"[You don't] see a lot of people.Your sensory input is limited. You start regressing. You lose certain abilities to write and think. I wanted to write an article, but I found my vocabulary had vanished. I had trouble putting sentences together." ~ Mark L. Smith
Mark L. Smith was describing life in the loneliest part of the world, Antarctica. He managed a satellite facility there.
At first, he was excited about this opportunity. But slowly, he hated it. The harsh winter and isolation made him lonely, bored, and hopeless. This reaction is called cabin fever.
Cabin Fever is stress due to being stuck in an isolated place for too long. And it doesn't just affect polar workers like Mark.
You can feel it in your own home.
Remote workers usually don't have a commute. This means you don't have to go anywhere. But before you know it, you haven't left the house in a week or more. Such isolation can make you depressed and socially awkward.
That's why you need an active social life. Support from family, friends, and co-workers reduces your loneliness.
As humans, we want companionship. Offices satisfy this desire.
Meetings, parties, and after-work hangouts make us feel like we're part of a bigger group. Seeing coworkers "face-to-face" creates togetherness.
As a remote worker, you don't have these moments. You only connect with others through messaging, email, and calls.This can get lonely.
You're also removed from the outside world. Most people engage with their community through work. Without an office or commute, it's harder to interact with local people, businesses, and cultures.
So, use your new freedom to join communities, have adventures, and develop friendships. Just like this Hacker News user:
"Remote working has allowed me to flourish socially. I have a recreational hockey team, [my partner and I] are part of a nice Yoga community, and given that we spend lots of time around our neighbourhood, we have met many friends, from the lady who cleans our building to the dude who owns the coffeeshop.
When [you don't have an office, it's your duty] to find a healthy replacement with the extra time and flexibility that remote life affords you."
Take a leap of faith and briefly leave your workspace. Try to create awesome experiences that fulfill you and won't hurt your career. Here’s how you can do that:
The love from our spouses, children, and friends make us happier and healthier. You can nurture these relationships with remote work. Here's how Joe, the author of Dad's Guide to Twins, uses it to become a better father:
"I Iove the flexibility of being able to help my family during the day. I can drop off or pick up my kids from school. I can attend their midday assemblies or eat lunch with them at school on their birthdays.
I love being able to give them hugs when they leave for school in the morning or when they return home in the afternoon because I'm not stuck in an office building or in rush hour traffic."
However, remote work can also confuse people. Family and friends might mistake you working from home as you being available. That you have time to talk, entertain, or serve them.
But you have a job to do! So you reject your family, making you feel guilty. Avoid this trouble by adding them to your daily routine.
If you have kids, use mornings to prepare them for school. Cook their breakfast and drop them off. Then pick them up in the afternoon.
You can also use mornings to walk your dog. Or, have weekly brunches with friends. In the evening, cook dinner or have dates with your partner. These activities make relationship building a habit.
Next, express your boundaries. Tell people about your working hours. Also, share your schedule. Explain what times you are and aren't free. When kids ask for you, say "[Mom/Dad] is really busy right now. I'll help you later."
If you’re still struggling to manage your family, ask for help. Spouses or partners can handle chores for you. Hire a nanny, babysitter, or relative to look after your kids. You can also enroll them for day or summer activities.
Lastly, think about traveling with your family and friends. Remote work gives you the flexibility to have adventures while busy. Just keep your laptop close as you experience new hotels, trips, and cities.
You're most likely not a digital nomad. You're not always traveling the world with a backpack. Instead, you're working from home. Where it's convenient, affordable, and (kinda) peaceful.
But also, isolating.
Spending every day at home causes you to spiral downwards. Soon, you'll neglect your health, hygiene, and social skills. You need these skills to develop deep and supportive relationships. Without them, you'll experience cabin fever or burnout.
An AND.CO survey reported that 30% of remote workers believe that loneliness is the biggest threat to their happiness. Taking breaks from your workspace will lessen this loneliness and improve your mental health.
First, be self-aware. Ask yourself, "Am I an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert?" This will help you create a social life that best fits your personality.
Introverts are reserved, work independently, and like to engage with few people. Extroverts are outgoing, prefer to work in teams, and love being around others. Ambiverts are a mix of both groups.
If you’re an extrovert or ambivert, try working sometimes at a coffee shop or coworking space. Introverts should try the library.
Next, make talking and meeting people a weekly priority. You should schedule a call or lunch date with a friend. Have heartfelt conversations, laughs, and discussions.
Or, talk to strangers while doing activities. You can meet new people while shopping, picking up your kids, or walking. Also try socializing in public places. Internet cafes, bars, and kitchens in coworking spaces are good hangout spots.
Lastly, be active in your community. Industry conferences, public classes, sports teams, events, or volunteer groups are full of diverse people.
It's hard to build relationships within remote teams. You can't walk up to a coworker and ask about their weekend. Or, share jokes over lunch.
It's even harder to sense each other's emotions. Chats, emails, and calls don’t express vocal inflections, facial expressions, and body language well. We need these to help us determine if we're appreciated. Without them, we feel unsupported.
A VitalSmarts survey of 1,153 employees confirmed this. Remote workers feel more left out than office workers. They were more likely to believe that coworkers were plotting against them.
This is troublesome because coworkers are a big part of your social life. The more isolated you feel, the less happy you are at work. To ease this fear, you must introduce virtual activities that help your team better develop trust and respect.
Video calls help you get more personal with your team. Tools like Zoom and Skype let you see each other's faces, quirks, and body language.
Don't start these calls with work. Instead, ask about your team's weekend, achievements, and other personal stuff.
You can also meet your coworkers in person. At Auth0, employees are asked to spend intimate time together. Some share coffee over video calls. Workers who live near each other tend to meet up in person. This builds closeness faster.
Create watercooler moments by dedicating chat rooms or channels to non-work related interests. For example, RescueTime has a Slack channel called #book-club. Team members can talk about their assigned book of the month.
Lastly, express your appreciation and gratitude. Show your team that you value them. Reaching out and catching up is a great way to build togetherness without disrupting your workday too much.
It doesn't matter if you're an extrovert or introvert. You need strong social connections. They help you survive and thrive. Without them, you'll become anxious and depressed.
Remote work is supposed to be rewarding, not isolating. You can avoid cabin fever by using flexibility to your advantage. Create daily routines that include spending time with family and friends. But don't forget to explain your boundaries to them.
Once a week, leave your home to take part in a group activity. Or visit public places and introduce yourself to new people.
Stay connected with your team members with video calls. You can better develop trust by meeting them in person. Or, by engaging with them in fun discussion channels.
Remote work changes your life. But it’s not an excuse to neglect other areas of your life.