Ask HN: How do you deal with social isolation while working from home?

53 points | by msigwart 35 days ago

43 comments

  • pps43 34 days ago

    At work I have scheduled meetings with no agenda. If we have nothing to talk, it's a short meeting. But it turns out that there's almost always something worth discussing. Without such scheduled meetings people might not think it's worth initiating a call or sending an IM and potentially interrupting someone's flow.

    At home we FaceTime people we normally drink beer together and do it remotely. Two or three families in a videochat. We even attended an all-remote wedding.

    • shinryuu 34 days ago

      I recently started working remotely for a Swedish company.

      There has always been a tradition of taking a short break without agenda in Sweden. (non-work related is fine too).

      Now that it is remote, its simply done in a video chat and it works equally well.

      • war1025 34 days ago

        > At work I have scheduled meetings with no agenda.

        That's a really good idea.

        My version of this is to just suggest a call for very minor things and then try to toss in a good bit of small talk since we're on the call anyway.

      • probst 34 days ago

        We use a small slack bot I developed called the watercooler [1]. It pairs us up two and two for short non-work related chats. Helps break the monotony and isolation of the home office

        1: https://watercooler.site

        • thomk 34 days ago

          I know it is probably not healthy but I am very much enjoying this social isolation. I suppose that makes me an introvert, but, I love spending time with my young son each day. Someone said 'hell is other people'. Although I don't think that is strictly true, boy, this has been a nice break. I feel fantastic.

        • gdubs 34 days ago

          So, I consider myself very fortunate because we have three little kids and it’s been a built-in social dynamic (if exhausting at times).

          That said, the garden has been one of the most calming, literally grounding things since this began. We’ve all gotten a lot out of it. Something about taking care of a living thing. The scale could range from a tiny bonsai tree in a container, to a row of vegetables if you have space for it.

          Edit: I realize this doesn’t answer the question directly, but it’s been soothing so figured I’d share it anyway.

          • uvw 34 days ago

            I used to enjoy taking/debating/joking around with my co-workers while I worked in the office. We used to spend hours talking about football or politics or stock market.

            Now that I am home, I found other things to do. Like staring out of the window, reading reddit/HN, taking a quick nap or cook something to eat.

            It's not so bad. I don't miss people, I don't miss co-workers.

            • mbertschler 34 days ago

              Recently I was assigned a project team of five people. What really worked well for us was hanging out in a Discord Server most of the time during normal work hours, although everyone was muted.

              If someone had a question or needed some collaboration input they would just unmute themselves and start talking. Usually a few seconds later others would also unmute and join the conversation. If more discussion was needed we would switch from our main channel to a private channel.

              This setup worked really well for us and we liked the low friction way of quickly talking to someone without messaging them and setting up a call.

              • frompdx 35 days ago

                My partner works from home too. Our dog hangs out in our office with us while we work. I alternate working and exercising. My current job is big on autonomy and letting people work. Days go by without meetings. It's been great. I don't feel all that isolated to be honest.

                • djhaskin987 34 days ago

                  As usual, the comment section on HN is absolutely dominated by introverts. This is not a bad thing, but obviously the OP is asking a question that introverts don't care about so they shouldn't really be posting. "What problem? Things are fine for me; I've been training for this my whole life" is not helpful to those with this problem.

                  Being a hopeless extrovert, I really get how difficult it is not being in the office.

                  For me, I have to replace human interaction with co-workers with some other face-to-face source. I have been in the quarantine bubble with my sisters who live on the same street, and sometimes I have to go to my brother-in-law's house and talk to him for a few hours just to get that part of me out. It has also been helpful she's sometimes to work around my distracting children. I can't do it all the time, and more often than not I have to lock myself away in the office in the basement, but as another top commenter has said, those little sounds of other people interacting and living really really help. I plan on taking his advice and opening up a twitch channel while I work.

