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How to Successfully Tackle Feelings of Isolation at Work

The rise of remote work has introduced an increased risk of isolation. Discover ways to tackle feelings of isolation and build a better workplace.

Gabriele Culot
Written by Gabriele Culot
July 17, 2023
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Key takeaways

  1. While remote work has become increasingly popular, so has the risk of isolation in the workplace
  2. Remote teams are especially vulnerable to feelings of isolation at work, but there are several effective strategies to counter loneliness throughout the workday
  3. Discover strategies to overcome loneliness in the workplace and how to identify barriers to create a collaborative environment

Since the pandemic, the era of remote work has become increasingly popular as global companies and remote employees reap the benefits of a flexible and collaborative work environment. However, it has also introduced various challenges to overcome, including feelings of isolation at work. 

Various research efforts reveal isolation as one of the most significant drawbacks of remote working. In 2022, over a third of surveyed individuals in remote, full-time employment reported that the work environment made them feel lonely. So, how do we overcome this challenge?

Workplace isolation affects individuals across various industries and job roles as employees experience disconnection from colleagues or supervisors. The negative impact of isolation erodes morale and motivation, reduces job satisfaction, diminishes creativity, and increases burnout rate. 

Fostering a sense of belonging and social connection is vital in boosting employee engagement. While it’s important for organizations to prioritize and facilitate meaningful interactions actively, there are also strategies that an individual can take to overcome feelings of isolation in the workplace. 

Stay with us as we dive into the causes and signs of isolation in the workplace, as well as strategies to overcome loneliness.

Understanding the Causes of Isolation

One of the first steps to countering isolation is understanding the various causes contributing to the phenomenon.

Virtual communication challenges

Remote work introduces specific communication challenges, such as geographical and time zone differences. It’s common for a global workforce to operate in different countries and time zones, making it difficult to talk to one another in real-time.

Employees working from home or in satellite offices are especially vulnerable to this isolation as they are physically distant from their colleagues. The distance makes it difficult to foster a sense of belonging and collaboration.

Lack of team cohesion and communication 

Limited or ineffective communication channels lead to isolation when flexibility comes at the cost of strong bonds and a sense of camaraderie. Effective communication is vital in building relationships, fostering collaboration, and establishing a supportive work environment.

When employees struggle to express themselves, ask for assistance, or engage in meaningful discussions, it can lead to feelings of isolation. It’s essential to consider the role of face-to-face interactions, mentorship programs, and effective software to connect with team members. 

Introversion and social anxiety

If you have an introverted personality or struggle with social anxiety, it can lead to feelings of loneliness as you struggle to connect with others. The fear of being judged or saying something wrong can prevent you from contributing your ideas or speaking in a virtual setting. 

Introversion and social anxiety contribute to a deep sense of loneliness, so it’s essential to recognize and accommodate different personality types when nurturing an inclusive and supportive environment. 

Workplace culture and organizational structure

Developments such as mergers, acquisitions, or departmental restructuring can lead to isolation as employees experience a shift in team dynamics, hierarchies, and job responsibilities. When established connections are disrupted, individuals will likely feel disconnected and isolated.

In the same breath, workplace culture influences the level of loneliness experienced by employees. 

For example, an unsupportive or toxic work culture leads to isolation and disconnect. So do overly competitive or cutthroat environments that lack a sense of collaboration, environments that don’t respect inclusivity and diversity, or a company culture that doesn’t value work-life balance. 

A positive work environment will have the opposite effect on loneliness, encouraging a thriving and connected workforce.

Limited feedback and recognition

Regular feedback and recognition for work completed motivate employees to continue putting their best foot forward while highlighting areas for improvement. The lack of recognition or feedback may make employees feel undervalued and isolated. It becomes difficult for employees to determine progress and growth, which leads to social isolation and stagnation.

A culture that emphasizes regular feedback through performance reviews and regular check-ins encourages peer recognition, celebrates achievement, and helps to alleviate loneliness.

Recognizing the Signs of Isolation

Recognizing the signs and common indications of loneliness makes it easier to address workplace isolation.

Decreased engagement and motivation

One of the most apparent signs of isolation is decreased engagement in team activities, discussions, and collaborative projects. Active participation is replaced by becoming a passive observer as isolation erodes motivation. 

Isolation at work leads to a disconnect from company goals, a decline in productivity, and lower output quality. These indicators often go hand-in-hand with a lack of recognition or feedback. 

Limited collaboration and interaction with colleagues

When feeling isolated, you may withdraw from social interactions and minimize engagement with coworkers during virtual gatherings, Slack discussions, and brainstorming sessions. Isolation may cause you to be reluctant to participate in team discussions, offer input, or actively contribute to group projects. 

