I’m so lonely — but how can I ask more of my coworkers right now?

A reader writes:

I want your advice about “asking for what you need” during this time of pandemic. I’ve been at my job nearly seven months now and I love it, it’s a great step into a sector that’s hard to get into that I’ve wanted to be in for a long time. We have a small, tight-knit team that I really enjoy working with, and I love our work.

As of the last two weeks, I’ve been working from home, and we’ve been informed that this will be the case indefinitely. My normal job is almost impossible to do from home because we deal with paper files that we can’t take home, so we’re plugging gaps in other teams in the organization.

I’m really struggling to adjust to this new reality. We collaborate online and keep in touch, but it’s not the same. I have to make a concerted effort to talk to people now and I’m constantly worrying that I’m annoying people or distracting them from their work. I didn’t realize how much I rely on work for stability until this happened.

I’m really lonely. When I’ve tried to mention how isolated I feel, I’m met with the “we’re really lucky compared to x/y/z” response from some of my colleagues or it’s otherwise been glossed over. I know I’m very lucky to have a stable contract and guaranteed pay because that isn’t the case for many right now, so I feel awful for feeling like this.

I know it would help if my manager were to check in with me on the phone every day or two, but I don’t know how to ask without seeming needy and I feel like I’d be wasting his time. Currently he’s operating on “you can talk to me if you need anything” policy but not actively reaching out. He has other responsibilities and is taking on more work in the face of the crisis and I just feel like I should be coping because I’m usually pretty self-sufficient and he’s said he likes that about me. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t always acknowledge messages I do send him because it just reinforces my thinking. I need more from him right now but I don’t know how to ask.

I just don’t want to feel so cut off from everything for the entire time this lasts.

You can be lucky and still be lonely. You can recognize you’re in a better situation than others and still feel isolated and unmoored. That doesn’t make you ungrateful; this is hard, and it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s hard.

We tend to talk about working from home as if it’s always a perk, but some people hate working from home! And working from home on occasion is different than doing it every day, and doing it because you want to is different than doing it because you have to (and without the right equipment and support to do it effectively). Plus, you’re not even doing your normal job right now. You’re on loan to other teams, doing work you don’t normally do. Of course you feel unmoored!

There are lots of pieces of this situation that you can’t do much about, but feeling guilty for being unhappy is the one that’s most in your control. So I say, give yourself permission to be unhappy right now. Sometimes a situation warrants unhappiness, and you don’t need to beat yourself up over that. It’s okay to decide that this deeply sucks.

But there are other things you can try as well.

Mentioning to colleagues how isolated you feel hasn’t gotten the response you were hoping for, but what if you tried a different approach? Can you suggest a weekly virtual happy hour for your team? Make sure it’s fully optional since people don’t need additional work obligations right now, but some of your colleagues might welcome a low-pressure way to connect with each other. Also, are there particular co-workers you have better rapport with than others? Try checking in to see how they’re doing, sending a funny link here and there, and other low-key methods of connecting. People might not have the emotional bandwidth to talk about loneliness with a colleague right now, but might be glad for lighter social contact.

As for your boss, it’s probably not reasonable to ask him to check in on you by phone every day, but can you set up a standing weekly call? A regular weekly meeting with your manager is a good practice anyway, even in normal times. If your sense is that he’d resist having another weekly obligation on his calendar, try initiating it on an as-needed basis instead. Throughout the week, jot down things you’d like to run by him, and then when you’ve got a small list, ask to set up a call to discuss them.

Depending on what he’s like and the type of rapport the two of you have, you also might be able to say outright, “I’m feeling pretty disconnected from our team right now. Any chance we can check in more frequently? I know you’re busy, but just being able to touch base once a week would really help.” Frankly, the fact that he’s praised your self-sufficiency in the past gives you more standing to ask this now! A good manager will figure that since you have a track record of functioning independently, if you’re asking for more support now it’s probably because it’s truly necessary. And that past self-sufficiency should buy you some good will now that you do need help.

Beyond that, don’t limit yourself to co-workers. Are there other people in your field who you’ve clicked with and could try connecting more with now? Are there online discussions for your industry that you can join to expand the group of people you’re in touch with? (LinkedIn is a good place to find those.)

And look beyond the professional realm too: Make sure you’re staying in touch with friends and family — which might sound obvious, but often when people are lonely, they worry that reaching out more will bother others. With friends and family, there’s generally much more room to tell people you’re struggling and ask for help, so do that if you haven’t already.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. Ginger*

    I would set up a weekly check in with the manager for about 30 min. Use the time to ask for feedback on the work you’re doing, professional development/training to fill the time, etc. Create a new routine for yourself which may include more structured check-ins.

    Also – an add-on to the virtual happy hour, I am loving virtual coffee meet-ups with colleagues. Not everyone wants to / can take the time in the evening for a happy hour but a 30 min coffee break? Usually do-able.

    1. Yvette*

      I like the coffee break, or even virtual lunch.

      As far as the weekly check ins, I don’t know about that. OP says the team was small, but we don’t know how many teams report to the manager, and that the manager has had to take on additional duties. If every report wants 30 minutes a week, that could translate to hours and hours of the manager’s time. And if OP is the only report who wants/needs 30 minutes a week that might not come across well. Maybe something a little shorter.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If you work between the UK and the YS, consider timing your midmorning break for their afternoon tea. One of my rare calls to England landed there by coincidence and it was actually quite a good ice breaker to both have a cup.

        1. Desk-Nail-Clipperer*

          To be honest, any time, day or night, is the rgiht time for a cuppa tea in England!

      1. Jdc*

        Oh that’s fun. It also could be fun because it might lead to breakfast ideas since we all have more time to cook.

    2. EmbracesTrees*

      This is a nice idea but it sounds like the OP is (maybe?) just expecting? hoping for? too much from colleagues and manager. Yes, many folks are not working, so those of use who are should feel fortunate to have jobs. That said, yes, a lot of people who are working are experiencing loneliness and anxiety right now — at the same time, a lot of people who are working are experiencing So Much Pressure: figuring out the online job (which, for some of us is SO much more work), at the same time as jockeying childcare, managing too-close in-person family relationships/interactions, juggling time for aging, needy, lonely parents, etc. I really enjoy my colleagues but right now I simply cannot handle One More Thing. I truly feel guilty about rejecting those who reach out to connect with me right now — though I enjoy it when can manage it — but I just can’t do it.
      OP’s needs are real, and asking for weekly check-ins could be reasonable, but beyond that I just don’t think her co-workers are the right people to rely on to quell her anxiety.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I agree. “I feel lonely” seems like a problem to fix in your personal life and not with your manager and colleagues. OTOH some of the description does seems like a work disconnect.

      2. Goodbye Toby*

        I agree. I have a colleague like this and while I very much sympathize with her, I cannot add on the additonal stress of regular check ins with her. We are on flip sides of an equation where working remotely means a ton more work for me, and her work has dried up. She will call or text just to chat during work hours and it’s hard to get through to her how slammed my manager and I are and it’s honestly starting to grate on us, which feels incredibly unkind

      3. Temperance*

        My professional association is hosting regular Zoom meetings and happy hour chats. Instead of leaning on colleagues for connections, she should be looking to professional orgs and her friends/family. A lot of the social networks I’m part of through Twitter and Instagram are also hosting get-togethers.

        There’s a lot out there, but you have to do the legwork to find it.

      4. Heffalump*

        Over the years I’ve become friends with some coworkers on a case-by-case basis, but I never assume that a coworker is automatically a friend.

      5. Anon 9*

        Alison if you happen to see this, I’m curious why your response wasn’t as concerned about the emotional labor it seems this person is asking her coworkers/manager to take on? You’ve written previously about how employees can’t expect that type of ongoing emotional ‘support’ from a boss or coworker and have encouraged people on the receiving end of this type of request to set appropriate boundaries, so I wondered why your response wasn’t to tell the employee to look elsewhere for connection (especially in light of the fact that this crazy situation has meant an increased workload for many mangers, including (it sounds like) this employee’s manager who has had to take on additional responsibilities during the crisis). Thanks!

        1. Maisel*

          Totally agree. I have an employee like this and I cannot be responsible for her loneliness and/or emotional labor beyond the norm.

      6. pamplemousse*

        One thing that’s really tough about our current circumstances, especially for managers, is that everyone is struggling differently. Some people are lonely and missing human interaction and really would benefit from more video or phone check-ins. Some people are juggling child care and need to be able to spend that one hour of naptime doing work that actually requires brainpower. Some people are coping by throwing themselves into work. Some people are spaced out and can’t meet deadlines.

        I’m category 1 (ideally would have more interaction with my boss than I have) working for a category 2 (two young kids at home and totally overwhelmed with meetings during his available time) and we have settled on keeping our weekly 1:1s with 5 minutes at the beginning or end for me to think out loud about a problem. It sucks because as a good manager you want to be there for people and help them as much as you can. But we are also in a situation of needing to put on our own oxygen masks first sometimes (or at least ensuring that we can meet core business needs before we move higher up Maslow’s hierarchy with our direct reports).