                  But what many introverts (including several members of my family) do not understand is that electronic interaction is like eating tofu when you really just want red meat. It's sort of helps but it doesn't really satisfy. I have to get face-to-face interaction. I have done things like plan a weekly fireside for those in my family with the same problem where we can sit around a fire six feet apart from each other.

                  • Viliam1234 33 days ago

                    > obviously the OP is asking a question that introverts don't care about so they shouldn't really be posting. "What problem? Things are fine for me; I've been training for this my whole life" is not helpful to those with this problem.

                    Well, we need to vent a bit. For the rest of our lives most of us will be forced to live by the rules defined by extraverts. This is our rare opportunity for schadenfreude. One year later, we will spend our days at pointless meetings and teambuilding activities, wishing we could be alone or with our families instead. Or we will sit in the open spaces which pointlessly violate our need for privacy for 8 hours a day, and we will pretend that it's okay because we need to pay our bills.

                    But of course there also should be a place for a serious debate of people who have the opposite problem.

                    • majewsky 33 days ago

                      Introvert-extrovert is not a black-white distinction, it's (like always) a spectrum. If I had to classify myself on the binary scale, I'm definitely an introvert (as in: I find social gatherings taxing and need plenty of time on my own to recharge). However, that doesn't mean that the isolation of working from home in a single household is all fun and games. I feel the same way as you, albeit probably on a lower level. (I can still satisfy most of my social needs via electronic interaction.)

                    • jejeyyy77 35 days ago

                      Hot take from someone who has worked remotely for the past few years:

                      It’s not healthy.

                      • Jaruzel 35 days ago

                        Counter balance: I have also been WFH for the past several years. I enjoy it and prefer it to working in an office.

                        The thing is, WFH is not for everyone. Some people will thrive in it, and some will not, and that's OK. Don't try and force yourself into a pattern that doesn't suit. Once the pandemic is over, revert to the work environment you enjoy most.

                        In the meantime, if you feel lonely, try always-on voice comms with your teammates while you all work as usual, mostly the audio will be quiet, but it does allow for people to spontaneously ask questions, or bounce ideas, is if you all were still in the office.

                        • sshagent 34 days ago

                          I second this. I've worked from home for about 11 years now, pre-covid everything was fine. Met up with friends a couple of times a week, and the odd organised social.

                          A little more awkward nowadays with lockdowns and such, which has me a little twitchy.

                          • mistersquid 34 days ago

                            > try always-on voice comms with your teammates while you all work as usual

                            What software or hardware does your team use for this?

                            • Jaruzel 34 days ago

                              On-prem Skype for Business lets you do this. But tbh any of the gamer orientated voice-comms platforms would work if you don't have that sort of thing as part of your work platform.

                              • majewsky 33 days ago

                                Uh... all of them? Just turn off cameras and put the chat window in the background.

                            • paulryanrogers 34 days ago

                              Hot take from someone who has worked in open offices (and remote) the past few years.

                              Offices aren't healthy for many.

                              Lost time from commuting, increased carbon footprint, high distraction, and low control over the environment are disadvantages not shared with a properly configured home office.

                              • chrismatheson 34 days ago

                                Working remote does not need to be working from home also. Coworking spaces are a thing and I’m my experience can bring the best of both worlds, a groups of people who have their heads down 90% of the time but really make the other 10% fun when everyone joins in the conversation about the new sandwich shop on the corner

                                • JohnBooty 34 days ago

                                  For me it's way healthier, physically and spiritually.

                                  I get to spend more time exercising, more time with loved ones, and pets, and I save money.

                                  I also do get to talk and banter with coworkers on video calls and slack.

                                  • geerlingguy 34 days ago

                                    I think a lot of it boils down to whether you're living in a place with other people or you're alone in an apartment. A family or roommates can give enough human interaction that it's not an issue at all. But many people have most of their human interaction through work and associated activity (commute, lunches, dinner after work, etc.), and the isolation is stifling.

