Remote work boom creates risk of professional isolation, study finds

Researchers from the US have concluded that remote work can make people feel isolated and at risk of burnoutWhile the pandemic ushered in a wave of remote work with benefits for both employers and employees, a new study warns of a hidden risk: professional isolation. Researchers from Colorado State University found that remote employees experiencing isolation reported feeling less engaged and more depleted at work, potentially leading to burnout. The study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, surveyed 445 participants across two points in time. It measured professional isolation, schedule flexibility, and the level of support supervisors provided for work-life balance.

The results revealed a clear connection: employees feeling isolated also reported higher depletion and lower job engagement. However, the study identified two key factors that can mitigate this negative effect.

Firstly, schedule flexibility empowered employees to manage their workload and personal lives, fostering a better sense of control. Secondly, supportive supervisors who addressed work-life conflicts and offered resources for families created a more positive work environment for remote employees.

“Our research extends the literature on telecommuting and professional isolation and provides insights for organizations on job engagement among telecommuters who feel professionally isolated,” conclude the study’s lead authors Tiffany Trzebiatowski and Chris Henle. “Organisations need to be proactive in supporting their remote workforce.”

The study offers actionable steps for companies:

  • Identify vulnerable employees: Recognising those prone to isolation allows for targeted support and resources.
  • Boost face time: Creating virtual interactions and activities can foster a sense of belonging among remote workers.
  • Clear communication: Effectively communicating available resources, including flexible scheduling and family support options, is crucial.
  • Isolation beyond remote work: The study emphasizes that isolation isn’t unique to remote work. Providing resources can benefit all employees, regardless of location.

By acknowledging the risk of professional isolation and implementing these strategies, organizations can create a thriving remote work environment that fosters employee well-being and engagement.

Trzebiatowski, T. M., & Henle, C. A. (2023): Remote but not forgotten: Ameliorating the negative effects of professional isolation through family supportive supervisor behaviors and schedule flexibility