    3. Rachel in NYC*

      My boss does a once week group check in for everyone at once. Everyone is required to be on video b/c -honestly I’m not sure why- maybe to make sure we aren’t at a pool somewhere? It’s a 30-45 minute mtg that we normally have once a month but it let’s us see each other and check in. We’re a pretty close group who is normally on top of each other during the work day. We go in order- alphabetically- to just sorta review where we are in both work and home life.

    4. GS*

      Yes! The happy hour was a bit packed/we kind of ran out of things to say, but the 1:1 random coffee date I’ve had with two different work friends (one is a first time mother with a two year old and one is a mother of four) have been great. They just facetime me whenever they need a little adult who isn’t in my house chatting time. It’s been really nice. Sometimes we’ll schedule in advance as well, just chatting through work and life.

    5. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

      I think I mentioned last week that I set up an optional* virtual coffee hour with my team and it has been a big success. It’s in everyone’s calendar, half an hour twice a week. I was skeptical when one of my colleagues suggested it but it turns out that my team really likes it.

      * I mean truly optional, not “Jane, I noticed you weren’t on coffee hour yesterday” optional. It’s there for the folks who want/need it; those who don’t are free to skip.

      1. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

        I saw this idea a few weeks ago, I think from you, and my team loves it. We talk about coffee and Netflix and nothing work related. I emphasize that it’s optional but everyone attends.

      2. mountainshadows299*

        I did the same for my team… I was a little worried suggesting it to my supervisor, but he was super gung-ho about it and while I initially scheduled once a week for 15 minutes so as to not encroach on anyone’s time, he has asked me to increase it to twice a week. (He is super extrovert, so I think the distance is bugging him more than anyone).

        So far, people seem to want to attend, but of course, there are those who don’t, which is absolutely fine too. Seems to work well for those who want the friendly interaction.

    6. Goliath Corp.*

      We’ve maintained our Friday afternoon office trivia over Zoom, and it’s been really nice to share a laugh with zero talk about coronavirus. People are also encouraged to treat it like happy hour and bring a drink if they would like to.

      My team also does daily check-ins, but we do cancel them when we don’t feel like we have much to update, and 90% of the talk is about what TV shows we’re bingeing right now.

      Obviously not everyone has this amount of flexibility, but for those of us who aren’t able to do a lot of our regular tasks remotely it’s been a nice way to stay connected.

  2. yuhj*

    It says You’ve reached your monthly article limit.
    Can somebody tell me what Alison’s advice was?

      1. Jdc*

        Oh my gosh where have you been all my life. Not just for This site. Also my phone allows me to see as many as I want but my computer doesn’t. Zero idea why but thank you!!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It breaks her contract to post her advice to this website to let people avoid their paywalls and limitations. Please don’t ask people to cross post in these circumstances.

    2. Polly Hedron*

      These cross-posts make me appreciate the AAM community because the comments here are nicer than the comments in The Cut.

      1. A*

        +1! I’ve only bothered to dive into the comments there a few times… and both times I felt like Dorothy in Oz. There’s no place like home (AAM)… there’s no place like home (AAM)…

      2. Deanna Troi*

        Actually, the comments on this one are extremely sympathetic. And the LW game a fairly long update over there.

    1. Hula-la*

      I’m signing up as a volunteer that reaches out to seniors in my community to check in on them. It’s a phone call at least once a week. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reach out to others, as I think it will help with my loneliness too.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        I’ve been doing that! I have already been invited to dinner at Sra Maria’s house (Me: How do you speak Spanish so well? Sra Maria: Because I am from Puerto Rico! Me: I want to go there to eat! Sra Maria: No! You come to my house for supper! I invite you!) and have had a deep discussion about the history of Days of Our Lives with Ms. J, whom I now call before 1:00 p.m.

        1. Hula-la*

          Thanks! I’m looking forward to it. I’m working, but working from home, so I can make calls during the day if need be.

    2. Quinalla*

      This is a really great idea, it is something that could really help OP loneliness and help another as well at the same time. And as others have said, reach out to any friends/family to see how they are. I’ve reached out in some ways to coworkers, but the people I can really unload my worries and anxiety on are my friends and family. Start a group text or just text with some folks, set up a weekly/monthly/whatever zoom chat at night or over lunch. And yes, professional organizations are a great way to connect too and to find other folks in your same boat to commiserate with and not feel like you are playing the who-has-it-worse Olympics. It is hard for everyone right now, even if it is harder for some, that doesn’t make it easier for you.

  3. Princess Deviant*

    Alison’s advice was great! I hope you can implement it, and I hope that you start to feel less lonely – and know that you’re not alone. This internet stranger is in solidarity with you.

  4. Aggretsuko*

    My office is in constant contact, I will offer to trade…it gets kind of exhausting having 3 Zoom meetings a day though.

    1. MissGirl*

      I find it frustrating when someone has a legitimate complaint and someone offers to trade or otherwise minimizes their experience. I’m sure that’s not what you intend but that’s how it comes off to the person. I’m also incredibly isolated right now and if I dare say that, someone says you can have kids/spouse whatever. We all have difficulties right now.

      1. Reba*

        I hear what you’re saying, but I think Aggretsuko’s comment was a kind of commiseration. as you say, we are all having difficulties right now.

    2. CR*

      Seriously, I would love not to have to show my face to my coworkers constantly during quarantine. I look horrible, can we just talk on the phone like normal?

  5. MissGirl*

    I started my job in October and my team is fairly small. I find myself texting my old team more than my new to chat. Try to find other avenues besides work to meet your communication needs.

  6. SusanB*

    The isolating loneliness is really really hard right now. I don’t know what the solution is but to be honest all of this isolation feels really unnatural and I hate it. I have never wanted to work from home. It’s OK every once in a while when you’re waiting on the cable guy or something but for the most part, I hate it. I like talking to co-workers in the hallway. I like learning from other people. I love just hearing the sounds of people all around me. I like getting dressed up in work clothes and heels. A friend of mine confessed she downloaded “office noises” and has been playing that as white noise. This all just sucks and while some people are just kind of uncomfortable, some other folks hate this. It’s OK if you HATE this. I hate it. I feel trapped and powerless and suffocated and I can’t sleep. Some days zoom happy hours help. Other days they make me feel worse. Most weeks I just wait impatiently for “grocery store day” so I can leave my house (wearing a mask) and see other people. Even the small talk through a plastic screen with a grocery store clerk is enough to make me feel a little more normal.

    Hang in there.

    1. Bee*

      Yeah, at my last job I worked from home one day per week, and that was exactly the balance I want – especially in my Brooklyn apartment that’s way too small for a proper desk set-up. My office did a Jackbox game session on Friday, and it was honestly so wonderful to just see my coworkers’ faces and joke around for a little while.

    2. Caligirl*

      Yep, being single and living alone is a drag…
      In addition to Alison’s always amazing advice I’ll share too. What has helped for me is virtual happy hours/book club and general ‘hi thinking of you’ texts. My therapist is also doing remote sessions which are very effective. Getting dressed and putting on shoes and not just having socks and slippers on for days has helped! Shoes! Who knew they would make such a difference in my mood and motivation. And I took the Amazon app off my phone as it was becoming a problem.
      SusanB said it perfectly – I hate working from home too, and just texted my boss that I can’t wait to go back to the office!
      Hang in there.

  7. quirkypants*

    The thing that has worked best for me is to check in on others. Depending on how people open up to you, you can get a sense for those who are willing to return the favour.

    Something to consider, your manager is a person, too. It’s possible they’re struggling emotionally right now as well but would not be comfortable opening up to you. Your manager can be there for you professionally and offer a sympathetic, “I’m sorry to hear that,” but may not be capable of providing much more, possibly because they’re already tapped out and just trying to hold on. The same might be true of other colleagues who also aren’t giving you what you need. Not everyone is going to have the mental/emotional capacity to give you everything you need.

    I’m a senior manager and have 6 people reporting to me. I am struggling personally (and professionally) A LOT. I have employees who are struggling and I’m doing my best to be a kind, patient manager, to help them professionally and ligthen the workload when they need it, and I’m able to offer empathy when we have our weekly call but I can’t do much more than that at this time.

    That said, I did find one colleague who is a peer who I can confide in a little bit. Maybe find that one or two people you can connect with one-on-one.

    1. Elenia*

      Yeah I am finding as a manager there isn’t really a place for me to go to get support. I am there for my team, but my supervisor – well, I like her a lot. She’s tough, non-nonsense, gets shit done – but not touchy-feely at all. Plus she’s only been my manager a short while so I don’t have that kind of rapport. I only have like three peers and they are all much busier than me – I have enough to keep me busy for half or 3/4 of the day, but they are working much harder. So I don’t want to bother them either.

