COVID-19: Discovering the Joy in a Solitary Work Environment

Some people have noted that the COVID-19 quarantine is not much different from their usual routine, particularly if they work at home. I used to work outside the home, would have brunch with friends at least once a month, would attend concerts and visit museums, so it’s different for me now. But it’s not incredibly different from the perspective of alone time. While I got out of the house every day—and I still do to go on long walks—I always incorporated long periods of time alone. I did this happily, as I do now, realizing that my most productive work processes happen inside of myself, rather than with other people. 

Introverts have an advantage in a crisis that requires people to spend time away from their usual activities. To be brutally honest, behind brunch with friends, the second most-missed thing for me is my monthly hair appointment. Time in-person at the office with co-workers would rank low on my list. I like the people I work with enough to productively work with them, and they are pleasant enough outside of the office, but I don’t necessarily feel they add to my value as an employee. 

With at least half, and probably more, of your workforce composed of extraverts, this crisis is a learning opportunity. Have you set up online learning programs for employees on optimizing a solitary workplace? The medium should be the message, so this is a course employees should take on their own, rather than in a synchronous virtual classroom environment with others. It should include prompts for self-reflection and tips for staying psychologically satisfied without the stimulation of in-person co-workers. 

I found this article from Inc. on how solitude can make you a better employee. Advantages of solitude that your employees might be surprised to learn include: 

  • The chance to get to know yourself better (you can hear your thoughts better without a co-worker or cocktail party companion yammering away at you)
  • Help improving your relationships (some time apart often is refreshing)
  • Boosting creativity and productivity (more time for your own inventive thoughts and less time distracted from acting on those thoughts)
  • Improvement of your psychological well-being
  • Providing an opportunity to plan your life

You may have to offer your employees tips on how to seek solitude with people around. My sister has her husband and her five-year-old at home with her. She has to home-school her child and manage distractions from her husband, all while getting her work done. Her apartment is small, with only two bedrooms. What advice would you have for an employee in her predicament? Can solitude be found and savored in such an environment?

You also might need to offer resources related to keeping spirits up in enforced solitude and down time. As much as I love alone time, the disruption from my usual routines can be disheartening. Despite taking a long walk every day, I miss the routine of getting ready for work and walking to the office, being in my workplace neighborhood, and then walking home at night, stopping to run errands along the way. Many of the stores in New York City, where I live (and the epicenter of the outbreak) are closing early due to less foot traffic and fewer employees willing to expose themselves to germs. That means the stress of having to not only do all of my work, but make sure all of my errands are complete before 6 p.m. Fortunately, the drugstores are keeping their regular hours—for now. 

Could e-learning on time management also come in handy? That course could be offered in a synchronous virtual classroom environment with colleagues, but as long as you’re getting employees used to solitary work, why not continue the trend? The more practice employees get working independently, the stronger your workforce will be after the pandemic is over and many of us are crammed once again into our open-office accommodations. 

What resources are you offering employees to help them optimize their new, solitary work environment, or find solitude in a crowded home?


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