent with teammates.
The best way to fight any anxious feeling of disconnect is by education and solid understanding of how your teammates are doing and feeling. Creating an environment centered around the communication of these problems is a great way to know someone is dealing with loneliness, which will ultimately lead to a solution and a happier team.

Buffer is a San Francisco-based company with a virtual office that goes to extremes to educate the team on the needs of its members. At Buffer, everyone knows what everyone is working on, what everyone is trying to improve on, what everyone on the team is reading and even how much everyone on the team slept and how much they make in salary. This builds an incredible amount of trust and intimacy in the team which is fundamental for communicating freely and making loneliness a thing of the past.

Related: Office Space and Communication Tips and Tricks From a Workplace Anthropologist

3. Overcommunicate your appreciation.
Showing that you value and appreciate your colleague's work can make a dramatic difference in their happiness and productivity at work. And it's as simple as saying "good work" to someone that's feeling disconnected from the team dynamic. Make it your aim to praise good work, and over time that disconnected feeling will diminish.

Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated just how important it is to feel like your work matters, has value and makes a difference. At a call center raising money for student scholarships, Grant found that call center workers who spoke directly with a student who would benefit from the scholarship would make three times as many phone calls as those call center workers with no connection to the students receiving scholarships. When your efforts are made to feel worthwhile, you'll feel a greater connection to your work that will make you more engaged, happier and more productive.

Related: Are Your Eyes Bigger Than Your Budget? 3 Tips to Rein in Your Startup Costs

What other ways would you suggest to combat loneliness? Let us know with a comment.

Walter Chen

CEO & Co-founder, iDoneThis

Walter Chen is the founder and CEO of iDoneThis, the easiest way to share and celebrate what you get done at work, every day. Learn the science behind how done lists help you work smarter in our free eBook: The Busy Person's Guide to the Done List. Follow him on twitter @smalter.

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