A woman working from home on a zoom call

WFH loneliness: 9 brilliant initiatives launched by UK companies to encourage connection

Posted by for Careers

From weekly catch ups to a virtual ‘diary room’, here are some of the brilliant anti-loneliness initiatives being used in companies across the UK to support employee wellbeing.

One of the biggest challenges presented by working from home has been the lack of face-to-face connection. While some people have enjoyed being away from the office, for many, the lack of work friends and water cooler chat has made WFH an isolating experience.

In fact, research by the UK job board Totaljobs back in August 2020 found that almost half (46%) of UK workers had experienced feelings of loneliness while working from home, with women and younger workers (those aged 18-38) most likely to be affected.

As a result, many businesses have been forced to adapt their practices to help better support their employees and provide connection during this challenging time.  

Across the UK, small and large businesses alike have come together to provide new, Covid-safe ways for their employees to connect with their colleagues and the company as a whole, from weekly ‘catch up’ sessions to online workshops and informal stretching sessions.

Keep reading to find out more about nine of the brilliant initiatives making a difference.  

Colleague Locator Map

At Kindred, a creative PR and comms agency of 40 people, the co-managing directors Sinéad Gray and Sharon Bange have put together an online map to help their employees connect with colleagues who live in their local area.

“This is designed to encourage people to meet others to see a friendly face – anyone who meets for a coffee and a walk is able to expense it,” Gray explains.

“Currently, rules mean that you can only meet one other but in line with the roadmap, this will expand to groups of six soon which will mean people can grab an alfresco lunch together (we announced this week that everyone can have a ‘lunch on us’ in April, May or June).” 

Two women walking with a coffee during their working from home lunchbreak
Kindred's colleague locator map helps employees who live close together to connect IRL under current lockdown rules.

Diary Room

To try and give employees access to some of the “office banter” they were missing while working from home, ad agency Elvis have created a diary room – a room on Google Chat where people are encouraged to share snippets from their day on non-work-related topics for others to interact with.

With clips on topics including how to cook the best brownies and people coping with homeschooling, the diary room has become a place for everyone to stay in touch outside of work chat.

Stretch And Chat

To help create an atmosphere like that in the office, Martin MacDonald, CEO and founder of the Mac-Nutrition Collective, introduced a “stretch and chat” session at 11am every day, where everyone comes together to move their bodies and chat about anything and everything.

“Myself and the rest of the senior management team really didn’t want our staff to feel disconnected or lonely while working from home,” Macdonald explains. “Spending too long seated is a known risk factor for long term health. When we are in the office we have ways to combat this, but lockdown changed everything.

“The social aspect was great too for completely off topic discussions and catching up with people – it’s something we might continue once back in the office, too!” 

Corona Survival Time

Soon-to-launch B2B eCommerce company Atlantic Aspiration decided to introduce their “corona survival time” initiative in the middle of April last year when it was clear the pandemic could go on for a while. Although not specifically designed to help with loneliness while WFH, the initiative gives employees one hour of work time per week to do whatever they need to boost their wellbeing, including connecting with others.

The company’s co-founder Anna Jackson explains: “The initiative was launched to show our team members that we are there with them in spirit during the pandemic – our only encouragement was that they spend the time doing things they feel are important for their wellbeing and ideally, but necessarily, furthering their team work.

“Some of the guys on the team use the time for gaming together, and I’ve gotten into yoga.” 

A cup of tea
Adam's catch up brews provide employees with a chance to talk about anything and everything over a cup of tea.

Weekly Catch-Up Brews

At Adam, a recruitment company based in Manchester, the team have been offered the opportunity to take part in weekly ‘Catch Up Brew’ sessions to provide some much-needed time to chat while working form home.

“Every Friday morning, anyone in the company that wants to can jump into our virtual catch up brews,” explains operations executive Kimi Wright. “These aren’t ‘meetings’ as such, instead they’re a place for us to wake up together on a Friday morning, have a catch up and natter over a brew – the same way we would if we were in the office.

“It’s completely optional, but the vast majority join every single week.”

Buddy Up With The Board

In a bid to help employees feel more connected while working from home, the team at Frank Recruitment Group are offering ‘Buddy Up With The Board’ sessions, where people can book in a one-to-one session with a member of the senior team to talk about anything they’d like.  

“Our staff have used these sessions to ask questions, get career advice or just have an informal chat, and the feedback has been great,” explains the company’s president Zoë Morris. “These sessions have helped staff stay engaged, and made sure our executives are accessible, especially during this tough time.”

Morris continues: “The benefits are two-fold, in that employees feel valued and heard, and board members get to connect with employees that they might not otherwise cross paths with that often.”

Never Home Alone

Starling Bank introduced the Never Home Alone initiative back in April to support their employees’ wellbeing while working from home. Designed with four key themes in mind – Mind, Body, Food and Development – the scheme consists of weekly live streams providing tips and tricks for staff.

There’s also a live Q&A at the end of each week’s session to encourage people to discuss what’s going on. 

A woman speaks confidently on a Zoom call with her colleagues
Lots of women have anxieties about how their voices affect them in the workplace.

Random Meetings

To give people a chance to interact with other people around the company while working from home, James Buckley-Thorp, CEO of the life insurance company Bequest, has introduced a new scheme where the company’s internal chat messenger schedules one-to-one meetings between team members at random, for 10 minutes.

“It automatically books in the time into the calendars and you’re away – you can talk about work, the weather or life insurance,” Buckley-Thorp explains.

“This is our way of attempting to bring back those random office conversations that you would have in the lift, or as you’re passing people in the corridor. It keeps the sporadic office days and attempts to mimic them online.” 

Culture Club

At Nelson Bostock, a communications agency based in London, the team have been taking part in a virtual ‘Culture Club’ to encourage everyone to get together and have some fun, whether that’s through virtual baking events or fitness challenges. 

“When lockdown came in March 2020, we had to refocus on bringing us all together virtually when we couldn’t be together physically,” explains senior account director Morag Magee.

“Over the last year, we’ve run our very own series of MTV Cribs, hosted live bake-a-longs from brownie making to pancake tossing, held a pumpkin-carving competition, a virtual Christmas party and launched our Friday Run Club, complete with a virtual warm-up.” 

If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.