Employee Isolation: What Is It & How To Combat It

May 5, 2023
HR & People Stuff

Nowadays, the convenience and comfort of remote work has caused many workers to bid adieu to the office. However, with that remoteness comes the inherent risk of employee isolation, and the resulting cost of lost productivity and employee churn can be devasting to many teams.

Of course, this team cancer is something you as a team leader must actively stay on the look out for and manage aggressively when you spot it. Let's talk about how you can do that...

Employee Isolation: What Is It?

Humans are social creatures and want to feel like they're part of the group around them. Isolated employees, quite simply, do not feel that way. They feel unimportant and unvalued, like all their workplace wants is for them to complete the dreaded "bare minimum" and then leave.

A June 2022 Gallup poll reveals only 20 percent of workers strongly feel they have a "workplace bestie," so it's clear that employee isolation is an issue affecting workplaces worldwide. How can your office — virtual or otherwise — thrive when a big chunk of your roster feels like an unwanted ghost?

How Do Employees Become Isolated?

If your workplace culture is centered primarily around, well, work, then you're not giving your employees any other reason to want to be there. That's the key word in making employees feel less isolated: want. If they don't want to go to your office, interact with their team, or give extra effort to make the company they love better, then loneliness kicks in. With loneliness comes a desire to just do what's in their job description and move on to other, less lonely parts of their lives. 

This is an even bigger concern with your remote employees. Unless managed properly and made to feel like they're actually a real and valuable part of your team, it's so easy for them to start feeling like they're just another blurry face on a Zoom call.

They're literally somewhere else, making it easier for you to forget about them until it's time to "manage" them.

4 Ways You Can Combat Employee Isolation In Your Team

The important thing here is to not be reactive - there's nothing harder than trying to win back employees who already are on the brink of burnout, or worse, leaving you for greener pastures. Great managers know that it's the small things in the day-to-day that can make their employees feel more included and appreciated. So what exactly can we do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis? Here are a few great tips to help your workers feel like they're actually part of 'the team'.

Icebreakers Aplenty!

The last thing any employee wants is yet another meeting. Unless, of course, it's a fun one. So rather than simply drone on about figures and data, entice them to enter the Zoom room.

Icebreakers are a great solution. For example, engage your workers with fun improv games (as discussed in this previous article). Get them laughing and thinking, wake up their brains, and their bodies will follow. Humor isn't just the best medicine: it's also the best coffee!

Another icebreaker idea is to do the latest TikTok challenges together. Simply Google "TikTok challenges," pick a few that sound fun (and wholesome -- avoid anything gross or dangerous), present them to the team, and give them a shot. If you're not feeling Google-y, then just click this article, featuring fifteen great TikTok challenges that will boost your team's engagement faster than your kid can call you cringe.

Whether you go viral or not, the point is to turn remote work into remote awesomeness. The fun you'll have will not only energize the meeting, but it will make your workers feel like they simply HAVE to floss their way into the next one!

Off-The-Clock Fun!

Icebreakers are great for meetings, but if you want to fight the sting of employee isolation, you need to consider your employees at all times!

This can mean getting everyone together as an off-hours remote team for good times, without a whiff of work! How about a TV/movie-watch party? Everybody decides on a show or flick, you share your screen, then everybody grabs a snack and watches together! Discussion follows, as well as camaraderie!

Don't be afraid to be spontaneous either! Surprise your team members with fun, unexpected care items, or even little "thinking of you" notes. It's amazing how far little gestures like that go toward showing people you value them not just as workers, but as friends and human beings. Like the wise men in Blink-182 once said, "Surprises let me know she cares." And if your remote workers feel like you care about them as people, they're far more likely to care about you and your company as well.

You can also play games virtually. Maybe your team wants to solve a mystery, explore a virtual escape room, or play an actual game show? Runaway Games (that's us!) has all this, from multiple escape-room scenarios, to free murder mysteries, to our acclaimed game show "The Feud" (Think Family Feud but with fewer Steve Harvey mustaches). If you've got 60-75 minutes once every few months and want to get your team together to do something fun and have something to talk about weeks later, there are few things as good as a little friendly team competition :)

Keep Everyone Involved and In The Loop

It's sometimes easy to forget you have a virtual team. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. Fight this feeling. It's on you to ensure that not only doesn't happen but that the employee doesn't FEEL it's happening.

One way is to involve the virtual employee in everything the live employees experience. If major news comes across the floor, tell the virtual workers in real-time. Don't fill them in later just because they're elsewhere. If the CEO makes a planned (or unplanned) visit, allow your virtual workers to speak with them and ask any questions, or simply say hi.

Obviously don't start giving out employee gossip — this isn't a steamy soap opera. But otherwise: if you would tell something to somebody live, then also tell them virtually. That way, you'll never be risking employee isolation again. Your remote workers will feel like part of the office, pajama bottoms and all!

Learn To Be Flexible

Avoid inflexibility at all costs. Live employees need flexibility too, but in the virtual-employee age, it's doubly important you work with them as much as possible.

You may have noticed that technology isn't perfect. Zoom calls fail. Links don't work. Cameras die. Neighborhoods lose power. Also, working at home very often means the kids need lots of help with, well, everything. A repairperson arrives, the dog has to go out -- whatever the reason, always be flexible. Don't fight with your employee, expecting them to do everything right that second, on your schedule, ignoring all tech and life issues. That's not the way to remote work, and it's certainly not the way to win yourself a happy and involved worker. 

Truth be told: if they're doing the work, who cares when or how they do it? The less you care about that, the more your worker will care about you and your company!


The bottom line is employee isolation sucks and nobody wants to spend 8+ hours a day feeling like the people they're supposed to be building something great with either don't care about them, don't know them, or don't appreciate them.

If you feel like one of these feelings characterizes your team, stop right now, take a deep breath, commit to changing your attitude right now, and see what you can do to incorporate even just one of the ideas we've suggested above to start. Try it out for two weeks and review it to see how it went.

If you feel like your team is running smoothly but you think there's always room to improve, do the same thing! There's very little downside and the upside is that you get one more tool in your toolkit and you become a better people manager. Not a bad trade-off.

Here's to keeping your remote employees engaged, happy, and part of the team!