Talent   //   June 26, 2024

The loneliness epidemic is undying among remote workers

Remote workers are twice as likely to often feel lonely at work compared to office workers, and even more when compared to hybrid employees.

That’s according to business communication company Ringover, which conducted a survey of 1,154 full-time employees based in the U.S. 

In a way, that’s to no one’s surprise. While remote work has its advantages like flexibility and lack of a commute, the disadvantages can’t be overlooked. Remote workers are often isolated during their work day in their homes. Unless they are proactive and intentional about leaving the house, they could find themselves under the same roof all day long with little to no human interaction, especially if they don’t live with anyone else. In fact, that same study found that remote workers are 15% less likely to feel isolated when working from home with someone else in the same household. 

And while it feels like a lot of people are returning to the office, there are still a lot of people fully remote and impacted by isolation. According to the Pew Research Center, around 22 million employed adults in the U.S. work from home all the time, equal to roughly 14% of all employed adults. 

In many ways, remote work is a lose-win situation. Ringover’s study found that more than half of the respondents said that remote conditions make them feel less connected to their co-workers, but that is offset by an improved work-life balance and stronger impetus to meet deadlines. 

But the question still remains if employees are embracing the work-life balance gains of remote employment, or if productivity is coming at the cost of isolation.

For example, two employees left travel platform 10Adventures because “they just couldn’t stand the isolation of being in their apartment all day, completely alone, without social connection,” said Richard Campbell, founder of the company.

“On the flipside, for the rest of us being remote is incredible, saving us hours every day, allowing us to eat healthier, and spend more time with the people we love,” said Campbell. 

We spoke to workplace experts to provide tips to help remote workers who might be struggling with loneliness. 

1. Intentional meetings with colleagues

Sure, we usually have meetings on our calendar already with various colleagues, but that time is meant for business needs. Dr. Diane Rosen, a workplace coach and president of HR consulting firm dr-squared Consultants, says that scheduling a virtual coffee or phone call with someone you’d like to get to know better can go a long way.

“If you have already established contact, this can be natural and organic,” said Rosen. “If it is someone you don’t actually know yet, you can start the conversation over something work-related and take it from there.”

2. Ask for feedback from remote employees

Leaders have the ability to conduct pulse surveys or conversations that help understand how remote workers are truly feeling, and it’s something that workplace experts advocate.

“Leaders can help build a sense of connection and camaraderie with remote workers and team,” said Rosen. “Building a sense of ‘team’ when people are not in the same physical space is one way to create connections.”

“Building a sense of ‘team’ when people are not in the same physical space is one way to create connections.”
Dr. Diane Rosen, president of HR consulting firm dr-squared Consultants.

That might look like generating new ideas by inviting remote workers to contribute their suggestions on what a successful remote environment looks like for them. This can help leaders address the issues that are lost by not being together, while also ensuring that employees don’t feel isolated.

3. Encourage employees to navigate what they want from work

“The key is for each person to understand what they want out of work, and what fits best for them,” said Campbell. “Remote work is so interesting as it can be great or it can suck. It really depends on each person’s situation as well as the company they’re in.”

While 10Adventures lost two great employees due to not enjoying remote work, it might’ve been the perfect company for someone else who requires that sense of flexibility. 

This might also change depending on where you are in your career. Ringover’s survey also found that Gen Z employees are more lonely. Seventy-nine percent of 18 to 26-year-olds say they feel lonely sometimes or often – more than Millennials (65%) and Generation X (62%).

“That may be the difference, all of us currently have partners or families that live with us, so we get our social connection outside of work,” said Campbell.

4. Create a buddy system

“Remote working has created isolation that has led to mental health challenges, fear, and loneliness,” said Eric Hutto, CEO at global technology solutions provider Diversified. “We are way past due taking action to ensure the human is succeeding, not just the team, department, or company.”

At Diversified, that looks like a buddy system, where companionship can help be a key part of the individual and company’s success. 

“Companionship accelerates onboarding and helps reduce the likelihood of attrition with associates with one year or less tenure.”
Eric Hutto, CEO at Diversified.

“Companionship accelerates onboarding and helps reduce the likelihood of attrition with associates with one year or less tenure,” said Hutto. “This gives the new associate access to conversations that might otherwise take weeks or months to occur.”

5. Provide recognition and rewards

Another disadvantage of remote working is that employees might feel less valued or visible in their roles, especially if there are others that are working from the office. 

“The effect on self-esteem and job satisfaction is a fertile ground for more mental health problems,” said Niloufar Esmaeilpour of Lotus Therapy and Counselling Centre. “Employers should try to recognize and involve remote workers in every aspect of the workplace, having equal opportunities to develop and participate just like other employees.”

One way that might happen is through rewards programs, where HR can help combat this issue. Anthony Knierim, managing director of the Americas at Reward Gateway, said that because there is no quota on sending rewards and recognition, it can be a useful tool. 

“Regular appreciation and recognition is a driver of engagement and connectivity,” said Knierim. “It’s what’s behind that, which is the efforts to deeply understand your people. Recognition can be peer-to-peer, so we can really help HR managers make those real efforts to understand people.”