    2. AnotherAnon*

      Thank you for saying this. I manage a total staff of 40, almost all who are considered essential personnel. I’m trying to do my best to juggle work demands, changing priorities, keeping my team safe, and the obvious impact all this has on my staff’s morale. While I try to do my best to try to address staff morale issues in relevant work contexts, I would feel extremely overwhelmed if an employee needed me for emotional support because their feeling lonely. I don’t have the bandwidth to be an employee’s social or emotional connector right now. I feel like that sounds really callous, but managers are humans and many times they aren’t employee’s friends.

      1. Sam.*

        Yes, I would encourage OP to be very careful about not making her coworkers/boss responsible for her loneliness. Many people don’t have the bandwidth for that emotional labor right now, and even if they do, it shouldn’t be an expectation of a largely professional relationship. I don’t want to sound harsh because I get where OP is coming from – my team dynamic has been similar since we started working from home a month ago – but it is something to be mindful about. I think Alison’s suggestions are very good ones – take the initiative to set up some opportunities to socialize with coworkers who might also be craving it, plan virtual happy hours/game nights/dinners with friends and family, maybe find a new hobby to explore. What’s been really helpful for me is setting things up in advance. One-off video or phone calls are great, but knowing I have my standing weekly calls to look forward to makes a big difference.

        1. A*

          Agreed. My heart goes out for OP – I’m single and living alone, I get it! But this is a symptom of the times, and I do think OP is barking up the wrong tree to a certain extent in looking to her colleagues and manager to fill that void. Sounds like there are a few things that can be done that might help, but ultimately the solution won’t come from them.

          I’ve kept in good spirits by having standing calls at lunch and in the evening with close friends (including some coworkers, but ones I had already developed friendships with). I also have been volunteering in my neighborhood by doing curbside grocery delivery etc. It’s rough, but there are options out there. Unfortunately OP will need to seek them out, and not just in the workplace.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This may not be a great idea, but as I read your post, Another Anon, I started thinking of summer camp and the buddy system at the swimming hole.

        People could pair up in agreement to keep tabs on each other. It could be whatever they agree to such as video lunches together or a phone call later in the day, etc.

        During normal times, I have had reasons to do this with people. Picture a large work place with high chance of injury: “if you don’t see me in a half hour coming looking for me to see where I fell and broke my leg.”
        Sadly, one person did actually break BOTH legs and sat on the floor for well over an hour waiting for someone to notice they had been gone a while.

        When I supervised, I encouraged people to help each other and to ask each other questions. Again, this was under normal times. One boss cannot do it all, just can’t.

  8. CEO of Cats*

    My boss has a ‘virtual open door’ about 1-2x/week. She stays on Zoom for the first 20mins of the work day and it’s a chance for others to stop by, say hello, and talk about non-work issues. People come in late, leave early, just say hi and shoot the breeze. It works well for our organization because we only have about 25 full-time staff.

    We also have a ‘positivity postings’ shared file on our workspace (Basecamp) where we post random stuff we’re loving. It includes recipes, podcasts, videos we loved, pictures of our new coworkers, and one staff member wrote a list of things that helped her fight the ‘staying home blues’ while she was on maternity leave. It’s a nice spot to visit when I’m feeling down.

    I’ve been feeling pretty lonely as well. I’ve reached out to a few coworkers for a virtual lunch/coffee hour and it’s helped tremendously. I’ve also made a point to reach out to friends outside of work to stay connected. People I haven’t talked to in years: old college roommate, high school friend, etc. It helps so much.

    I also recommend Zoom Pictionary using the whiteboard feature… so much fun. My family and I played it using inside jokes and we couldn’t stop laughing.

    Sending good vibes, OP.

    1. I Love Llamas*

      This is soooo helpful!!! I never thought about playing games over Zoom — my social life is going to blossom! Thank you from a Gen X quasi-luddite!

      1. CEO of Cats*

        There’s a few app extensions that you can download to play some games, but I’ve honestly never tried it haha. Some you also have to pay for, which I can’t see myself using past the quarantine.

        Zoom Pictionary is fun!! This is how we play, feel free to modify: One person draws, one person facilitates, everyone else guesses. When the drawer shares their screen on Zoom, there’s a ‘whiteboard’ option. Click that, and the viewers will only see what you draw. The facilitator will privately message the drawer what they have to draw. You can Google ‘pictionary word generator’ or, what my family and I did, think of something that would be hilarious to draw, like an inside joke! Whoever guesses the word/phrase first wins – but we don’t keep score :)

      2. Jackalope*

        We are doing a virtual d&d game since as my husband said, d&d is primarily “cooperative group storytelling”. Some people use miniatures and a map but you don’t have to have them, and by doing it all orally (other than emailing him character sheets) we don’t need anything else.

        I have also tried other games like one board game where we took pictures at the end of each turn and emailed them to the players not in our house. It was cumbersome but worked.

    2. Pennalynn Lott*

      Friends of mine just did a virtual escape room together. An astronaut is trapped in a section of a space station and you have to solve clues to break her out. I’m going to set it up with a different group of friends later in the month.

      Also, friends of mine from school (two of us graduated last May, two are graduating this May) and I have Zoom lunch together every Wednesday. We’re all in the same profession (internal audit) so we get to gripe and offer support / ideas about our jobs. I plan on scheduling more lunches (or happy hours) with other groups of friends.

  9. zebra*

    I second Alison’s advice to organize a few low-key social activities like virtual coffee breaks or happy hours. Instead of complaining to people that you feel isolated and hoping for them to help you, be proactive and do something about it! I’ve done a few team coffee breaks and my email is something like “I really miss the casual social interactions from the office, so if you want to chat over coffee, here’s a zoom link!” A few people show up each time and it’s nice to talk to them. By doing this you will find out who else is struggling with the isolation, and then maybe you can follow up with them more often. The folks who are too busy will just choose not to attend and then you’ll know they’re not interested in more social time.

    If you use Slack or something similar, try using or starting a channel for some random fun stuff and you might find other people wanting to use it too.

    And on top of all this, reach out to your personal network too. Don’t rely on work to fulfill 100% of your social needs — try to diversify so you’re not putting so much pressure on your coworkers. Good luck!

  10. AnnaB53*

    This might just be my weird issue, but may I express my disappointment at not being able to read your responses to some of the off-site postings without having to either subscribe or sign up for ‘free’ trials to their websites? I know it’s a business necessity but would it be possible to place the “I’ve answered this at the so and so website” at the beginning of the letter instead of the end? Just so we can decide if we want to skip that letter altogether since we won’t easily be able to see your response? Don’t know if that’s even a viable option but I thought I’d put it out there.Thanks, Alison!

    1. Wordnerd*

      Someone has commented somewhere else that right-clicking and opening the link in an incognito tab can get you around the article limit.
      I also, however, second the request to have the link come before the question, if only because I read the question here, follow the link, and then scroll through the question again to get to the response. (I also suuuper don’t like the cursivey italics font The Cut uses and find it hard to even scroll past, but that’s so totally outside Alison’s control.)

    2. Anne of Green Gables*

      Alison has said in the past that the external content letters post at 12:30 (third post of the day) so depending on how frequently you read the site, that’s one way to know ahead of time that it’s a link-out answer.

    3. Sabine*

      Alison writes like 20 posts a week with free advice. I don’t think it’s a big deal to have 1 of those posts be behind a pretty lax paywall, and I’m happy to click the link and vote w/ my page view. And people are way more like to click on the link if there’s actual text in the post, not just “hey check out this column.”

    4. anon for this*

      I understand that it’s frustrating as a reader to hit a paywall, especially when all sites seemingly have them, they don’t work together, you have to constantly log in from different browsers, and there’s no easy “can I just pay $1 to access this one article, I don’t actually want to subscribe” button. But writing and editing these columns (and choosing the pitch-perfect stock photos, and everything else that goes into this) is labor. Subscription fees are a part of the business model that enables Allison to run this site. NY Mag charges, I think, $5/month. I understand if paying that isn’t a priority for you in your budget, especially right now, but the ramification of that choice is not having access.

      I don’t blame anyone in this thread, and I don’t want to come off as harsh — I dodge paywalls myself sometimes too. It’s annoying. But as someone who works in the media and is facing pay cuts, furloughs, etc., it is so disheartening to see comments like this. People got accustomed to the written being free because publishers assumed the business model would work itself out. But it hasn’t. And you’re no more entitled to it than you are to walk into a bookstore and shoplift a copy of the magazine.

  11. Megumin*

    You could also ask your team to do a 15-30 min call every day/every other day/weekly, whatever frequency works best. Since you are not doing the work you normally do, that would help get you more in synch with your coworkers work-wise, but also give you some regular connection throughout the week.

  12. MK*

    Hmm. The thing is, OP, that I am having trouble fitting your issue in a work context. I mean, “asking for what you need” is usually advice geared towards personal (mostly romantic) relationships. If my supervisor told me I can talk to her, I would assume she was refering to work issues, not about my feelings of isolation. Do you actually have things to tell him or do you just want the human contact? Do you and your coworkers and your boss have the close work-friendly relationship that make it appropriate to talk to them about your loneliness? If not, some of them might have found your sudden veering into emotional topics disconcerting. And for some people having discussions about the situation is an added stressor, and they might find work a needed break from the topic; others prefer to keep their work relationships more shallow.

