Many companies have recently enacted remote work policies, but at Buffer, we’ve been fully remote since our 2010 inception. While we experimented with a San Francisco office briefly, we’re committed to being a 100 percent remote and distributed team because of the many benefits we’ve found, including a happier team, more flexibility, and increased productivity.
And we’re not the only ones to feel this way – numerous organizations have experimented with remote work since the pandemic and the results have been mostly positive. But despite all of the good news, there have been ongoing discussions about the potential mental health consequences of remote work.
A tweet went viral on Twitter arguing that this shift – along with the trend of fewer meetings – will lead to more lonely and isolated people. While many commenters disagreed with the sentiment, others admitted that working from home had taken a toll on them.
100% remote work combined with a no meeting culture is going to create a large group of lonely, isolated workers— Alex Cohen (@anothercohen) January 4, 2023
Our 2023 State of Remote Work survey also found that 33 percent of participants felt that they stayed home too often and didn’t have a reason to leave because of remote work.
This led me to examine my own relationship with remote work as well as ask some of my colleagues about their experience, which I’ll share in this blog post.
What the research says about remote work and mental health
The data on remote work and mental health can feel a bit murky. On the one hand, 71 percent of respondents from our 2023 State of Remote Work survey said they wanted to be fully remote. But on the other, certain people are experiencing negative side effects from this very work structure.
Microsoft’s 2022 New Future Work Report found some remote workers felt, “socially isolated, guilty, and trying to overcompensate.” Another 2023 study by Integrated Benefits Institute also concluded remote and hybrid work is associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms compared to in-person work.
I can sort of relate. Before Buffer, I worked a hybrid schedule with two days at home and three in the office. Being in person definitely allowed me to develop deeper connections with my coworkers, and I am still close friends with them to this today. These types of interactions just can’t be replaced by Zoom calls. But while I do miss this in-person camaraderie, I’ve also been able to make great friends at Buffer, too. In fact, I recently went to my first Buffer meetup and spent five days working and hanging out with my marketing colleagues.
Our marketing team just finished up their meetup in Vancouver! 🇨🇦— Buffer (@buffer) November 13, 2022
Fun fact: 60% of the team just joined us in 2022. We grew from a team of 4 to 11 this year! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/eqxQ24pUpb
There are so many sides to this debate, but when I asked six coworkers whether they struggled with feeling isolated and stuck at home, the answer was a unanimous no. A few did agree that remote work could lead to an isolated lifestyle, but they didn’t feel like this was their experience. On the contrary, they said remote work had afforded them more opportunities to go out and socialize with others.
I do want to emphasize that because we’ve been a remote-first company for over a decade, we already have many avenues in place to foster our company culture, including annual meet-ups and retreats. This is probably something that not every remote worker experiences, especially those whose workplace recently made the switch to this type of work.
For some employees outside of Buffer, like freelance writer Nylah Burton, remote work has been a difficult transition.
“I’ve worked in offices and also fully remote as a freelancer (before the pandemic) and fully remote work is lonely as hell. The office culture has numerous problems but being able to socialize easier was something I miss,” she said in a response to the tweet.
“From age 22-28, I moved for school + work once/year. I don't regret it! But meeting people at work got me through what otherwise could've been an incredibly lonely time as I schlepped hundreds of miles back and forth cross-country.”
“I think a possible solution to this is to work to actively foster a community culture where adult lives and their experiences aren't dominated by their workplace,” she said.
My coworkers and I have been able to find community through work, but also via other aspects of our lives, as Shamira suggests. Here are our strategies for avoiding loneliness while working from home.
How we stay connected, socialize, and make plans as remote workers
I’ve been working remotely at Buffer for over a year now, and I feel like I’ve developed some great strategies that have allowed me to both feel connected to my coworkers and have a healthy social life outside of the house. Here’s how I – and my Buffer teammates – manage to do so.
Intentionally scheduling non-work related meetings
When I first joined Buffer, I was impressed to see just how thoughtful the company was in creating channels for employees to stay connected as a remote team. We have optional biweekly pair calls where we’re randomly paired with a new colleague. I have opted into doing every one of these calls because I find it a great way to meet new people I don’t normally interact with.
But while pair calls are great, the one downside is that a 30-minute meeting doesn’t always provide enough time to form a strong connection. That’s why we also have recurring meetings called masterminds where we connect with a teammate on a deeper level. I meet with my mastermind partner every other week and have really come to enjoy our talks, which rarely have to do with work but are more about getting to know each other.
New hires are also assigned a culture buddy who can show them the ropes. You’re only required to meet with your culture buddy during the first three months, but I continued to meet with mine beyond that because I genuinely formed a friendship with her.
