How flexible workspace combats loneliness

How do flexible workspaces combat loneliness

While there’s lots to love about flexible working, isolation and loneliness are undoubtedly two of the biggest downsides. 

With the pandemic restrictions came huge swathes of people suddenly isolated from friends, family, colleagues, social interaction, and support networks. We’re out and about more now, but with working remotely becoming a more permanent fixture in people’s lives, connecting and interacting with others remains challenging, and is still impacting our mental health. 

Loneliness is particularly prevalent among 18 to 36-year-olds. In that age bracket, 41% reveal they’ve experienced feeling lonely while working flexibly, compared to 24% of those aged 55 or over. Overall, 36% of people surveyed said they’d felt lonely while working flexibly. 

If you feel lonely since you started working in a more flexible or hybrid way, or if you’re sensing this is a growing problem among your team members, you’re not alone and there are ways to combat it. 

What impact does loneliness have on individuals and business? 

According to research from the Campaign to End Loneliness, loneliness is closely linked with poor behavioural, psychological, and physiological health. Specifically the health impacts include increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and dementia, and leaves individuals prone to depression.

And it’s not only the individual’s health and wellbeing that suffers. Loneliness can have a significant commercial impact as well. The estimated cost of loneliness to UK employers is estimated at £2.5 billion every year in lost working days and lack of productivity. 

We know there are many benefits of flexible working, but if the resulting loneliness is not addressed by employers or by individuals working from home, it could lead to big problems. 

What do employees and individuals say?

With 71% of UK workers wanting the option to continue working remotely in the future, the transition from office to hybrid, flexible and remote working is here to stay in the UK. And 73% of office workers would like employers to address loneliness among those working flexibly. 

But as the statistics paint a clear picture, it’s critical that individuals and employers recognise and address the negative effects of loneliness and work together to find solutions. And this is reflected in what our members tell us when they’re at our flexible workspaces

“Since the Pandemic started and lockdowns went on and on, working from home felt lonely and too quiet at times.”

Justyna, Founder of Koi Swim School

“In the midst of the isolated desert of working from home, HomeWork is an oasis”

Victor, self-employed HomeWork member

Georgie Randon, HomeWork’s Head of Marketing and Customer Experience, explains – “We hear from our clients every day how much they value being around others and how much it has boosted their sense of purpose and wellbeing.” 

Here’s her advice for anyone feeling the weight of isolation working from home and considering a change to their current work set up:

  1. Find a ‘third space’ to work in. You may not have a local workspace round the corner or the budget to pay for one, but there are lots of other places that can provide you with that all-important separation between work and life, and a much needed change of scenery. Try your local cafe at a quiet time of the day, your sports club or the local library. Some places will be more conducive to work and more welcoming than others, so do a bit of research and try a few out. If none of those are an option, try working at a friend or colleague’s house one day a week and vice versa. The change of scene and additional  structure will go such a long way to boosting your productivity and putting the spring back in your step. At HomeWork we hear time and again from our new members, “I’ve had the most productive work day that I’ve had in years!”      
  1. Be strict with your timetable and don’t give up too quickly. Pick a day or a morning, or even two days, and be regimented about trying your new space every week for a decent period of time. Working somewhere different may feel strange at first and it’s easy to default back to home where it’s safe and familiar but equally has all the drawbacks that have left you wanting a change in the first place. It often takes people a while to settle in because picking somewhere to work regularly is a big decision and, in most cases, a big change! We have clients who regularly change desks until they’ve found the perfect spot or shift between the breakout spaces and the desks/cafe or even alternate between sites. We try to give our clients as much optionality as possible when they first arrive at HomeWork because we know it takes people time to decide what really suits them. Generally a month is a good trial period.
  1. Ask your employer if there is a budget to cover any added costs of working from a ‘third space’. Most employers are embracing hybrid working as a permanent fixture and as such are adjusting their budgets accordingly. If they’ve made a saving on rent by having fewer people in the office they may well be offering their teams a financial contribution to setting up elsewhere, plus they want to make sure their people have somewhere to work where they are happy and productive. We are seeing more and more employees joining our space either expensing the cost or getting a contribution from their employer. We also hear of employers providing lump sums to either set up a home office or spend on a solution that best fits them.
  1. Join a local networking group. There are loads if you google! It can feel daunting getting back out there but sharing your challenges with others who are experiencing the same issues can help enormously. If you are a business owner It will also help build and grow your business and get advice on how best to structure your work day and manage the mental health challenges.  We have actually created our own networking programme at HomeWork because we know effective and supportive networks are so important to both employees and small business owners or freelancers alike. Whether it’s a forum to share challenges or get advice, our members benefit hugely from these sessions. 

And what about employers?

The challenge for employers is how to maintain productivity and feel able to hold their staff accountable when they spend large amounts of time away from the office, whilst ensuring they do not feel isolated. The answer is to provide a solution which allows your team to retain the freedoms and convenience of WFH, but in an environment conducive to working productively and improving wellbeing. It’s also important to provide the pportunity for your team to get together with other professionals (both colleagues and clients) in an accessible, professional and serviced space.

At HomeWork, one of the most frequent bits of feedback we get is around how much people appreciate the community of our workspaces and the interaction with others. It’s not always necessarily about having conversations, though. Sometimes, simply being around other people can make a positive difference to our members’ sense of belonging and purpose. 

We know employers are concerned about their staff’s wellbeing and that it’s high up on corporate agendas but hybrid working arrangements remain challenging. At HomeWork we are passionate about creating a community that makes people happier, more purposeful and more anchored; one that allows them to be their best professional selves. 

We also understand that everyone is different when it comes to combating isolation. Some will need regular in-person, group social interaction, while for others just being physically around others is enough. Listen to Georgie talk to workplace wellbeing platform, Zeffr, about this here.

Our advice to employers?

Be bold and embrace hybrid! We have spoken to many larger businesses who are now languishing between a half empty office and a workforce who don’t want to come back to the office full time but equally don’t love working from home. Find a third space for your teams or a satellite office. Access to an alternative workspace could be a perk of employment (like a gym membership) or a more permanent part of the solution. We have teams of up to 30 who use HomeWork on a part time basis. They typically have one or two days per week when the whole team is in and the rest of the time there’s a smaller group who are in pretty much full time. The smaller group doesn’t necessarily include the ones who live closest either. They are the ones who need to get out of home the most or enjoy the space the most! The set up therefore identifies the ones with the greatest needs and offers a solution. Even if you can’t find a space for everyone straight away, the rise of local workspaces means that you will be able to soon. We’re on a mission to get a HomeWork on high streets all over the UK so we can create more and more local community hubs where people’s businesses can thrive and where they can be their best selves with a smile on their face every day!

So what actually makes a great workspace?

If you’re convinced you need to find a flexible workspace to combat your own loneliness or that of your team members, look for one that has created a real community space with a friendly and professional team and great energy. Within that space, there should be different areas where you can reflect and focus, but also connect and network. Ergonomically designed workspaces should be a given. 

Finally, find a flexible workspace that’s convenient for everything the High Street has to offer. This will give you a chance to become a fully fledged member of your local community over the longer term, and day to day will give you somewhere to explore, stretch your legs, or simply get some fresh air. 

If there’s nothing close by, there are always other options to try, from libraries and cafes, to gym lounges and hotel lobbies. Linking up with a friend or colleague to try new places together, or just to go for a lunchtime walk, are really easy ways to help combat loneliness. 

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