As you have likely come to realize over the past years, remote work has its share of challenges, and isolation can be one of the toughest.
Professionals in the social-impact sphere are passionate about the work they do, and for good reason. But it also takes an emotional toll.
Back when the majority of us were still working out of a traditional office, the emotional burden was easily shared among a team that was physically present each day. Now, as the only one in your office space, it can be difficult to feel connected to your team or the larger world around you. But social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation.
Bonds are important—for you and for your work
If you’re a remote worker or a freelancer functioning as part of many groups at many organizations (or working at just one organization but serving a variety of teams), it’s essential to learn strategies for building bonds.
Forging strong professional relationships will keep feelings of isolation at bay and help you contribute more effectively. From understanding co-workers’ organizational and work styles to making sure burnout doesn’t become something worse, connections between individuals are at the heart of social-impact work.
You’re more than an email address
You know you’re an actual human being, sitting at a computer, sending emails to co-workers. But to the people on the other side of that equation, you might seem like just another email address.
Don’t be afraid to share a little—appropriate—personal information in your emails. Generally (and especially in times of crisis), it's those little nuggets of humanity that allow us to feel comforted and connected. It could be as simple as mentioning that you’ll be out of touch for an hour during your daily Youtube yoga. Or that you’re looking forward re-reading your favorite book over the coming weeks.
These are bits of information that normally get shared among people over the coffee pot or in the elevator. When you’re working remotely, these opportunities don’t occur as naturally. By inserting a few details about your life in your emails or chats, you help provide a more rounded picture of who you are as an individual.
At Idealist, we've been using to Slack to keep everyone connected and collaborating. And while we've been pretty focused on getting the work done and supporting our community, we've also taken the time to personalize the space and lighten things up where we can. So while we have space to project manage and meeting plan, we also have a channel where we update co-workers on our favorite new shows or what we had (or wished we had) for breakfast that morning. Now more than ever, we should feel encouraged to connect in a way that lifts the mood and lightens the mental load, if only for a moment.
It’s hard to beat face-to-face communication
Gone are the days when distance meant we had to communicate via stamped letters—or even email. We now have the digital tools to communicate across the world. Using video chat may take a few seconds longer than tapping out an email, but it’s worth the effort.
When we collaborate with a team in-person, a lot of communication happens outside of our actual words. Body language, tone of voice, hand gestures—having access to these different modes of interaction deepens collaboration and prevents misunderstandings.
Every time you choose to video chat rather than email or text, you build tighter bonds with your remote teammates. Not only are you communicating more effectively, you create a conversation space where personality becomes more evident.
Do your homework
Nothing can make you feel more like an outsider than flubbing a conversation because you didn’t realize that Shawna is Dave’s boss.
When you’re working full time with one team, the organizational hierarchy reveals itself organically. But when you work with several teams, especially remotely, it takes a little more effort to understand how each team is structured and where you fit into the picture.
It’s never a bad idea to sketch out a management diagram for each of the organizations you work with. As you encounter new team members, make sure to understand where they fit in and add them to the diagram. You’ll feel more confident and come off as more knowledgeable and engaged.
Let's all be all in
Have you already been experiencing burnout? Or maybe you were trying to figure out how to deal with a passive aggressive co-worker when you got the memo that you'd be working from home for the foreseeable future? Perhaps you have just been feeling plain bored at work. Well, a lot has changed in not that much time, and maybe your perspective can change a bit, too.
This probably isn't where you thought you'd be this year, but here we are, so if possible, let's commit to being all in be all in. If you're fortunate enough to do work that can be done remotely, take this opportunity to reenergize and refamiliarize yourself with all the reasons why your work matters.
Read your organization's mission, and while you're at it, see if you can dig up your job description and take another look over that, too. Review annual reports and any news or press releases related to your organization. While the rest of this post was about finding connection with your co-workers, in this section, I'm urging you to find connection (or to reconnect) with your organization's mission and vision.
This is your opportunity to take some time to reset and reacquaint yourself with your organization's mission in a moment that seems pretty mission critical.
Do you have other suggestions for staying connecting while working remotely? Share with us on Facebook.
This piece was co-authored by Alice Pettway