How to Cope With Isolation and Loneliness as a Remote Worker

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The Colorado autumn sun shone down brightly on our tiny camper in the mountains. We were thrilled. After several months on the road as full-time nomadic RVers, my wife, Karla, finally had a role which was 100% remote. This was not only a dream role for her, but it also ensured that we could be on the road indefinitely. We sat outside and celebrated that night with a glass of wine as the sun set behind the pine trees.

As the weeks went on, the excitement of the new role began to intertwine with the challenges of a virtual position. While Karla had worked on and off remotely over the years, this was her first permanently remote role. Unlike in an office, she could not bounce ideas off nearby coworkers or participate in team socializing activities. As someone who thrives on building close personal connections with her teammates, she was beginning to feel somewhat lonely. 

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Buffer and AngelList report in their State of Remote Work 2020 that 20% of their 3,500 survey respondents said their top challenge with remote work was loneliness while another 20% indicated their top challenge was being able to collaborate and communicate with their colleagues. Clearly, Karla was not alone in her struggle with remote work in those first few weeks in the mountains of Colorado. I struggled with feeling connected to my teammates when I started my first full-time remote role in 2013.

As full-time nomadic RVers, the challenge of loneliness is compounded by us constantly being on the move. We drive to a new location often and are rarely with the same RVers for more than a few weeks. Our family is in the Northeast which is not as friendly to RVers as the Southwest where we spend most of our time. Suggestions such as occasional “in office days” or spending time with friends and family might not be possible for us and other full-time nomadic RVers. Frequently the only social constants for us nomads might be a partner, kids, or pets.

Since that Fall in Colorado, we have developed ways to combat isolation and loneliness as full-time, nomadic, and remote workers living in an RV.

Connect With Coworkers Beyond the Tasks

The richness of face-to-face meetings can sometimes be lost when working remotely. Phone calls can feel rigid and all business. 

I have found that doing things such as dedicating time with my team to chat about the weekend pays dividends in the feeling of connectedness with my coworkers. All of a sudden, they are no longer just engineers or support folks. They become real people with real passions and lives outside of work. 

Simple questions such as “What is everyone’s plans for the weekend?” or “What did you do this weekend?” can help connect personally with each other.

Don't Be Afraid To Use Video During Meetings

Karla swears by getting on camera frequently with her coworkers. She feels like she can better engage with her teammates. I will frequently see her giving mini-tours of our tiny RV to someone who is curious about what our life is like. If it wasn’t for her using video, she might not have had the impetus to connect with her colleagues in this way.

When conversations are important, I also will use my camera to connect with others. For instance, we recently hired some new team members and before finalizing the hiring process we tried to get on camera with each other to chat. This allowed us to connect with potential team members who I might not meet face-to-face for months. 

Spend Time With Other RVers

We have also found spending time with other RVers outside of work at events such as Xscapers convergences helps us have a social outlet beyond work. This has allowed us to foster friendships with people who are frequently working remotely just like us. 

Just because we are remote workers doesn’t mean all of our human contact needs to be online and with coworkers. 

Fly (or Drive) Back to the Office Occasionally

Sometimes, nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting with coworkers. I usually travel back to Dallas to meet with my team every few months. This allows us to work through our stickiest challenges using whiteboards, stickies, and old-fashioned facial expressions. 

We also usually go out for a team lunch with whoever is around. This allows us to socialize as a team for an extended period without necessarily talking about work. 

Grab a Coffee Over The Phone

We also find that having phone calls with friends and colleagues to just catch up can help us bond with others while on the road. The other day I had a “virtual coffee” over the phone with a former colleague. We caught up about our lives, our work, and how much the world had changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Karla regularly has phone meetups with current and former coworkers. These calls are not intended to get any work done. They are simply to connect with others as humans.

Video Chat With Family

While on the road as a remote employee, social interactions can come from places other than work. We try to connect with family over video chat once or twice a week. This allows us to share our lives with them and to connect with people outside of work.

Share Stories of RVing With Coworkers

We have found telling our coworkers about our full-time nomadic RV lifestyle helps them understand us better and gives us an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. We tell them about where we are, challenges we’ve had, and what we love about this life. 

Often, non-RVers are curious about this lifestyle and so RV conversations tend to be an easy topic to help break the ice or build intimacy. By not being afraid to share our lifestyle with others, our co-workers get to know us as people versus just work colleagues. 

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A little while after Karla started her role, her entire team got on a video conference call. The goal of the call was to discuss the team’s strengths, both individually and as a whole. Everyone got on camera and shared personal stories about how they use their strengths to support their work and passions. Being able to see everyone’s faces, hear personal stories, and get to know one another better beyond the day-to-day work tasks, helped Karla feel a stronger sense of belonging and connection to her teammates, just as she had felt when her teams collaborated in person.  

Dealing with isolation and loneliness as a remote worker is something which needs consistent effort and extra time. We need to always be looking for ways to connect with our teammates in unique and creative ways which might not be required if we were in a regular office environment. This is not only important for our wellbeing but also for our teammates. They frequently are working remotely too and the more we press for a deeper connection, the better we function as people and as teams. 

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Author

Noah Wheeler

Noah Wheeler travels the U.S. in an 84 square foot travel trailer with his wife, Karla, and two dogs, Brisket and Lolis. They boondock most of the time and are in a constant quest for fantastic views. They have been on the road since May 2019. Noah has been working remotely as product development executive since 2013 and is passionate about the benefits of remote work to individuals and companies. You can follow his and Karla’s journeys on Instagram @aventuraroad and read his thoughts on product development on Medium @iamnoahwheeler.  

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