Telework & Well-being Integration: Social Connectedness

Teleworkers are at risk of feeling disconnected from their co-workers.

January 09, 2020

This resource is intended for use by well-being practitioners, work-life and telework program managers, leaders at all levels, and other stakeholders interested in championing flexibility and shaping the future of work.

Teleworkers are at risk of feeling disconnected from their co-workers. Although many organizations have embraced new technology to enable working remotely, few employers have successfully changed their organizational culture and practices to address the bias for face-to-face communication and to replicate informal social interaction and collaborative work in a virtual setting.

ADVANTAGES

  • Less chance of information overload
  • Increased diversity and inclusion
  • More focus on employee achievements

CHALLENGES

  • Loneliness
  • Missed informal interactions

NEUTRAL IMPACT

  • Positive relationships not impacted

Loneliness

Twenty-one percent of teleworkers say loneliness is their biggest challenge to working remotely.2 Employees who telework report feeling separated from the work environment and culture. They also believe they miss opportunities for informal work interactions and learning.3 In addition, when many colleagues telework, those who continue to work in the office can feel lonely and disconnected with fewer people to interact with during the day.

Relationships

While some studies conducted in 2005-2007 indicated that telework negatively impacts relationships and leads to an “us vs. them” divide, a more recent research study found that teleworking allows employees to preserve positive relationships and distance themselves from negative aspects of the office.4,5,6,7 Furthermore, research results suggest that telework is more likely to provide a distinct advantage by curtailing information overload, superfluous communication and stress, all of which can isolate employees from necessary information and connections.8

Diversity & Inclusion

Telework can enhance efforts to increase diversity and inclusion. Remote work gives companies a broader and more diverse applicant pool by removing the physical limitations of where offices and employees are located. While often viewed as a retention tool for women to help address the worldwide struggle of the double burden, a study has found that in practice, men across the globe are 8% more likely than women to work remotely. Telework also shifts focus onto employee achievements, helping to eliminate the impact of bias. Finally, making telework available to applicants and employees with disabilities open doors to work opportunities that would not be available to them in the traditional workplace.

Chronic perceived loneliness or social isolation can lead to mental health issues, decreased productivity, or even employees leaving the organization for a job that allows them to be back in an office.viii Managers must closely monitor the morale of their teleworkers and create a sense of belonging, despite the lack of physical presence.

Learn More

Employer Practices for Integrating Social Connectedness and Telework

Well-being Benefits & Tech Solutions

  • Give employees the right technology to perform their jobs and stay connected, such as VPN access to the business network, a phone system with remote access to voicemail and call forwarding, instant messaging and a video chat system; for certain work, project management and team communication applications may be helpful, such as Base Camp, Asana and Trello.
  • Invest in virtual communication platforms, such as Sococo, Slack or Skype for Business.
  • Facilitate random acts of kindness and/or gratitude campaigns through virtual platforms.
  • Give employees paid leave and/or flexibilities to volunteer in their communities.

New Practices & Policies

  • Establish a virtual water cooler to promote informal conversations with instant messaging systems, intranet sites or a shared email folder.
  • Treat telework as a team activity rather than an individual one to impress a “we” instead of “me” mindset (e.g., one adds a conference line to a meeting invitation for the benefit of the team, not the benefit of an individual teleworker).
  • Bring teams together at least once or twice a year and plan in-person social activities as a group with teleworker involvement.
  • Schedule virtual lunches and/or social events.

Teleworking Habits to Encourage

  • Take time to discuss personal activities, families and trips.
  • Join virtual meetings a few minutes early to chat.
  • Set up regular catch-up calls with key contacts.
  • Be transparent about availability by using shared calendars and status indicators on instant messaging systems. 
  • Forward calls when teleworking for seamless communication.
  • Actively share information on a regular basis with leaders and colleagues.
  • Attend major events in person.
  • Work in shared spaces, when appropriate; employees can find workspaces through networks like DesksNear.Me and WeWork, as well as consider public spaces, such as a local library or coffee shop with WiFi.
  • Take a group fitness class to get exercise and social interaction.
  • Plan after-work activities that include being around people (e.g., walking with neighbors, taking a trip to the grocery store).

Next Steps

Educate managers about the impact of telework on social connectedness. Encourage them to have conversations with their teams about adopting the team and individual practices shared above.