These repercussions impact teamwork and productivity, hindering the development of supportive and meaningful relationships and preventing effective communication. Recognizing withdrawal as an indicator of isolation allows initiatives to promote a more connected and collaborative work environment. 

Feelings of loneliness and detachment 

Feelings of isolation are commonly associated with a deep sense of loneliness — even in a busy office environment. The perceived lack of connection contributes to a sense of detachment where you feel emotionally disconnected from those around you. Working in a remote environment increases the risk of loneliness by removing physical face-to-face encounters. 

The absence of a meaningful connection in the workplace can lead to a loss of enthusiasm, decreased engagement, and a decline in overall morale. Not only does this impact you as the employee, but the workplace culture as a whole.

Increased stress and decreased job satisfaction

The lack of social support and meaningful connections in the workplace contributes to heightened stress levels, making it more difficult to cope with work-related challenges. Taking these challenges on by yourself can further lead to feelings of overwhelm and burnout. 

A decline in job satisfaction and a rise in stress levels occur when there is a lack of positive interactions and recognition, removing the sense of fulfillment and purpose derived from one’s job.

Higher absenteeism or tardiness

Higher absenteeism and an increase in being late are common indicators of isolation as you lack the motivation to do your job effectively. Absenteeism and tardiness are coping mechanisms to distance yourself from perceived isolation and avoid uncomfortable situations.

Recognizing these patterns of absenteeism provides an opportunity to address the underlying issue of isolation, and steps can be taken to reignite enthusiasm for the workplace.

Strategies to Overcome Feelings of Isolation at Work

While isolation is a legitimate concern in the workplace, several strategies help foster connection and create a sense of belonging.

Foster stronger connections with colleagues

Keep an eye open for opportunities to build relationships with colleagues, grow connections and boost camaraderie. When engaging in conversations, try to show interest in the ideas and experiences of others and identify common ground to build a connection. 

Practice active listening with colleagues, and initiate conversations about shared interests or hobbies. As you build rapport, you’ll feel more confident participating in team activities or social events, further nurturing opportunities for bonding and interaction.

If appropriate, you can also reach out to coworkers to connect one-on-one through a trip to the coffee shop or a lunch meeting. Investing time and effort into building relationships contributes to a supportive network that counters isolation.

Encourage open and honest communication

When an environment promotes open dialogue, it’s possible for employees to express their thoughts, concerns, and ideas without judgment. While much of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the organization to establish regular check-ins, team meetings, or feedback sessions, there are also steps to take as an individual. 

Begin by actively engaging in conversations and be bold enough to express your thoughts and ideas. When another colleague does the same, listen attentively and show genuine interest in their perspectives. 

Embrace constructive feedback and encourage others to share their insights. By practicing open communication, you can create a space for genuine connections to form and break down the barriers of isolation.

Initiate social activities and team-building exercises 

It’s common for organizations to organize social activities and team-building exercises that encourage camaraderie and connections. From virtual game nights or in-person team lunches to collaborative projects encouraging interaction, there are plenty of ways to initiate social activities (and get involved yourself). 

You can organize informal gatherings to bond with your colleagues in a relaxed setting if appropriate. Alternatively, you can speak to a superior about putting a team-building exercise in motion. It’s also worth exploring the existence of employee-led interest groups or clubs centered around shared hobbies or interests. Perhaps you form one yourself? 

By actively participating in these activities and encouraging others to do the same, it provides an avenue to combat isolation and build genuine connections. 

Utilize collaboration tools and platforms for virtual interactions 

Technology has developed alongside the popularity of remote work, making it easy to stay in touch with colleagues and coworkers around the world. Online tools are helpful in bridging the gap between remote workers and collaborative connections. 

For example, video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management platforms allow for real-time collaboration and communication. Familiarize yourself with various available tools and make an effort to use them. 

Make a conscious decision to participate in virtual meetings, use chat features when needed, and collaborate on shared documents using cloud-based platforms. All of these methods help to boost a sense of teamwork and shared progress, overcoming the barriers of physical distance.

Seek mentorship and networking opportunities within the organization

Actively seeking mentorship and networking opportunities is an effective way to combat loneliness. To connect with a mentor, identify other individuals whose expertise aligns with your interests or career goals and reach out to them for guidance and mentorship. 

Take the initiative to request a one-on-one meeting or informational interview to learn more about your chosen mentor’s experience and to pick their brain for advice.

Networking events also offer professional development opportunities that allow you to connect with like-minded people in the workplace. Keep an eye open for conferences, workshops, or virtual seminars to add to your calendar, and make an effort to engage in employee resource groups to build relationships. 

Mentorship meet-ups and networking opportunities allow you to expand your professional network, gain valuable insights and establish connections that can help boost engagement in the workplace. 

