Learning & Development

Managing Feelings of Disconnectedness Among Remote Workers

For millions of office workers across the United States and beyond, a major silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the widespread shift to remote work. The convenience, comfort, flexibility, and ability to spend more time with pets and family have meant that working from home—or even from a tropical beach or an exotic locale—has long been an unrealistic dream of many workers.

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But for a significant proportion of Americans, remote work isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Many workers are feeling isolated and disconnected after 2 years away from the office. According to a recent survey from video animation software company Vyond, “1 in 3 employees (36%) said a top frustration of remote work was feeling disconnected from colleagues. Boomers feel the most disconnected (51%, a 4-point increase from last year), which is more than double the 23% of Gen Z that reported feeling the same way.” 

And while many introverts have relished the reduction in human interaction, extroverts and socialites of any age group have felt the absence of that regular, in-person human contact they used to find in the office.

Promote Telecommunications

It’s impossible with current technology to completely replace genuine, in-person human contact remotely. However, telecommunications technology has come a long way in the last couple of decades, and there are many ways to stay connected during remote work. It takes seconds to connect “face-to-face” with a colleague over one of multiple videoconferencing options. Instant messaging tools facilitate low-level, continuous channels of communication that, to some extent, mimic the concept of poking one’s head around the corner to ask a neighbor a question.

Again, there’s no argument that these technologies can replace genuine human interaction, but they offer greater connectedness than is available without them, and companies should encourage their use to help mitigate the sense of isolation remote work can create.

Consider a Return to the Office

Still, technology will be a more effective replacement for true human contact for some groups than for others. “Millennials say they feel connected at work when instant messaging throughout the day (38%) and receiving virtual kudos from colleagues in a public forum or chat (24%),” the Vyond study found. “On the other hand, Gen Z employees feel connected by getting to know their coworkers on a personal level (43%) and having team lunches (39%), whereas older generations feel most connected at work through participating in staff meetings (40% of Gen X and 45% of Boomers).” 

For some employees, the most effective way to cure the sense of isolation and disconnectedness that can come with prolonged remote work is to get back into the office, at least occasionally. Many companies are turning to hybrid work arrangements, whereby they spend part of their time working remotely and part of their time working from the office.

While remote work has been a long-sought-after perk for millions of Americans, it’s not the ideal situation for millions of others who feel isolated and disconnected. Employers should be conscious of the mental and emotional downsides of remote work for some workers.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.