                                    As an introvert with a medical condition, a wife and three kids at home, remote working is the best thing that's ever happened in my career, and I can't see myself working in an office unless there were some incredibly good incentives (and closed individual offices).

                                    • JohnBooty 33 days ago

                                      Well said. I completely agree.

                                          But many people have most of their human interaction
                                          through work and associated activity (commute, lunches,
                                          dinner after work, etc.)
                                      
                                      I think that is very unhealthy though. Obviously it's not something that can be changed easily or immediately (especially during this pandemic) but I would urge anybody reading this to steer away from this mode of existence whenever possible.

                                      I have made amazing, lifelong friends through workplaces, but depending on one's workplace for human interaction is fraught. Workplaces are generally unhealthy places to varying degrees.

                                      This is capitalism. I am not anti-capitalism, but the reality is that capitalism is all about extracting value from labor. Making friends at work is a bit like chunks of fruit befriending each other as they're fed through a juice presser.

                                          As an introvert with a medical condition, a wife and 
                                          three kids at home, remote working is the best thing 
                                          that's ever happened in my career,
                                      
                                      This is wonderful to read!
                                • ht85 34 days ago

                                  I've worked from home since 2012. Along the way I figured what I miss is not human interaction. On the contrary, I'd rather have it exclusively outside of work hours, even with colleagues.

                                  What I miss is the feeling of having people around. Hearing voices, movements, something unexpected happening from time to time.

                                  I've found that having twitch in the background makes the feeling disappear. I choose streams that are kinda monotone, low interaction, from likeable streamers.

                                  • chrisbennet 35 days ago

                                    Re: The social distancing, not seeing anyone, working from home situation. My brother told me: "I've been training for this my whole life!"

                                    • bane 34 days ago

                                      A neighbor of mine has what he calls "sessions" in his driveway. 5 or 6 friends come by once a week with lawn chairs and lunch and they all sit about 9 feet apart from one another and chit chat for a couple hours. He says he needs to physically see people not to go crazy.

                                      Personally, I'm generally fine without a lot of social interaction. But at my work we use Teams a ton at work and in my role I have a little too much interaction tbh. But basically we've turned lots of interactions into "hey you have a sec?" followed by a voice or video chat. Some of my coworkers who were really struggling seem to be responding well to this kind of thing.

                                      • ravenstine 34 days ago

                                        I don't. Isolation simply doesn't bother me very much.

                                        • jasonv 34 days ago

                                          I don’t look at my coworkers for social satisfaction. It can happen and that’s nice. I find the question almost inconceivable.

                                          I’m also on conference calls half the day. Quiet is nice.

                                          • jenscow 34 days ago

                                            > I don’t look at my coworkers for social satisfaction.

                                            Right.

                                            If remote working makes you suffer socially, then it could be your social life that needs looking at, not your work-environment.

                                            • Viliam1234 33 days ago

                                              Some people may need 16 hours of social interaction a day, so remote working can make them suffer even if their evenings are okay.

                                          • scarecrowbob 34 days ago

                                            I started my working life in a University, where I had colleagues but more or less worked on my own even when I was in an office.

                                            At some point I quit, went through some other jobn searches, and started working from home doing software dev work.

                                            SO I've been working on my own for 20 years, and 10 of those have been doing remote dev work.

                                            Two things have been helpful:

                                            - I had a family for most of that time, - I have activities outside of work (playing music and rock climbing) that I need to interact with other folks to do.

                                            For the first six weeks or so of the pandemic quarantine I curtailed those activities.

                                            At this point, I now have a small group of 10 or so people across two bands and a couple of dudes I climb with, and so I am back into having some socialization. If I get exposed (or anyone in my groups is exposed), it's a small enough set of people I can contract trace.

                                            So, with the exception of the 75-person buddist group I was going to and playing music in bars, I am more or less back to the amount of socialization I was getting before the pandemic.

