When remote working became the norm in early 2020 most people thought it would be a temporary adaptation forced upon the workforce by an unprecedented pandemic. Now, two years later, remote working now seems to be a permanent aspect of the corporate landscape. Much has been written about the effectiveness of remote or hybrid working – strategies on how to achieve maximum output from your remote staff etc. However, an often-overlooked facet of remote working is the social impacts it has on its participants. Why has this not been discussed more? Well, the first reason comes down to timing. Only after seeing the relatively long-term effects of remote working could its social impacts be properly assessed. At around two years into remote working, we can now only begin to see what the true repercussions are. Secondly, the research is somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, many people report feeling less stressed and having more engagement while working from home, but on the other hand many also report feeling isolated and unstimulated. How can these two things be true, and is remote working overall beneficial or harmful to one’s social wellbeing?
Remote working certainly has its benefits. There’s no long commute to worry about. You have more flexibility with your time, and how you structure your time, and, most obvious, you have more time to spend at home. That being said, remote working has some unpleasant side effects that can increase the risk of burnout and depression. It’s important to understand the negative social impacts of remote working and how to mitigate them. Because remote working is not only here to stay, it is likely to grow and become a permanent fixture of working life, finding a way to mitigate the negative social effects is key to one’s wellbeing
Enhanced Productivity vs. Enhanced Isolation
It’s actually been shown that most people who work from home, work harder than they would in the office. Given the flexibility of home working, professional workers have been found to have higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment to work and productivity (Kelliher & Anderson, 2010). Unfortunately, these benefits come at a cost; feelings of loneliness and isolation are the most significant problems for those who work remotely. The effects of loneliness and isolation are not something to take lightly. It’s been proven that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk of early death by 50%. This effect is comparable with the risk levels of smoking in contributing to premature mortality (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010).
The Personality Factor
A major factor in how positive or negative working from home can be for a person is their personality type. One’s personality can either make working from home a joy or a living hell. For instance, a naturally extroverted person gains energy for social interactions and from being in the presence of others. Therefore, when you remove that from them, they may feel deprived of much of the stimulation that gave them joy in their work. On the other hand, an introverted person may find the act of socializing at work very taxing and a burden. Thus, when those factors are removed, they may be happier, more relaxed and more able to
focus. As an employee it’s important to be cognoscente of your personality so you can best adapt the hybrid working model to your needs. Similarly, managers should be aware of the effect of personality differences on workstyle preferences and try and create a scenario in which all types of people can work happily, effectively and collaboratively.
Mitigating Social Isolation and Burnout When Remote Working
For people who are feeling anxious about remote working, having clear boundaries around their work life can really help. Establish a clear start and finish time for your home working day. Keeping these boundaries in place is essential so people don’t feel their work life and homelife have become one in the same.
Even if your team is completely remote, try and arrange opportunities for informal chitchat. This will support team cohesion and a sense of belonging – two major areas that can take a hit when working remotely. Consider pairing people up to have 15-minute virtual coffee breaks where the only rule is not to discuss work, or arrange online quizzes or other activities that achieve the same outcome.
It’s been shown that when people are working from home, they get much less feedback from their co-workers and supervisors. It’s advisable to counter this factor by giving more feedback than you probably think you should – particularly positive feedback. Managers should consider setting up weekly check-ins with team members in which they make a note of some concrete positive things their employee achieved the week prior. This helps employees focus on their positive achievements and makes them less likely to lose motivation on their work.
There are many other strategies that can help to lessen the negative social impacts of remote working but, to summarize, the most impactful ones are listed above. Remote working is not going anywhere; if anything, it will likely become even more prominent. The social impacts of remote working should not be overlooked, as they can have a severe effect on work satisfaction, productivity and can contribute to burnout. These potential pitfalls are avoidable though, and if well navigated, the remote or hybrid work model can be an enjoyable and effective work model for everyone.
Microserve has 30 years of experience in the tech industry and can help set up the right infrastructure to support employees make remote working easier and less stressful. Contact the team at Microserve today for more information, or visit our website.