Cultivate a culture of inclusivity and support

As an employee, you can help reduce loneliness by contributing to a culture of inclusivity and support in various ways. Begin by treating your colleagues with respect and practicing inclusive behavior. Encourage diversity in your discussions and value different perspectives by actively listening to others. 

Take the time to advocate for initiatives that promote diversity, equality, and inclusion, such as employee resource groups or training programs. If a coworker needs help, offer assistance to generate a consideration mood. 

Celebrate the team’s accomplishments, provide constructive feedback, and initiate (or participate in) team-building activities that foster team collaboration and trust. Each person contributing to a supportive culture helps counter loneliness and isolation in the workplace.

Overcoming Challenges and Sustaining Progress

While the above strategies offer great potential to counter workplace isolation, a few barriers can hinder their impact. Awareness of these challenges makes it easier to overcome them.

Resistance from colleagues or superiors

Tackling isolation alone can be difficult, especially when you experience resistance from colleagues and higher-level management. This challenge is especially common within organizations where resistance to change is ingrained in the culture. 

When coworkers or superiors are hesitant to embrace strategies aimed at combating isolation, you can take the time to emphasize the benefits of fostering a connected and supportive work environment. 

Consider sharing success stories and authoritative research demonstrating these strategies’ positive impact. Embrace open and honest conversations and address all concerns and misconceptions, encouraging active involvement from others in the workforce.

Limited resources or support from the organization 

In the fast-paced culture of today’s business landscape, it’s easy to focus on direct profits and deadlines rather than the team’s well-being. When resources are stretched, support from the organization can present a challenge. 

Explore cost-effective alternatives for building camaraderie in the workforce, such as affordable social activities or team-building exercises. Advocate for additional resources toward isolation prevention strategies by highlighting the potential return on investment, drawing attention to improved employee engagement and productivity.

Forming employee-led committees to drive these initiatives also alleviates the pressure from management while encouraging inclusivity among colleagues. 

Personal discomfort or anxiety in social situations 

It’s not always easy to put yourself out there to attend social gatherings or reach out to colleagues. Personal discomfort or social anxiety can make overcoming isolation in the workplace uncomfortable, but taking small steps to gradually expose yourself to social situations can make a big difference in increasing comfort over time. 

Begin by asking for support from trusted colleagues or supervisors who offer guidance and encouragement. It’s also worth investigating workshops or training programs focusing on building social skills or managing anxiety. 

Perseverance and adaptability in the face of setbacks

There may be times along the way when loneliness occurs despite attempts to connect with coworkers. When facing setbacks or obstacles, it’s vital to maintain perseverance and be willing to adapt to these circumstances.

Learn from setbacks, identify improvement areas, and adjust your approach as needed. Ultimately, keep focused on fostering a connected work environment, and be open to feedback or evolving circumstances.

Lack of awareness about the impact of isolation

In some instances, the rest of the team may lack awareness or understanding about the presence (and impact) of isolation in the workplace. Try to educate others about the importance of connection, collaboration, and inclusivity by sharing relevant research and personal experiences. 

Be open to engaging in discussions and prepare resources to promote awareness and knowledge among your colleagues. Practice active listening and be aware of your attitude or tone throughout discussions. 

Final Thoughts on Overcoming Feelings of Isolation at Work

The power of connection has the potential to improve mental health, increase job satisfaction, and boost productivity. Taking proactive steps to create a connected and supportive work environment is essential, even when facing obstacles.

The workplace should be a place of collaboration and connection, driving the team toward collective success. Embrace the opportunity to make a positive difference where you can, and ask for support when you need a helping hand.

Head over to the Deel blog to find more posts with advice on improving your work experience, boosting your career, and finding achieving a positive work-life balance.

Tackling Isolation Checklist

Looking for a practical isolation-combat checklist to keep on hand? Implement these easy steps whenever you feel loneliness creeping in at work. 

  • Schedule a regular virtual coffee or lunch meeting with a colleague
  • Join a coworking space where you can engage with other remote workers
  • Add a team-building activity or social event to your calendar
  • Actively participate in team meetings or discussions, offering your ideas forward
  • Seek out a mentor or trusted colleague for guidance and support
  • Initiate open and honest conversation about your concerns with your supervisors, perhaps during a one-to-one meeting
  • Join employee resource groups or networks related to your interests or hobbies
  • Take advantage of networking opportunities within the organizations
  • Make use of social channels on work-related tools and apps to initiate conversations
  • Practice self-care techniques, such as mindfulness or regular exercise, to improve resilience
  • Proactively contribute to a culture of inclusivity by promoting respect, kindness, and empathy in your interactions


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