                                            That's what keeps me from feeling isolated.

                                            • war1025 34 days ago

                                              > However, I quickly started to miss the small everyday interactions with my co-workers.

                                              I work for a small company, and the coworkers in my office were all pretty anti-social to begin with. So I went from not talking to them in the office to not talking to them remotely.

                                              I do have a couple people I enjoy interacting with from work, but they live on the other side of the country, so it's always been me talking to them over the phone. That's kept up pretty much the same.

                                              As to the rest of the isolation, we had to adjust a fair bit for that, but it's ended up we've just gotten to be better friends with our neighbors. I read somewhere that it's cruel to keep kids from seeing any other kids, which is sort of how I felt to begin with, so it gave us a convenient excuse.

                                              Basically we went from always visiting with people 15 miles away from home, to always visiting people 100 feet from home. It hasn't been too bad honestly.

                                              Plus we've started skyping with family members on the weekends, which has been nice.

                                              • falcolas 34 days ago

                                                Being married (plus cats) is my solution. Plus, plenty of multiplayer games and discord for my downtime.

                                                Seriously though - having an emotionally intimate partner in the home is a fantastic way to get through just about anything that life can throw at you. Married or not, same or different sex, sexual or asexual, it’s a very valuable connection that I don’t regret forming.

                                                • uxp100 34 days ago

                                                  I’ve been working from home for 5 years, and I feel that my work social interactions are less than ever before. It was a mix of people in a room and people on the phone before, and I often would be irritated that I couldn’t hear some of the conversations between people who were in the room together. But as far as I can tell these side conversations have just vanished and now team meetings have become a series of public 1:1s.

                                                  So I think people are disengaged and you should push to have informal work conversations, perhaps in chat or email, about things that it’s easy to just mention in person. A lot of my work conversations that start as “I know it’s written down somewhere but which team owns this” end with “well how’s the kids, etc” which is mundane, but like, shits bad, the answer may not be just “oh, fine.”

                                                  • chocks 34 days ago

                                                    Hey, I’ve felt the same about missing social aspect of office during these wfh days. One thing that has worked for me is, I do virtual coffee chats with couple folks in my team and other friends at work every week and we talk about stuff of mutual interest work or non-work related.

                                                    • codingdave 34 days ago

                                                      I have been remote for years and still have those small interactions. Slack, video, even texting. Adapt your communication techniques.

                                                      In some ways, it is even beter this way. We never could riff on our leaders all hands meetings in person the way we can over slack while watching their zoom call.

                                                      • me551ah 34 days ago

                                                        I was suffering from the same problem and built an app to get around these issues. I usually do gaming, video chats and playing board games. The hard part about doing them regularly is figuring out when people are actually available and what they are up for. So I built a simple app in which everybody has to enter their availability for the week and what they want to do. So I can just use the app and figure out which of my friends/co-workers are free today for something that I want to do.

                                                        You can check it out at : https://www.bl1p.app or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L__GJEdepus

                                                        • loopz 34 days ago

                                                          For my workflow, being at home worked well until momentum from before was lost. Initating new things, knowing who to contact and getting flow going, just doesn't always pan out that well virtually. When everybody knows what to do, it's smooth sailing WFH. However, most of my job is ahead of that curve, and with constant reorg and active internal sabotage (no less accurate word for it when people know what they're doing), nothing works better than than accidentally bumping into somebody in the hallway, or at lunch.

                                                          Also, meetings seems to be most efficient and comfortable when it's all or nothing = either everyone is virtual, or they're all physical.

                                                          • zelphirkalt 34 days ago

                                                            For many of us this social isolation is normal. Welcome to our world. Not much has changed, except that we saved some time not having to go to the office and avoid sitting in public transport with irresponsible people, who do not wear masks. Some of us have even worked remotely already anyway.