    Alison’s suggestions are good ones for getting some human interaction from your coworkers during the pandemic. But if they aren’t interested in something like that, be prepared to accept it gracefully and seek contact somewhere else if possible.

    1. CR*

      Strongly agree. Gently, it sounds like you need to reach out to your friends and family. Your coworkers are not your emotional support during a pandemic.

    2. Annony*

      I agree. I think it is very understandable to miss having social contact at work, but realistically not everyone is going to be interested or able to have calls and virtual happy hours to fill that need. You can try, but if people are not jumping on the suggestion you do need to let it go. Unfortunately, many people do not have the bandwidth for socializing with coworkers right now. Reach out to friends and family for more contact. Or to find an online community built around one of your interests or hobbies. I’ve been having a lot of virtual game nights on Steam with digital versions of board games. This may be a need that work cannot fill right now.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I agree with a lot of this. I’m most definitely an introvert, so working from home is fine for me – that’s probably the only part of all this I’m kind of liking. I’m also fortunate enough to have a house, not a tiny apartment, so I don’t feel as closed in, and weather permitting I can go walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air.

        But as much as I really do feel for those in my workplace and friend group who are struggling with feeling isolated…I’m really not up for more than a bit of chatting on a work call or meeting, or with friends. I’ve got other things going on, I’m worried about my elderly parents (who live in a rural area and who are sensibly self-isolating). I’m worried about my friends who are more vulnerable, and concerned for my spouse, who is in a higher-risk group and who is going to have to go back to work next week, because his job is considered essential.

        All of those things do take a toll, and I’m just not up for much other than posting funny stuff on FB, chatting via FB sometimes, and other such low-key stuff.

        I think right now, it’s key to be understanding of each other. Some need and want more contact, some need their space, and neither is wrong. And it’s ok if that changes from time to time…sometimes you might really need to talk to someone, sometimes you might just want to break out the ice cream and comfort movies. And while situations differ – if you can, don’t be too hard on yourself for wanting to reach for the comfort food or junk food a bit more right now. Find what small bits of comfort you can.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This. And I *like* my coworkers! But we are not into each others’ lives that much and I don’t think I would be very helpful if they started asking me for more investment. My office has done a few little fun things in the past month that we’ve all been remote, but they were short, low-key, and entirely optional.

        Otherwise, this is why I have Facebook.

    3. Fibchopkin*

      Yeah, no shade OP, it’s super normal and OK to feel lonely and isolated. Just like it’s normal and okay to hate working from home and missing your coworkers, but I respectfully submit that it’s not really ok to lean on your coworkers to manage those feelings. That’s the job of your social circle- friends, family, meetup groups, hobby clubs, etc. If you don’t have a strong social circle, why not try a virtual dance party, a virtual jam session, or a virtual happy hour? If you google any of those, you will find dozens of options that are free and open to all, and probably some that are specific to your region or city.

      From the perspective of someone with a lot of “work friends” who prefers to keep work relationships mostly on the warm professional side, it has been really draining to have colleagues turning to me, seeking more intimate relationships than we have ever entertained at work. We are all dealing with so much right now, I have to be honest, repeated requests and invites from all over my org feel like impositions on my already over burdened, stressed out life. I’m not saying that you will be a burden! Just encouraging you to be mindful that there are a lot of people out there (like me) who genuinely like, appreciate, and enjoy their colleagues, but who do not seek the kind of supportive friendship with them that you seem to be craving right now. So definitely offer the virtual work happy hour or Alison’s other suggestions once, but don’t push it if the rest of your team isn’t enthusiastic or doesn’t seem interested.

      1. Circe*

        I agree with this so much. There’s a lot going on for everyone, but, as with regular times, coworkers cannot be your source of emotional and social support.

        But I think it’s a matter of framing things. If someone comes to me, especially at work, and says, “I’m so lonely right now,” that sets off all my alarm bells and I’m going to put up some boundaries to protect myself. Loneliness requires a level of emotional generosity I don’t have for my coworkers right now.

        But if a coworker, especially a new one, says, “I’m feeling really disconnected from our team,” that’s a totally different ball of wax. Disconnection from coworkers is a tangible problem we can find a solution for.

        1. A*

          “Loneliness requires a level of emotional generosity I don’t have for my coworkers right now.”

          This is a really important factor. It might sound harsh, but right now I think most people are operating on an ’emotional skeleton crew’, if you will.

        2. allathian*

          That’s just so true. People who appear needy often only succeed in driving others away. I’ve seen this from both sides, although fortunately not at work. I was needy in junior high after I switched to a different school in the middle of the school year. In retrospect I don’t blame my classmates for giving me the cold shoulder, if anyone was the least bit friendly, I’d cling to them. The next year I found my crowd, and had someone else do exactly the same to me…

      2. work/life balance*

        I struggled with this one, too. I wholly understand how the OP is feeling- I feel that way, too. But I’m simultaneously not as into receiving a ton of banal communications from coworkers. Sure, I want to help my coworkers… but, at the end of the day, should this really fall to a coworker?

        What I am enjoying are the optional opportunities our company is offering. Now, bear in mind, this is simultaneously occurring with a lot of over-communication, and frankly, unnecessary, meetings. But the things that work for me are optional weekly coffee breaks, and share-your-hobby if/when you feel like it.

        I do agree with the other posters who’ve mentioned finding something fulfilling outside of work. That might help with the isolation, and also give the OP more meaningful things to discuss when connecting socially with coworkers.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I kind of agree here. The tool I keep using over and over is to see if someone wants help or needs something. Not all the time and not the same people. I just ask around very randomly. It gives me something to do, a short purpose, and it benefits the person on the receiving end. Selfishly, it helps me to feel a little empowered in a situation where we are pretty much powerless.

        I will say, OP, that I think most of us have some days that really tank. At least half the people I talk to have had days where their faces are totally drained of color and their eyes are looking a little hollow. You probably know where I am going here: cry. Some times things just plain suck and there is no way to make it less sucky. We have tears for a reason, to help keep our brains healthy. Use this fact to your advantage. When stuff builds up, let it out. Yeah, there’s been a couple times I have had to do this, just to help me stay pulled together, seeing my friends so worried can throw me.

        The one kick I am on now is reminding people that we did not get this far to mess up now. People are talking about starting up again and going out again. Yeah, Okay (not). Recommit to being careful and soldiering through this crisis. Now is the time to stay sharp and pull ourselves onward. Remember to congratulate yourself for how far you have trudged along here. What we tell ourselves is really important.

    4. Joielle*

      Yep, completely agreed. Suggesting a low-key coffee break or whatever might be ok, depending on your office. But if people aren’t enthusiastic, you have to look elsewhere for social interaction. This is not a situation where “ask for what you need” applies, because what you need right now is not appropriate to ask of coworkers (aside from specific workplaces that have that kind of dynamic, which yours doesn’t seem to).

      Considering asking your already-very-busy manager to chat on the phone every day because you’re lonely is so far out of the realm of reasonableness that I think the OP’s instincts are not calibrated correctly right now and they need to pull way, way back. Reach out to friends and family, find a new online community – heck, post more comments here and people will talk to you. But don’t make this a work problem, because it’s not.

      1. Isabelcooper*

        Yep. I’m an introvert who works remotely all the time and loves it, and I honestly haven’t minded not seeing people so far. Friends have asked me to check in and chat semi-regularly via video, and I’m glad to do that…but those are friends, not co-workers.

        If it’s not workplace related, create a no-pressure opportunity “hey, does anyone want to do a totally optional Zoom lunch hour/coffee break/etc” but that’s as much as is reasonable.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        I’m on my third month at a new job. I am struggling to learn everything and perform at the level they expect. (I, uh, may have been hired in at a level above what I’m capable of doing *immediately*). I would give anything to have an hour-long call with my manager every single day, to be able to do the minor, everyday course-correcting that would happen naturally when we sit a few feet away from each other.

        BUT… I’m not his only employee, and he’s got a lot on his plate, so I’m doing everything to the best of my ability and taking LOTS of notes so that I can think through my questions for him, in case it ends up being something I can solve on my own, and so that when we do have our weekly half-hour check-in I can make the best use of his limited time.

        I still IM him questions if I can’t figure it out on my own and if it wouldn’t make sense to wait up to a week to ask him. But he can field those in between other things, whereas a phone call means that time is 100% dedicated to me.

        I also would never ask for check-ins just because I felt lonely. I *have* however, joked on project team calls that even after my part of the interaction was done, I’d be staying on to listen to other people’s parts just so I could feel more like a member of a team instead of a solo satellite derping along by myself in outer space.

    5. Aeon*

      This was my read as well. There are a few colleagues that I am close enough with to have the kind of personal conversations OP is talking about. Because we are friends, in addition to being colleagues. I would never call up other people on my team for emotional support. And I would never ask for emotional support from my boss. That is an ask for friends and family. I especially would not impose on colleagues’ time when people are as overextended and stressed out as they are now. I’m sure that OP means well, but this sounds like a personal problem for them to deal with after hours. If they don’t have a therapist, it might be a good time to check out whether the company has an EAP they could use.