  • 1 | Golden TD, Veiga JF. The impact of extent of telecommuting on jobsatisfaction: Resolving inconsistent findings. Journal of Management. 2005;31(2):301-318.
  • 2 | Griffis H. State of remote work 2018 report: What it’s like to be a remote worker in 2018. https://open.buffer.com/state-remote-work-2018/. Accessed on October 12, 2018.
  • 3 | Dahlstrom TR. Telecommuting and leadership style. Public Personnel Management. 2013;42(3):438–451.
  • 4 | Collins M. The (not so simple) case for teleworking: A study at Lloyd's of London. New Technology, Work and Employment. 2005;20(2):115–132.
  • 5 | Golden T. The role of relationships in understanding telecommuter satisfaction. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 2006;27(3):319–340.
  • 6 | Golden T. Co‐workers who telework and the impact on those in the office: Understanding the implications of virtual work for co‐worker satisfaction and turnover intentions. Human Relations. 2007. 60(11):1641–1667.
  • 7 | Collins AM, Hislop D, Cartwright S. Social support in the workplace between teleworkers, office‐based colleagues and supervisors. New Technology, Work and Employment. 2016;31:161-175.
  • 8 | Fonner KL, Roff ME. Why teleworkers are more satisfied with their jobs than are office-based workers: When less contact is beneficial. Journal of Applied Communication Research. 2010;38(4):336-361.
  • 9 | Griffin J. Telecommuting and employee mental health. December 28, 2017. https://www.griffinbenefits.com/employeebenefitsblog/telecommuting-andemployee-mental-health. Accessed on October 15, 2018.
  • 10 | Grzywacz JG, Carlson DS, Shulkin S. Schedule flexibility and stress: Linking formal flexible arrangements and perceived flexibility to employee health. Community, Work & Family. 2008;11(2),199-214.
  • 11 | Eurofound and the International Labour Office. Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, and the International Labour Office, Geneva. 2017.
  • 12 | Henke RM; Benevent R; Schulte P; Rinehart C; Crighton AK; Corcoran M. The effects of telecommuting intensity on employee health. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2016; 30(8):604-612.
  • 13| Aumann K, Galinsky E. The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce: Family and Work Institute; 2009.
  • 14 | Moen P, Kelly EL, Fan W, et al. Does a flexibility/support organizational initiative improve high-tech employees’ well-being? Evidence from the Work, Family, and Health Network. American Sociological Review. 2016;81(1):134-164.
  • 15 | Dennerlein JT, Johnson PW. Different computer tasks affect the exposure of the upper extremity to biomechanical risk factors. Ergonomics. 2006;49:45-61.
  • 16 | Ellison JK. Ergonomics for telecommuters and other remote workers. Interface. 2012;2:8-11.
  • 17 | Garza JLB, Catalano PJ, Katz JN, Huysmans MA., Dennerlein JT. Developing a framework for predicting upper extremity muscle activities, postures, velocities, and accelerations during computer use: The effect of keyboard use, mouse use, and individual factors on physical exposures. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 2012; 9: 691-698.
  • 18 | Hoehner CM, Barlow CE, Allen P, Schootman M. Commuting distance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and metabolic risk. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012; 42: 571-578.
  • 19 | Global Workplace Analytics. Pros and cons. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/pros-cons. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 20 | Ingraham C. The astonishing human potential wasted on commutes. The Washington Post. February 25, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/25/how-much-of-your-life-youre-wasting-on-yourcommute/. Accessed August 21, 2018.
  • 21 | Reynolds BW. 6 ways working remotely will save you $4,600 annually, or more. https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/6-ways-working-remotely-willsave-you-money/. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 22 | Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer expenditure—2017. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 23 | Accounting Principals. Employee survey on payroll tax and spending habits. https://www.accountingprincipals.com/employers/employer-resources/workonomix-spending-habits/. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 24 | Allen TD, Golden TD, Shockley KM. How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 2015;16(2):40-68.
  • 25 | Anderson AJ, Kaplan SA, Vega RP. The impact of telework on emotional experience: When, and for whom, does telework improve daily affective well-being? European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 2014;24(6): 882-897.
  • 26 | Wheatley D. Autonomy in paid work and employee subjective well-being. Work and Occupations. 2017;44(3):296-328.
  • 27 | Gaskell A. Why a flexible worker is a happy and productive worker. Forbes. January 15, 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2016/01/15/why-a-flexible-worker-is-a-happy-and-productive-worker/#3f6ce33a14c4. Accessed on September 16, 2018.
  • 28 | Gajendran RS, Harrison DA. The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting: Meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2007;92(6):1524-1541
  • 29 | Golden TD, Gajendran RS. Unpacking the role of a telecommuter’s job in their performance: Examining job complexity, problem solving, interdependence, and social support. Journal of Business and Psychology. 2018; doi:10.1007/s10869-018-9530-4.
  • 30 | Agarwal D, Josh B, Lahiri G, Schwartz J, Volini E. The rise of the social enterprise: 2018 Deloitte global human capital trends. 2018.
  • 31 | Make Montana Home. https://makemontanahome.org/. 2018. Accessed on October 24, 2018.

More Topics

Articles & Guides icon_right_chevron_dark Culture and Strategy icon_right_chevron_dark Physical Health icon_right_chevron_dark