                                                            If you think this is bad and that you are now suffering terribly, then remember it next time, when you could socialize with a geek and be a nice person. Sometimes even we need some form of social interaction or a friend. Your geek friends might thank you one day.

                                                            • 0xBE5A 35 days ago

                                                              We use Jitsi at work and have rooms that sort of emulate our shared office rooms. Sometimes there will be pair programming via screenshare, other times people just hang out in there and occasionally ask a question or talk about interesting and funny things they stumble across while working. Maybe you could suggest something like this to your coworkers?

                                                              • oh_boy 34 days ago

                                                                Playing video games with friends, online, after work. That worked pretty well for me for the last 3 months.

                                                                • debuggest 34 days ago

                                                                  Have a weekly board game lunch on https://boardgamearena.com/welcome. Most games are free and it works pretty well to jump into a video chat at the same time.

                                                                  • jansan 34 days ago

                                                                    Nobody else here seems to have any children. Sometimes I would like to have more social isolation, because, believe it or not, two teenage boys at home can be rather annoying from time to time.

                                                                    • mistersquid 34 days ago

                                                                      > believe it or not, two teenage boys at home can be rather annoying from time to time.

                                                                      Given it's summer (in the US) and school's out, those teenage boys may be thinking the same thing about their parents! ;-)

                                                                    • tibbydudeza 34 days ago

                                                                      My wife and I share an office at home , she has way more team meetings than me (her being a PM) but I can zone out coding while listening to music.

                                                                      • Dumblydorr 34 days ago

                                                                        Find times outside of work to socialize IRL with humans.

                                                                        • badrabbit 34 days ago

                                                                          Online gameroom for coworkers would be great.

                                                                          • stevage 34 days ago

                                                                            I use Twitter, to sort of "hang out" with a much bigger circle of colleagues/friends/weirdos.

                                                                            • hckr_news 34 days ago

                                                                              I live at my parents home at the moment. And all my siblings are here as well. I don’t as isolated I guess.

                                                                              • gshdg 35 days ago

                                                                                By forming friendships with neighbors.

                                                                                • thebeefytaco 34 days ago

                                                                                  Because I'm used to it. I've been working from home and socially isolated for years, lol.

                                                                                  • artur_makly 34 days ago

                                                                                    every Sat we throw a Zoom Party with talented DJs from around the world. https://DistantDisco.com

                                                                                    it is incredible.

                                                                                    • user_50123890 34 days ago

                                                                                      Video games in the evenings with friends, with voice chat.

                                                                                      • brudgers 34 days ago

                                                                                        Dogs.

                                                                                        • thelastinuit 34 days ago

                                                                                          when you have no friends:

                                                                                          - Work around ~12 hrs per day

                                                                                          - Read books.

                                                                                          - Play video games.

                                                                                          - Workout.

                                                                                          - No dark thoughts (for those who understand the IT Crowd puns)

                                                                                          - Repeat.

                                                                                          • AlgorithmicTime 34 days ago

                                                                                            I socialize with my neighbors and the people at the brewery. Social distancing is pointless.

                                                                                            • theduder99 34 days ago

                                                                                              the supposed need for social interaction is a socialist construct preying on insecurities.

                                                                                              sounds like you've already found a like minded coworker who doesn't mind being taking a break from work to hang out with you. Don't wear him/her out :) It is rare to find someone who isn't a slave to sprint goals.

                                                                                              • devchris10 34 days ago

                                                                                                Try some investing or prediction games

                                                                                                oraclerank.com kaggle.com

                                                                                                • ageofwant 34 days ago

                                                                                                  You will get over it. A certain degree of social dependence and external validation is fine. But if the lack of it makes you unhappy I'll take it as a hint that you have deep caverns in you mind, filled with extraordinary treasure, that you have never ventured into. Read more, try out hard things and make them easy. People and friends are nice, but don't depend on them for purpose and connection.

                                                                                                  Why not take up botany https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTsAFpSXj7Y