    6. Checkert*

      THANK YOU. I was reading this and the comments and wondering if I’m just callous but, while I’m all for us all making efforts to support each other and mankind during this time, I also think putting your emotional needs on professional acquaintances is unfair and a bit inappropriate. Especially if there isn’t already a closer relationship there. It’s not to undermine anyone’s struggles, but the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncertain’ are being used in every email, commercial, and correspondence for a reason: we’re all out of sorts right now. No one is comfortable. Lean on family and friends, a therapist, to help you with these feelings, lean on coworkers to help you with work.

    7. Cascadia*

      Yes to all of this. OP, I feel for you – I really do. I’m an extremely social person and was worried about moving offices at work because my new office is in a basement all by myself. So I get it. But your coworkers are not the ones to solve your loneliness. Please reach out to your friends and family. I’ve got weekly zoom calls set up now with lots of different people. Playing Geeks who Drink trivia every tuesday night with some friends, having a movie night with netflix party with other friends on Saturday night. There’s lots of options out there. Reach out to your friends and family, set up regular connection points, start a virtual book club. Best of luck!

    8. mf*

      Yes to all of this. The OP’s boss is taking on extra work during this crisis, so he/she almost certainly doesn’t have the time for a daily check-in, especially if the OP doesn’t have a pressing work-related reason to schedule the check-in.

      I’m a friendly person and I genuinely like my coworkers, but it would make me super uncomfortable if one of them tried to talk to me about their loneliness. We just don’t have that kind of relationship, and to be honest, I don’t even want to be that close with my coworkers.

      However! I do enjoy the occasional happy hour or lunch with my coworkers. If one of them were to schedule a weekly get-together on Zoom, I’d probably join more often than not.

  13. Amber Rose*

    It’s funny, I feel the same way AT work. There’s basically nobody here. The whole huge building has at most, 10 people rattling around in it and my area is completely empty. I only see my boss every now and then.

    As an example of how this is affecting HER, she sent me a text yesterday that said “Pew Pew! Lazers.”

    So yeah, no advice from me but a ton of empathy. This situation sucks in so many different ways.

  14. Bookworm*

    OP: I just want to say thank you for feeling comfortable enough to write to Alison about this. Not everyone recognizes this or feels comfortable for even asking for help so I’m glad you did.

    Agree with Alison. A daily check-in is probably not reasonable, but a weekly one with your boss probably isn’t out of bounds. Any thoughts on virtual happy hours/lunches or coffees? I know some offices are encouraging these types of things for team cohesion–might that be possible for you?

    I hope you find something that works for you. Good luck.

  15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I think we’re often used to saying things like “I’m struggling with x” and desire people to just react with sympathy and try to “fix it” or to at least listen it out.

    But in this time, we’re all struggling. So it’s human nature in some to say “It could be worse” and that’s their idea of being helpful to try to put it into perspective. So it’s good to look at them as “trying” to help you instead of brushing you off, it’s just not helping you in the way you are hoping it would.

    So my suggestion in that situation is to always flip it. Instead of approaching it in that fashion of “I’m struggling”, you find a way that would get you what you need and present it that way. The examples of a virtual happy-hour or virtual coffee breaks, etc are good ones to start with.

    I just send dumb memes these days to stay engaged with my coworkers at times. Instead of saying “cheer me up”, I take it upon myself to do something that they have acknowledged doesn’t bother them and that they enjoy on occasion. Don’t flood anyone! Know your audience! All that same stuff applies as if you’re in person of course.

    Come for me and my Baby Yoda memes, I did it to myself and accept my life.

    Could you set up a group chat to chat about stuff you’d usually chat about at the coffee machine or something?

  16. Jaime*

    Therapy can help you process all the transitions and sense of isolation. Maybe there are options through your insurance carrier

    1. fposte*

      I’m a big fan of therapy in general, but if all the OP needs is a few more exchanges with humans, there’s probably a less medical way to get that. It’s just that work isn’t necessarily the place that will provide it.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Realistically, though, if OP brings this to their manager they’re likely to clap back with a referral to EAP. If OP has generally been relying on work to meet their social needs they’ll probably have trouble getting them from friends outside of work, because those people have their own stuff to deal with and probably have limited bandwidth to accommodate OP.

        OP’s only solution that doesn’t create awkward burdens for everyone else *is* to go for the medical route.

        1. fposte*

          Wow, I don’t see it that way at all. I don’t see a referral for EAP as a “clap back,” and I would, as a manager, absolutely meet once a week with an employee that needed it right now. And friends outside of work are often happy to have somebody to share their own stuff with; plus posts downthread are full of good ideas about social meetings that might help.

          I don’t think it’s accurate to assume that everything that could be happening is already happening.

  17. Elenna*

    +1 on being allowed to feel unhappy. You can be upset even though people are in a worse situation! A person who breaks their leg is allowed to complain about using crutches even though some people are quadriplegic. (Although they probably shouldn’t complain *to* a quadriplegic person.) Life is not a Suckiness Olympics, you’re allowed to be unhappy even if you didn’t win the Gold Medal Of Worst Life Ever.

    1. fposte*

      Now I’m locked in a philosophical self-debate about whether it would be worse to win the Silver Medal of Worst Life Ever than the gold, but would that mean winning the silver then promoted you to gold?

      1. Marzinnia*

        Which, when you take it further, means that the person who won Gold for Worst Life Ever and then got Gold taken away from them and given to the Silver Medallist, which might then elevate them back to gold, but takes it away from former Silver, elevating them again, in a never ending cycle of suckiness, which I suppose is about right for those who medal in Worst Life.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Although they probably shouldn’t complain *to* ______.

      I think this is important to remember when venting right now–asking for support works if it’s your close friends and family. They have a lot of emotional capital invested and a lot of context for your normal level of complaining. Coworkers, random people in internet threads, etc? If you don’t actually know whether any of them are, say, dealing with a dying relative across the country whom no one can visit, then be very circumspect when complaining about your current lot.

      1. Jackalope*

        I hear where you are coming from but did want to push back on the “internet strangers” bit. Not sure if you meant this site or just in general but if you were taking about AAM I would say that part of the point of an advice column website is people writing in to talk about their problems big and small. If someone is going through a really hard time right now, waiting for the eviction notice and trying to figure out what to do with their asthmatic 80 yr old mother who is also about to become homeless, the yes, skip this letter and do something else. Totally okay, and even advisable. But I would argue that in this sort of space it’s appropriate to share problems even if your issue isn’t the Worst of All Issues. YMMV of course. But I want letter writers to feel comfortable writing in even with smaller issues.

  18. StressedButOkay*

    OP, I’m so sorry. It’s such a rough time right now. And when you’re used to seeing coworkers and colleagues 40 hours a week, plus loved ones and friends beyond that, and suddenly we’re at 0 hours a week in person, it’s shocking. It’s hard because work can feel like family but they’re not – unless you’ve managed to make some rare true friends – and when you’re feeling so isolated, it’s easy to see why you’re reaching out to them for the support.

    I think a weekly 1:1 check in with your boss is a good idea. So are the potential happy hours, trivia games, etc., with your coworkers. But those need to be opt in, not opt out.

    I recommend trying to find some online groups you can join if your social circle isn’t doing a lot online at the moment. I think you need sources from outside your work to lean on as much as you can.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Adding on to this — are there any professional groups relevant to you that are meeting online in some way, OP?

      Some friends and I started (and currently mod) a Discord server for folks in our profession. It’s been good. Support, useful information, social hours, watching streamed concerts together, pet and food photos (sometimes together!), and so on. If you can find something like this, I think it might really help.

  19. ABK*

    There’s a limit for how much you can lean on co-workers. Do you have friends or family you can reach out to? My family’s been using this as an opportunity to reach out to old friends, folks we haven’t chatted with in a long time, for evening chats. It’s fun and make me feel much more connected.

  20. blepkitty*

    The normal rules about annoyance at phone calls don’t apply here. Everyone is feeling unmoored! Your family and friends may well be in the same situation! I’ve called my ordinarily phone-hating mother nearly every other day for weeks and she’s still not annoyed.

    But I’m also saddened by how many people seem to rely entirely on work for social interaction. I’m an intense introvert, but being bisexual means I’m not comfortable relying on my coworkers for my social life. I’m not even out at my current job yet, so this having to work from home had the potential to be hellishly uncomfortable if I weren’t single (”surprise! I have a girlfriend!” vs “there’s my, uhhh…roommate!”).

    But in a way it’s good, because I have a constant reminder that colleagues should not be my entire social life. There are so many things one cannot discuss with colleagues. Or at least *should* not. Even if you’re straight, you have to be careful about blowing off too much steam about work to a colleague, for example.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      OT: I love your screen name. I have a pair of 8-ish month old brothers who are the bleppiest cats I’ve ever had!

