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The Lone Danger

Flexible working; with it comes change, freedom, opportunity and… loneliness?

With mental health related deaths up by 50% in the last 3 years, it remains a hotly debated topic. Many people are tirelessly working to get people talking, dispel the myths and ultimately end the taboo. But of those taboos, loneliness is often one of the last to be acknowledged, despite the fact that over 40% of people are likely to feel lonely at some point in their lives.

James Routledge, a start-up entrepreneur and founder of Sanctus wants to change the perception of mental health in the workplace. His mantra: ‘Mental health should have as much publicity as our physical health does, potentially even more. Our minds are more important than our biceps’,hammers home the point that business — at its very core — can both exacerbate and create mental health problems. And this sentiment rings true specifically for those flexible workers, whose workplace is their home.

James and his co-founder George Bettany created a community where people can learn about mental health and share their stories. With this in mind, we at Juggle believe it prudent to shine a light on the ways in which flexible working can be a struggle. In so doing, not only will the collective voice get louder, but we can also provide practical guidance and advice on how to deal with the downsides, and go on to enjoy numerous advantages of working flexibly.

We know that for some, flexible working is not simply a lifestyle choice; it is also a way of getting off the treadmill while remaining in the race. With technology advancing at lightning speed and providing an instant connection to others across the globe, there remains much less need for employees to be chained to the same desk in the same office, day in, day out.

For many therefore, home-working can seem like the dream. The clichés of conducting 3-way calls in your pyjamas, multiple power naps and an intravenous tea drip, exist for a reason, but the novelty can wear off. And in its place, anxiety, distance and isolation can set in. Although it is widely accepted that business thrives when employees are given flexibility to choose where, when and how they work, it doesn’t automatically mean you will thrive.

When work boundaries extend to your personal space, they often get blurred. Without the physical interaction and subconscious checking-in with colleagues, it can be hard to temper your mood and boost your ability to cope with stress. Similarly, the more recent phenomenon of ‘grazing’ causes additional problems. People who work from home often feel unable to disconnect; refreshing and answering business emails ‘out-of-hours’ and readily letting tasks eat into free time, hobbies and social life means a bubble exists where you can no longer separate the two. That much sought-after work / life balance subsequently ends up being lost through the inability to switch-off.

With a reduction in the time spent doing things that matter and that actually connect you to others, loneliness can take hold. First and foremost, it’s helpful to accept that it is normal to feel this way. What you do not have to do however, is accept it as the norm.

So how do you work flexibly and happily?

1) Planning application

Diarise everything. And we mean everything. From your breakfast brainstorm to your evening entertainment; once your plans are tangible, they’re easier to stick to. And that includes preventing your work day from seeping into your downtime. It doesn’t matter if the colour-blocking on your Google calendar would give an interior designer acute angina. It may stop you from developing it. So do it. And do it now.

2) Co-work, work, work, work, work, work

No, we aren’t saying run back to the office and reclaim your escritoire with questionable territorial techniques. Instead, try linking up with other flexible workers. This doesn’t have to be everyday (costs / childcare etc… may not make this possible), but at least regularly. Juggle spoke to several members who found working home alone difficult; they swear that 1–2 days a week in a café / designated campus working with others, is absolutely key to making their flexible work, work.

3) MEET-ings

When possible, conduct meetings in person. Once you’ve started working flexibly, this may feel counter-intuitive, but in time, it will help you feel visible and connected to both your employer and your clients. At the beginning of every month, review your schedule and work out which of the meetings would be beneficial for you to attend in person. It will give your day direction and guarantee some worthwhile networking.

4) All ‘ise’ on you

Prioritise, socialise, exercise. We’re all guilty of letting things slip and when you’re working from home, it can be even easier to fall into a habit of not going out. In fact, the opposite must happen. You should actively make time to see friends and family, and get your blood-pumping; even better if the latter takes place in a group setting. Science is adamant that pleasurable interactions reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase oxytocin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) — both of which bond you to others and ultimately, will stop you feeling lonely.

Want to hear more about how to improve your mental health? Or want to discuss how flexible working can work for you? Get in touch:

You can support the #BeTheChange movement for women in business leadership here.

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