It’s July 2022. Remote work is no longer a rare phenomenon. Less commute, access to global opportunities and talent, flexibility to work at your own schedule - the pros outweigh the cons.
But the cons cannot be overlooked. Loneliness is one of the major unsolved problems of remote work. There are no water cooler conversations - no talks of sports or politics or just random gossip. Work gets done over an online meeting, yes, but there’s less fun with your co-workers.
For some people, it might not be a problem as they have multiple friend circles outside work but a significant segment gets isolated. Before remote work, going to an office and spending almost half of their waking hours there was how they made new friends.
Let’s go one step deeper. How do you make friends? Having frequent encounters is a good way to initiate things organically. A good example is gym buddies. Go to a gym regularly and you start recognizing faces. One day, you show up and smile seeing the other person. The other person smiles back. Some day, they nod. You nod back. You start getting used to them around. Familiarity comes into play. You ask for help with something and the ice is broken. You start talking. Slowly you turn into friends.
It doesn’t happen in one day. It doesn’t happen if you’re not around hanging out frequently. And that’s why going to random cafes for work isn’t a good substitute for the office environment.
It’s hard to make new friends after college. And it’s harder in remote work. Isolation also gets to your mental health. There’s a market for someone to fill this gap. Quarterly retreats are not enough. You need ongoing social interaction. This is my biggest problem with remote work - not being able to make new deep friendships. There’s a serendipity tax that I’m paying. We are social animals after all. Even for an introvert like myself, I’ve started feeling the pain. I’m using CBCs for making new friends right now but that’s not sustainable.
Going forward, I see co-working hubs being set up in tier-2 / tier-3 cities where people from multiple companies come and work. Seeing the same faces every day would help in bringing back the normalcy to pre-remote levels.
This setup is more suited for early-stage remote-first startups where you have a small number of people in your team and so having people from the same city would be rare. So you go to the hub in your city (the same one every day - this is important!) and work from there.
I’ve tried this by living in Draper Startup House for over 2 weeks. Some folks I met were staying for months there. We bonded over a variety of topics which is hard to replicate online. You become part of a guild (like Fairy Tail).
Working from a co-working space in a small town would lead to a lower cost of living, less traffic, and a tightly-knit community. But to achieve that, there must be demand. Here’s where companies come into picture. Say a company like Meesho gives a month-pass to any co-working space from Udaipur as a perk - this gets the flywheel rolling.
This setup provides an option to intentionally design life for engineering, product, design, and other deep work roles. It would also be helpful to junior employees, who can soak in knowledge via peers. The ones who have never been in an office don’t know what they’re missing out on. You get exposed to new folks and how they are navigating life. You feel connected to one another. There’s camaraderie. Before you know it, you start venting about your manager. Life’s good.
How do you deal with loneliness?