  21. Lala*

    Excellent compassionate answer. But something else I’d suggest is meetup groups are doing a lot of virtual hangouts now. Bookclubs, shared interest groups stuff like that. It might be good to just connect with some people outside of your co-workers and friend/family group. Think about something else.

    1. Sleepy*

      So true. I’ve been doing some online Meetups and they’ve helped a lot, even though I’m not particularly close to the people there. It’s really a relief to get out of the echo chamber of coworkers and family.

    2. CAA*

      I was going to suggest this also. Your coworkers may not be able to provide the emotional support you need right now, but there are a ton of other groups that are looking for members.

      In addition to meetup.com, look for neighborhood groups on Facebook or Nextdoor if you use those platforms. Our local facebook group, which is usually mostly about road construction or lost pets, has started up all kinds of virtual bookclubs, game nights, etc.

      You could even start your own meetup. It’s super easy to do. Wirecutter has a good article about ways to host a virtual game night.

  22. AnotherSarah*

    I don’t have advice other than the optional virtual check-ins with work colleagues, as well as dinner dates virtually with friends etc., but I sympathize so much with the LW. I wouldn’t even consider myself very social or outgoing, but I have realized that I really thrive on being able to go back and forth between concentrated working alone (which I do from home or with my office door shut) and having co-workers in and out of my office all day, chatting. I really do love being at work. So, no good suggestions, but just sympathy–I think a lot of people are quite lonely now.

  23. microbesaremyjam*

    Hi OP, I certainly have a ton of sympathy for your situation. Some of your coworkers may be in the same situation, while some may be in the complete opposite situation–working from home with roommate, partner, kids, family, etc. all around, all the time. Both scenarios are overwhelming in their own ways. I have 7 direct reports and I’ll be frank, I am struggling hard as I try to maintain contact with all of them, attend myriad meetings throughout the week, and accomplish the most bare-bones work while trying to wrangle a 1yo and a 3yo with my spouse who is also working from home–our home scenario is absolute chaos right now. I have implemented biweekly check-in zoom calls with all of my direct reports and that’s the best I can do right now, unfortunately. On those calls, I do try to really be present and available for my staff and really check on their wellbeing in addition to discussing work topics. I would not be able to do this every day or every couple of days though. I strongly support the other suggestions to see if you can implement weekly coffee breaks or happy hours by zoom, but consider doing these with non-work friends as well, rather than, or in addition to, coworkers. I hope things improve for you!

  24. Sleepy*

    This is tough. I have a coworker who has made some comments about feeling really isolated and down right now. I feel for him, but I really don’t want to take on the emotional work of alleviating his isolation and loneliness for him (we used to be friends, but now are mainly colleagues–no drama, just grew apart). I’m really trying to maintain my own emotional equilibrium, and my second priority is helping my aging parents maintain their emotional equilibrium, and that feels like what I can take on.

    With that said, if this person were to suggest a virtual happy hour or ask to play some games online, I’m certain I would oblige him. I just can’t take on the work of figuring out what he needs and then arranging it for him.

  25. Coco*

    It sounds a bit like you are wanting your coworkers to be more than coworkers right now. After only 7 months it is possible that most work people consider you just a colleague (and not in the friend / family category). In some ways this sounds healthy cause any workplace that emphasizes ‘we’re family’ tends to be a bit more dysfunctional.

    As others have mentioned this but do you have friends and family outside of work you can talk to? Or belong to another community? (Like if you’re taking a class other classmates, hobby/ interest discussion boards, etc). If coworkers are the only people you ever talk to, maybe you can set up a WhatsApp group with the ones who seem the most open to communicating and send each other funny images, memes, etc once a day?

    A lot of people are feeling lonely but plenty are feeling overwhelmed with too much contact. (People with lots of other people in a small living space). It’s possible you’re reaching out to people who would like some peace and quiet and may not be as empathetic especially since everyone is a bit stressed and frazzled

  26. Anon for this one*

    Agreed with others who said this doesn’t seem like a work problem as much as a human problem–and as we all know, never send a company to do a human’s job. The interactions you used to have in-office may have been sufficient to fill up your “personal interaction” cup, but I’d argue it never should’ve been your exclusive spigot. Work relationships just aren’t built to be true loneliness-killers; that’s what friends and/or family are for.

    That said, I like the advice to be the change you want to see in your Slack channels–if you organize a Zoom coffee or happy hour, people may very well be hungry for it, too! Me, I’m the one over here casting side-eye at the mere notion of the “Zoom lunch date,” but that’s because it’s not for me. The people who would like it will really like it, and you’ll be a real savior to both them and yourself if you jump in and make it happen.

    What won’t work, is trying to shoehorn personal interaction into business contexts by asking for more calls with your boss. As a manager, I can’t imagine anything more awkward than having to call my reports multiple times a week without a real business goal in mind. (I do, however, have a weekly staff “hang” that isn’t meant for business talk; it’s just to see each other’s faces and chit-chat for 30 minutes, so if you wanted to bring that up, it might go over well!)

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Yeah this is one of the few times I actually disagree with the advice given. I mean, sure, you can try to organize zoom happy hours, but if I was a manager and had an employee come to me with this, I would feel that they were out of step with professional norms. Other people, and likely your boss, are probably swamped with responsibilities. It’s not your office’s job to entertain you or serve your social needs. If that often happens when you’re coming into the office every day, that’s a side effect, not the purpose of employment. I would tell this employee to look outside the office for social engagement. Spend more time zooming with your friends and family, but don’t ask your boss to hold your hand. Just my two cents.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Are office team-building events outside of professional norms, though? If it’s framed this way, rather than as a social engagement thing to support the OP, does that change things?

        I’m just thinking that back in the old days before the apocalypse, employees wanting to spearhead, or have their managers support social-ish work events would probably not have been seen as part of supporting overall employee engagement rather than being needy.

        1. JM60*

          IMO, mangers shouldn’t have to themselves attend social-ish events, unless those events are more work-related than being merely for team-building. I know they typically do have to if the company is sponsoring the event (like an office ‘party’), but I think they ideally shouldn’t have to.

          There’s a difference between attending a voluntary happy hour with co-workers, and demanding that your boss individually fulfills your social/emotional needs.

        2. Pennalynn Lott*

          Hunh. At my current and past three companies, team building events were a way of interacting with management (up to the senior VP) in a casual environment. If all the managers (and directors and the CxO) didn’t show up then it wouldn’t be a team building event.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        My office has regular zoom happy hours, organized (I assume) by someone who wanted them to happen! Totally optional, pretty fun. We also have work-organized coffee dates, also totally optional. And we managers were explicitly told to consider more regular meetings with our direct reports. I always have a weekly team meeting and a weekly one-on-one with each person, but I’ve added a second weekly meeting with no agenda, just to check in.

        It’s all important.

    2. cleo*

      I read it as both a work and a personal problem. If feeling disconnected from her boss and co-workers is making it hard for her to work, it’s a work problem. And that’s how I’d present it to her boss: I know that I need a certain amount of structure / contact to be productive. Could we do regular check-ins?

  27. Mizzle*

    Hi OP! I have some good news for you: it’s quite possible that you’d actually be doing someone a favor by bringing this up. I know this because, just today, I asked my manager to please encourage people to talk to me if they’re lonely or otherwise looking for someone to chat with. It’s not that I’m not busy, but I’m concerned about people missing social interactions and I’d really like to help. I’d consider it a win-win situation and want to encourage you to think of it that way too.

  28. Pinkie Pie Works Hard*

    I know all companies have their own tools-based decision making, but if any of your organizations use something like Slack, it’s also possible to create “water cooler” type channels where you can also ask how folks are doing, share memes, etc. I know that for me and the organization I work for, it’s been very helpful. We’ve got food and random channels, as well as one for HR where our HR head can remind us about EAP or we can ask questions about benefits. These are all highly optional, but have created an opportunity to just drop in for something fun or entertaining, or even for folks to be a bit vulnerable.

  29. Archaeopteryx*

    Definitely lean on family and friends as much as you’re able to – even if you’re only kind of medium level friends with people, or haven’t talked since college or whatever, people will be much more open to catching up and scheduling a Skype date than they were before corona. We’re kind of all in the same boat!

  30. hbc*

    This is definitely a YMMV suggestion, but if it’s general connection and structure you’re missing, we’re coming up on kitten season. I had a couple of bottle babies when I was out of work, and the feeding schedule sure added structure to my days. It also sounds like you’re struggling with feeling needy, so being needED can really balance that out.

    1. otto*

      This is awesome! I want to foster precious kitties full-time once I retire in 10 years or so…

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I do find that anything that adds structure to my day is amazingly helpful. For a dull day, setting meal times helps. I can con myself into thinking that A, B and C need to be done by 11:30 so I can start my lunch prep after that.

      I went through a point in life where things were too busy, there was too much. In that instance I found it helpful to have a set bedtime. Bedtime was my “excuse” for not thinking about life stuff any more for the day. This can help with other types of problems also. We need time out from stuff.
      I now have a stack of books by my bed, so I have no excuse for not reading in bed. The books are all light reading that won’t add to the junk from the day.

