Remote work seems to be here to stay. And if that is the case, then so are the burgeoning social challenges that accompany it.
As it stands, around 14% of UK workers are exclusively remote, with nearly double that proportion in the US at 26%. And what seems to be emerging is a growing sense of loneliness and isolation amongst these workers, as well as a significant lack of social interaction.
A survey by Statista found that after at-home distractions, a lack of social interaction with colleagues and feeling isolated/lonely were tied as the second highest challenge of remote work, with 35% of respondents citing either as their main struggle.
If you delve deeper, it also becomes apparent that these issues are affecting younger workers more severely. Chargifi did a study across the UK and the US and found that 81% of those aged under 35 would feel more isolated without time in the office, and 70% of them fear missing out on opportunities to socialise if remote work becomes the permanent norm.
If the new normal is remote work, then this requires organizations to push the boundaries of what that really means and help employees find innovative ways to solve these feelings of isolation.
Here are some creative ways employers can encourage their remote workers to get the social interaction they need:
This is a weather-dependant option, but it is well known that getting some fresh air has many physical and mental health benefits, including giving your brain more energy and making your thinking sharper. Public parks, gardens and beaches are all lovely days out, but there’s no reason why someone can’t set up their laptop and work surrounded by like-minded nature lovers and the sound soothing waves and beautiful blooms.
This is one of the most popular options. There is always a lively ambience in a pub or café, and many people find working in these environments much more mentally stimulating. This is largely due to the psychological effect known as social facilitation, in which a person’s performance will improve due to being in the presence of other people. For UK employers, encouraging your remote workers to set up shop in a Wetherspoons could benefit them financially, as the chain offers free refills on tea and coffee all day, and will help ease the effects of cost of living by saving on electricity usage.
A slightly unconventional place, but perfect when looking at the social facilitation effect mentioned above. The hustling and bustling of people can actually help, with ‘background noise’ known to improve cognitive function and focus. And the constant sea of new faces can reduce an individual’s feelings of isolation.
Across both the UK and the US, the beauty of fast-food restaurants during typical working hours are that they tend not to be too loud, they offer free WiFi, and have affordable lunch options. Whether it is burgers, tacos, or fried chicken, being in an environment with other people can make someone feel less alone.
Coworking spaces are becoming an increasingly popular option for companies that are fully remote. These comprise of office spaces that can be rented, where your staff will work alongside remote workers from other organizations and have the opportunity to interact and build relationships. It allows for the ‘office feel’ without having to actually rent an entire office block, so it is cost effective and will likely increase the wellbeing of your workers. Alternatively, encouraging employees to set up remote working hubs with friends who also work remotely allows for them to create small, sub-cultures at work where they are surrounded by friendly faces and can stimulate their socialising needs.
Remote work can very easily become lonely, and if employers are adept in responding to this then they can continue to reap the financial and wellness benefits it has to offer.