The Covid-19 pandemic is still lingering, and workers across the world are feeling lonelier because of it.
According to new research, 72% of global workers say they feel lonely at least monthly, while 55% say they feel it at least weekly. Among the American workforce, loneliness has risen 7% compared to pre-Covid — a small but significant number.
The research is featured in the upcoming book, "Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In," which is set to publish in March. For the book, authors Steven Van Cohen and Ryan Jenkins spent two years researching and speaking with experts on the topic of workplace loneliness, surveying more than 2,000 workers across 50 global organizations.
One of their biggest takeaways: Many people are still struggling to replace the social element of the in-person office. "A lot of employees see work as kind of a pseudo-lifeline to be able to have meaningful relationships that they want in life," Van Cohen tells CNBC Make It.
That's partially due to Covid — and partially due to employer shortcomings, Van Cohen says, noting that many companies aren't devoting enough time and energy to encouraging quality peer-to-peer and manager-employee relationships.
The theory seems to have caught on at some major companies: Van Cohen and Jenkins have worked with clients like Coca-Cola, The Home Depot and Salesforce, according to the pair's website, which offers worker wellness and inclusion resources for both employers and employees.
Research has linked loneliness to depression, anxiety, cognitive decline and poor sleep. It can reduce productivity, increase turnover and cause burnout.
Here are Van Cohen's four top ways to combat it:
Trade high-tech for high touch
Nowadays, most work communication is done through email, Slack or text message. Van Cohen recommends swapping at least one written message per day with a phone call, video chat or in-person conversation.
Hearing people's voices or seeing their faces — and vice versa — could help you develop deeper relationships with them. It can cut down on miscommunications between colleagues or clarify your manager's tones of voice.
And it only takes being mindful of how much tech you're using to communicate on a daily basis. "To avoid confusion, consider prefacing the communication by stating, 'Today, I'm prioritizing connection over convenience, let's talk live,'" Van Cohen writes on the book's website.
Prioritize relationships over tasks and deadlines, Van Cohen says. One way to achieve that, according to the book: "Be interruptible."
"When someone interrupts you during a task, embrace it, and turn your complete attention to them," the book recommends. Give yourself permission and time to "say no" to some matters and lean into the present, Van Cohen adds.
Of course, some tasks or deadlines may be immovable. It's on you to decide which is which.
Schedule a lunch
According to the book's website, people who regularly eat lunch with colleagues typically feel less lonely. Van Cohen says that's because meals tend to lower your guard and open you up for deeper connections.
In 2017, University of Oxford research found that people who "eat socially" are more likely to feel happy and satisfied with their lives. Yet the same research found that most people tend to eat their meals alone.
When asking a colleague or associate to lunch, try to make it "frictionless," says Van Cohen. "If I am inviting someone to lunch often, I will have the day, restaurant and time already picked out and simply send a calendar invite. The less decision-making the other person has to do, the better."
Arrive a little early to a meeting — or schedule time afterwards
Even 10 to 15 minutes of casual chatting can greatly improve the quality of your relationships with your colleagues. One of the best ways to find that time is by arriving early to meetings, and striking up a conversation with anyone else who walks in even before the meeting officially starts.
The same basic strategy applies to the virtual office: As long as you aren't suffering from Zoom fatigue, try scheduling 10 or 15 minutes with a coworker after a video call to chat.
"The goal is to simply build in time [to your schedule] to connect," Van Cohen says.
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