  31. SometimesALurker*

    I really like Alison’s advice about looking for online groups for your industry. A couple of groups in my field have started doing regular “coffee breaks” and “happy hours” online, and a lot of people in them have talked about how good it is to connect with other people right now.

    I agree with other commenters that work isn’t the best place to solve your loneliness, but … we’re not in ideal circumstances right now. If your usual need for people is fairly low and you only hang out with a few friends outside of work, you might get a lot of your social time at work without having intentionally structured your life that way. That said, if you do have a robust friend circle outside of work and the problem is that you’re lonely during the day, maybe you could talk to a few friends about IMing a little during the day, or have some virtual co-working sessions? Different workplaces feel differently about IMing for non-workplaces, naturally, which is a thing Alison has covered. I haven’t done this for work-work, but for writing work, some friends and I will sometimes have a 5 to 10 minute video call, work for an hour, and then have another call to talk about how the work went. It can really help!

    1. UKDancer*

      Agreed, we’re not in ideal circumstances so people are looking to work more. I’ve a fair need for time on my own but there’s a difference between normality and the current situation. Most of the other means of socialising are closed or restricted so it’s a lot harder and perhaps people are turning to their colleagues more. In London the pubs, theatres and cafes are shut, gyms and spas are not open either so apart from work people have a lot fewer outlets. While we have friends and families many of my friends are not very technologically literate or work different patterns from my own.

      I’ve certainly noticed it in my office the virtual pub crawl I organise on a Friday afternoon is far better attended than the physical post work drinks we used to have before. People are happy to join for 30 minutes chat with a drink of their choice who never came to the pub at all. One of my work friends is really into knitting and she’s set up a virtual knitting group with all the people at work who enjoy that and they meet virtually once a fortnight to talk about it.

      I find that the pub crawl and a few virtual coffees with some of my closer work friends helps a lot and I’m not the only one. We’re all trying to get through our individual difficult situations so sometimes talking helps.

      It’s pretty easy to figure out who is up for virtual coffee at intervals and who isn’t. I’d suggest the OP approach a few people she has a good relationship with as a starter.

      By and large I’ve found that if you take the initiative and organise things that’s a lot easier than asking people to cheer you up.

  32. Amethystmoon*

    For a way to network while also being remote, many Toastmasters clubs are meeting on Zoom these days, or using other services. Perhaps try searching in your area? I do know that Toastmasters Intl. has said clubs should meet online until June 1st, if they are in fact still meeting.

    I game online in the evenings, and we have voice chat on Discord, but that’s not necessarily for everyone. Still, it is an option for some people.

    Also, some people are having movie nights on Zoom, so that could be something you could set up with your personal friends network.

  33. Mbarr*

    Hey OP – I know how you feel. I’m in a work lull myself. There’s only so much reading/training you can do. And my team just ended their daily 15 minute meeting. It wasn’t until that series of meetings got cut that I realized how much I relied on it for human interaction – even if it was only for the 3 minute chit chat before the meeting started.
    As Alison suggested, try arranging virtual lunch dates with friends and family. Tomorrow, I’m having “lunch” with a bunch of former colleagues. It helps a lot.
    I’ve also started playing youtube videos in the background that make it sound like people are nearby/I’m in the office. It takes the edge off.

  34. Delphine*

    Yes, working from home is the pits. I do rely on the social interaction I get from work. I don’t need a lot of it, so in-office interactions have always been enough, but that means now I’m without my only social exercise! One thing we do is have a 30-45 minute “tea time” chat one day a week, where we have a video call and just talk about non-work things. I think that’s really helpful.

  35. Smilingswan*

    You may try your company’s EAP if they have one. That’s what it’s there for, after all. I hope you feel less isolated soon. :)

  36. TootsNYC*

    re: the virtual happy hour, or the Lunch with Zoom…

    the first week, my boss organized it and lots of people showed up.
    The second week, my boss suggested that she would organize it if people wanted it, and only a couple of people said they would, so she didn’t.

    Be the one who organizes it, and organize it no matter who logs in. Do it regularly, because maybe someone who couldn’t, or didn’t want to, on Week 1 will decide on Week 3 that it might be fun. (In my neighborhood, at 7pm every night, there’s a “clap for carers” thing; we just listened for several days, but last night we joined in; it felt nice.)

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes absolutely. I organise virtual happy hour on a Friday and sometimes we get a lot of people and sometimes we don’t. It’s entirely optional and you can decide what to drink and stay as long as you like. People tend to drop in and out and it’s quite a nice thing. I forgot to organise it last week and had 3 people emailing me on Thursday asking when I would be sending the invites.

      Our big cheese has virtual has tea and cake once a fortnight and that also goes quite well. I don’t always attend but it’s sometimes nice. We spend a lot of time discussing biscuits though.

  37. Jostling*

    I am 100% with you, OP – my coworkers are not the most outgoing even when we’re in the office, and now that we’re not I feel trapped in a lonely bubble of suck. A few things that have helped or otherwise been bright spots to my day:

    – Calling a colleague instead of emailing them. Usually this would be 100,000% taboo, but it’s explicitly been defined as acceptable under our pandemic procedure. I preface calls with a chat message – “hey, I have a quick question that I’d prefer to talk about rather than write out, may I call you?” – and that has been well-received and noticeably lifts my mood. It’s also usually more productive than an email thread, much as we hate to admit it.
    – My manager establish a daily check-in call that is semi-optional, with video encouraged but optional as well. He requires us to attend the call or otherwise contact him to let him know we’re a) alive, b) working, and c) not ill by the time the call starts. Seeing a few people’s faces everyday, even though they have to be there, has done WONDERS for my mood. People tend to rotate through the call throughout the week depending on their duties and home situations, so there’s usually someone novel and willing to chat.
    – I have been working on joining all meetings using video, when I can (still adjusting to this, but I’m getting there). Model the behavior that you’d like to see.
    – I go out of my way to ping team members who I would usually talk to in the office if I haven’t heard from them in a day or two. I may send a meme or a personal update, or I may just ask how they’re doing. Do unto others!

    Good luck to you, OP, and to all of us!

  38. button*

    OP, I feel much the same way. I never realized before how much I relied on just being around other people at work to partially fill my human-interaction bucket. Now I’ve had to compensate by reaching out more to friends and family to schedule deliberate hang-out times. It is not the same, both in that it’s virtual and in that it’s a short duration of high intensity, rather than long duration of low intensity–it just doesn’t hit the same way, especially because we can’t go into public and just exist around others right now. It sucks and all you can do is mitigate it as best you can right now. I agree with Alison that you can try suggesting some low-key interactions with your colleagues. If you use some kind of project management software that allows for this, maybe institute some kind of informal chat area where people can put up pics of their pets, or just dip in and out. An asynchronous communication method might be easier for people than a scheduled hang and might provide more of the “background noise” feeling you’re missing.

    But I also want to emphasize that just because normally you would get some social value out of being at the office, doesn’t mean you can ask your coworkers to provide that value in the same amount now–it’s more like an incidental thing rather than something that you are entitled to from them specifically. So be prepared to find that fulfillment elsewhere. I also agree with others that therapy might be helpful. My regular therapist is doing video chat now but my insurance also has a telemedicine option that includes counselors, plus several companies that offer virtual therapy. It’s often surprising to me, even when I feel like I more or less have a handle on an emotional issue, how much better I feel when I can talk about it with someone, regardless of whether it includes getting some kind of solution. Best of luck, OP! I hope things get a little better.

  39. Jean (just Jean)*

    OP, I don’t know if you’ll see this comment or not, so I’ll keep it brief:
    – thank you for posting.
    – you’re not the only one who feels lonely and adrift working from home right now
    – the other commenters are spot-on about your loneliness being a valid source of distress, but not enough to override the general etiquette of the pandemic, which is “be kind and assume good intentions, but also don’t overload other people, because you don’t know what they are dealing with.” Married couples may not be having 24/7 bliss; singles may not be having round-the-clock contented solitude; parents blessed with healthy small children may not be feeling all the blessings while they have to be Professional and Parents at the same time; etc. etc. And then there are those of us dealing with loved ones with disabilities, age-related health challenges, other health challenges, and/or economic and/or psychological challenges…
    Keep on keeping on, be kind to yourself and others, and get as much good nutrition and sleep as possible. These are not easy times for anybody.
    P.S. Come hang out on the weekend open thread! Lots of good conversation from kind-hearted people with many different areas of interest and expertise.

  40. Bikirl*

    Our manager has scheduled short checkins with our 6-person team 3 mornings a week; we are continuing with a longer biweekly meeting we had when we worked on site. We are encouraged also to check in daily with at least one member of our team or another colleague in our organization. We also have one on one meetings related to specific projects as needed. All of this is helping us stay connected and fostering a sense of cohesion on our team during this difficult time. Also, it’s good to get regular updates during a time when things are constantly changing. So yes, I would broach the subject of scheduling check-ins, with your boss.

