- Telework only reduces job stress with employees who do not believe that telework will create social isolation.
- Feelings of isolation are negatively related to worker choice about whether or not to work remotely.
- There is a positive association between distance from the home office and feeling isolated.
In many professions, employees face the decision as to whether or not to work remotely, all or part of the time. Many enjoyed this flexibility during the pandemic, viewing the option as a working “staycation.” Others felt like they had been placed on house arrest, and couldn’t wait to get back into the office. Research indicates that remote work is linked with both stress and loneliness—which can increase the farther an employee lives from the office. Fortunately, many employers can tailor professional plans to accommodate employee personality, and boost productivity.
Remote Work: Independence Not Isolation
When it comes to the perceived emotional toll of remote work, mindset matters. Mladen Adamovic investigated how employee cultural background influences the extent to which teleworking impacts job stress.[i] Studying 604 teleworkers from different countries, he found that telework only reduces job stress with employees who do not believe that telework will create social isolation. He also found that employees scoring high in individualism have positive views about telework effectiveness.
This finding makes particular sense to people who have a robust offline social network but are frequent traveling teleworkers. True, some digital road warriors are not worried about social isolation, and actually seek physical isolation in terms of finding private space to work while on the road. Others, however, seek to remain connected both personally and professionally—in person if possible. Research reveals this proclivity is linked with productivity.
Maria A. Spilker and James A. Breaugh examined the issue of predicting and managing remote workers feeling of professional isolation.[ii] They began by recognizing that while loneliness has been subjected to a significant amount of research in other settings, workplace loneliness was an important and under-researched area of investigation.
Spilker and Breaugh examined seven theory-based predictors of feeling isolated, studying 244 telecommuters and their supervisors. They found, among other things, that feelings of isolation were negatively related to whether workers had a choice about whether or not to work remotely, because having that choice provides a sense of control. They also found that feeling isolated was positively linked with the telecommuter's need for affiliation, the extent to which the worker engaged in telework, and how far the worker lived from his or her central workplace—finding a positive association between distance from the home office and feeling isolated.
Plans to Personalize Professional Employment
Employers who employ remote workers should consider incorporating an in-person component to the job description when possible, affording employees the option of capitalizing on the social value of colleagues and camaraderie. Employers can also talk with both current and prospective employees about the value of living within driving range of the workplace, in order to have a greater option of joining a live team of co-workers on a regular basis. Because happy employees are hardworking employees, taking steps to care for professional team members both professionally and personally can boost mood, morale, and productivity.
[i] Adamovic, Mladen. 2022. “How Does Employee Cultural Background Influence the Effects of Telework on Job Stress? The Roles of Power Distance, Individualism, and Beliefs about Telework.” International Journal of Information Management 62 (February). doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2021.102437.
[ii] Spilker, Maria A., and James A. Breaugh. 2021. “Potential Ways to Predict and Manage Telecommuters’ Feelings of Professional Isolation.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 131 (December). doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2021.103646.