I have also been intentional about scheduling recurring Zooms with a few of my colleagues just to catch up. I do this with two team members I work closely with and with two colleagues in different departments. This continuity has really helped me develop more in-depth connections as a remote employee.
Although I prefer to carve out a little bit of extra face time with my teammates, my colleagues Jenna, an Executive Assistant, and Arek, a Senior Engineer, find that their regular work calls provide enough time for socializing.
“I personally really enjoy having a few meetings to connect with my team. And you always have a few minutes… or more of chatter you might not otherwise have,” Jenna said.
But for Arek in particular, smaller meetings make it easier to connect
“What works for me for relationship building are one on one meetings, or in a group as small as possible, whether work-related or not. Meetings in bigger groups don't work for me for relationship building,” he said.
While bonding with our teammates through Zooms is a big way we operate at Buffer, we do try to be intentional about the number of meetings we have, especially because we observe a shorter four-day workweek.
Sophie, a Growth Marketing Manager, has been experimenting with fewer meetings because of a recent timezone change and finds it helps her workflow.
“I work in a completely different time zone from my team, so the fewer meetings I have, the more I realize I quite enjoy the extreme focus that comes along with no a no-meeting policy,” she said.
Another plus is she doesn’t have to stay up until 9 pm every night just for a meeting.
Buffer’s Social Media Manager Mitra shares a similar perspective.
“Personally, I’m an introvert, so I really thrive with remote work and the idea of having no meetings doesn’t bother me!” she said.
Every month we also connect as a full team in our all-hands meetings, which I always look forward to. While not everyone is able to attend these because of time zones, we find it a great opportunity to have most of us together in one virtual room.
Choosing to explore as a nomad instead of WFH
Some may think remote work leads to people being stuck at home, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for Sophie and Arek. Thanks to working remotely, they’ve been able to travel the world as digital nomads.
Arriving at a new place motivates Arek to get out and meet the locals, as well as explore the culture and food.
The same goes for Sophie who is constantly traveling (she’s currently in Sri Lanka) and always finds reasons to go out when she’s in a new environment, including going for a morning surf, finding a new coffee shop, taking a yoga class, or grabbing a beer with friends. She finds that this flexibility has allowed her life to be centered around non-work-related matters, which feels very healthy to her.
The great thing about remote work is that it can be done from anywhere, and there are many Buffer employees who take advantage of this by exploring new places.
Getting out with the kids
Many of my Buffer colleagues have kids who give them plenty of reasons to leave the house. In fact, Dinos, a Product Engineer, says his children allow him to break the isolation he may have otherwise faced as a remote worker.
“Due to having young children, it’s easy to get out of the house. You have to bring them and pick them up from school to sports, birthday parties, and other family activities, which create the opportunity to socialize with other adults. I would even say that working 100% remotely has made it easier to do all these things as everything is closer to my office at home,” he said.
Darcy, a Customer Advocacy Manager at Buffer, is also always on the go with her children thanks to the flexibility she has at Buffer.
“I run my kids around town to various activities and I spend some time volunteering at their school,” she said.
While I don’t have kids, I also appreciate that working remotely means I get to spend more time hanging out with my family and pets, rather than being away from them for most of the day.
Making plans outside of the house
Working remotely can make it easier to stay at home, but my Buffer colleagues and I make sure to schedule time outside of the house.
One of the easiest ways I do this is by walking my dog every day at lunch. This is a non-negotiable for me and something I do even on busier days. I never had the time to do this when I was working from an office, and I’ve come to look forward to getting some fresh air every day sans screens.
I also plan regular hangouts with my friends on weeknights. I find this is a good way to ensure I’m not just stuck at home Monday through Thursday.
Similarly, Jenna says that working from home motivates her to be around others.
“I actually find working fully remotely It’s an incentive to get out of the house because I don’t have as much human interaction, and some days I just need that,” she said. “I like spending an afternoon each week working from a coffee shop to be with other people, then I usually try to squeeze in one friend outing and one family outing.”
Buffer offers both a coffee shop and co-working and coffee-shop stipend to support employees like Jenna who choose to work outside of their homes.
Remote work also doesn’t stop Darcy from going out and pursuing non-work relates hobbies.
“I have priorities and desires that pull me away from home,” she said. “While I did set up a home gym, I like to spend some time feeling the energy and competition of others, so I work out at a local gym a couple of times a week.”
After speaking to my colleagues, the one thing we all seem to appreciate the most about remote work is that it allows us the flexibility to build our days exactly the way we choose. This doesn’t mean that remote work is always easy or doesn’t comes with its challenges, but I believe it shows it’s very possible for remote workers to have an active and healthy social life outside of the house.
Curious to learn more about how we work at Buffer? Check out our Open blog.