  41. I'm just here for the cats*

    I totally understand where you are coming from OP. It’s kind of sad but I’ve been going for walks and hoping I will run into coworkers who I know live near me and walk their dogs in my area.
    Is there a way your team can do a virtual meeting each week using Teams or Zoom. Even if your not together it helps to see each other. Another thing that’s helped me is that on our Teams chat we have a group specifically for checking in and fun stuff. It’s become the break room for out team. We share pictures of out kids and new animal co-workers. We share articles about things that are helpful or just silly stuff like YouTube Corona virus music video. If your team hasn’t started this may be ask your boss if you can.

  42. Kate*

    Hi, this is Letter Writer here!

    I wrote this letter when I was at an extremely low moment and almost immediately regretted sending it because how embarrassing! And I recognise fully that my coworkers and boss (and Alison) aren’t therapists which is partly why I’ve found things so difficult to talk about because I constantly feel like I’m asking too much of them.

    But I’m extremely grateful for the kindness and good advice of Alison’s response and the comments.

    Things have gotten a little easier as we’ve settled – I still feel pretty apart from everything which I think is the result of going from a close and tight knit working environment to sometimes not hearing a human voice all day. But having solid work to complete helps and I’m becoming resigned to the situation being as it is rather than refusing to accept it as I was when I wrote this.

    My actual manager has been temporarily moved to support another team (he’s still around but we’re not reporting to him for the time being) and my manager’s manager has taken on line management responsibility for our team in the mean time. He’s much more hands on as a manager and has scheduled weekly 1-2-1s with all of us so I think that’ll help. They are both aware now that I’ve been struggling a bit at home- not the full extent of it but they do know.

    I’m trying to make the best of things despite the circumstances that I definitely wouldn’t choose (but then who would?) Although people saying ‘we’re really lucky to have jobs’ doesn’t help, knowing that I have a very supportive management structure does. When I told my acting manager that I’ve been struggling he offered me two weeks paid special leave which to me was pretty crazy (I’m in the UK for context)- I turned it down because the last thing I need is unstructured time to myself but knowing that he’s willing to do that is very comforting.

    I am extremely lucky to have landed on my feet where I am.

    Anyway, my sincere thanks again to Alison and the commenters so far – I’ll be okay in the end I think. But I will have to stopped from kissing the (hopefully disinfected) walls of my office whenever this ends and we’re allowed back in!

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Hi LW,

      I’m glad to hear you’ll be okay, and I think a lot of the advice is spot on (particularly for things like seeking out online meetups, whether for a professional organization relevant to you or for a hobby/interest).

      I wanted to note one thing that may make it easier and less grating to hear what your coworkers say when you mention feeling isolated. You said: “When I’ve tried to mention how isolated I feel, I’m met with the “we’re really lucky compared to x/y/z” response from some of my colleagues or it’s otherwise been glossed over.”

      I think what’s going on there is, most people (sometimes, especially empathetic or compassionate people!) have a hard time hearing that someone is struggling without trying to do something about it, and a lot of people aren’t comfortable saying just “I’m really sorry, that sucks.” So if they don’t think they have anything to offer, they try to make it better by attempting to show a silver lining (it could be so much worse!) or they try to move the conversation along and not ‘dwell.’ This goes especially for emotional problems, where what they can do is pretty fuzzy.

      It’s still really irritating! But I think often this stuff comes from a place not of callousness but of… the fact that a lot of us are fumbling our way through any and every social situation we’re in, and even more so under stress. Sometimes it helps me to think “it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they don’t know what to say.”

      Hang in there, and good luck!

    2. chickaletta*

      Glad you’re doing well. And I just wanted to say that I totally understand what you’re writing about! I’ve felt really oddly disconnected from work and people since working from home. I consider myself introverted and I have a kid with me who I’m homeschooling now, but there’s still that sense of lack of human interaction that we just don’t get at home that all the virtual meetings in the world can’t fix. And perhaps because my job has changed a little bit like yours and my boss is still incredibly busy, there’s an added sense of redundancy and uselessness that’s come with being sent home, which I think is where part of my feelings of loneliness come from. Anyhow, hand in there, glad you’re finding your stride!

  43. Introverted but Friendly*

    I describe myself as introverted but friendly, so I don’t find myself needing a ton of contact with others to feel satisfied. However, I’ve done a couple of things during quarantine to stay connected. One thing I’ve found helpful in this time was to join a virtual book club sponsored by a nonprofit in my city. We meet on Zoom every week and in between, some of the people and I have been chatting about our lives. Maybe OP can try looking for an organization or something to get involved with virtually? I know our United Way just put out a request for people to sign up and call senior citizens in our community who don’t have anyone else to check on them regularly. There are other virtual volunteer opportunities out there right now that would give OP a chance to connect with others and maybe feel more fulfilled by helping those in need. Finally, I’ve been attending some Zoom meetings related to a professional association I’m part of. There are some associations OP could join that would pair OP with a professional mentor or a networking group that might meet online now.

  44. nnn*

    Even though your feeling is “I feel isolated”, a better framing when communicating with others would be to focus on others’ needs: “I’m organizing a virtual happy hour for anyone who might be feeling isolated, or otherwise want to chat or blow off steam. All are welcome!”

    This achieves your goal of people to talk to, but now you aren’t asking them to attend to your emotional needs, instead you’re offering to attend to theirs.

    (It also looks like good leadership skills, if you have ambitions in that direction)

    Just do be prepared for the fact that for some people it might be an additional obligation rather than a relief, so you’re not going to get 100% participation.

    1. Allonge*

      This, this, this!

      OP, in almost all cases at work, if you go to your manager with a problem, consider possible solutions, and I mean really consider them – not just based on what you need but the needs of everyone else.

      So, in this case: if you go to your manager, saying I am lonely, talk to me more, it’s a solution but it very likely puts a burden on the manager that they may not have the strength to carry.

      If you go and say: I am feeling lonely, possibly others too, I looked around on the interwebz on what other companies are doing and I would like to create a virtual coffee break (or whatever), it would require this, this and that and would work like so, can I go ahead? – even if your manager says no for whatever reason, they will have a much better overall impression of you, and can have a better conversation about alternatives.

      Last but not least: in my experience, all these let’s be more social ideas put work on people in the company who are already overwhelmed with extra work (for us this is IT, internal comms, HR). So please think about that too, and consider what can be done without them, or with the smallest effort from their side.

      I do wish you all the best! Being alone can suck so, so much.

  45. sagegreen*

    This is why I’m really worried about us going to work from home in a few days. I live alone and am alone too much as it is. My job is essential so we can’t close down, but they are saying this is going to be forever, that even when this is over ,we won’t go back to the brick and mortar location. I struggle with depression a lot and worrying about this has made it even worse. But I have no option other than to quit. What happens if what I fear will happen happens?

  46. Erik scott*

    My wife suggested thinking of this as “working at home due to a crisis” as opposed to simply working from home, since these are pretty unusual circumstances were operating in.

    1. Katie Richardson*

      I like to think of it as ‘going through a global pandemic whilst trying to work and educate kids from home’

  47. Münchner Kindl*

    Some organisations offer a free therapeutic/ counseling Hotline because of the stress that the fear and the being-required-to-stay-at-home is causing People.

    Maybe LW could look into that.

  48. La Triviata*

    My office has an all-employee Zoom meeting once a week – half an hour for most of staff, with an additional half hour for directors. We see each other’s faces (and often children, dogs, cats) and get to catch up with what’s going on with the organization and personally.

  49. Rationally Neurotic*

    I would mention to your manager that you’re really struggling with all the changes and isolation and were wondering if he might be able to “buddy” you up with someone else that might be in a similar situation so you can check in on a daily basis and just have (pseudo) normal work interactions – I know my manager wouldn’t have capacity to talk every day but I can also tell there are other people on my team that are either (1) desperate for interactions with others or (2) desperate to do anything to help others. Unless your organization is really small I’m sure they can pair you up with someone (they don’t necessarily have to be doing the same work as you, just someone else who is similarly uprooted) who you can talk to when you’re trying to figure out to handle something that’s way outside your normal responsibilities or just figure out how things work or talk about the weather. I have two colleagues I work closely with that I wasn’t the biggest fan of but now we try to have a quick call every second day, on the surface it’s work-related but mostly it’s just normal work chit-chat and “are you having issues with VPN, too?” -type stuff that helps immensely.

  50. Youth*

    One of my VPs just offered himself up as a FaceTime buddy for anyone who is lonely right now.

  51. pureoaknut*

    I can’t read your answer, Allison, because The Cut has informed me that I’ve reached my maximum of free articles.
    SO I have no idea what advice you gave. :(

  52. Katie Richardson*

    I have a similar question but I’d only been working at my new workplace for 2 weeks before we all started working from home. Any advice on building connections especially when the work has slowed down and there seems to be less reasons to reach out to managers and employees (I work in HR for the state government mainly focused on ER)

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