“A lot of folks spend eight to 12 hours a day in front of their computer at home, sometimes never leaving their house. So for many of my clients, the homework I give them is to leave the house every day, even if it’s just to check the mail or get a cup of coffee.”
Kyle Elliott, EdD, Tech Career Coach and Remote Worker
The landscape of the professional world has significantly transformed over the past few years, mainly owing to the steep rise in remote work. This shift to a more flexible, location-independent work setup has been fueled by technological advances, evolving employee expectations, and, more recently, the global pandemic. While remote work offers numerous advantages, including reduced commuting time and increased autonomy, it can inadvertently cultivate a sense of isolation among workers.
A 2023 survey conducted by Buffer, a social media marketing software company, found that 23 percent of remote workers reported that their biggest struggle was loneliness. Loneliness is not merely an unpleasant feeling, but can also pose significant health risks. The American Psychological Association has linked loneliness to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and even premature death. In fact, the APA states, “Research has found that loneliness and social isolation may be as bad for your health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
For remote workers, loneliness can be exacerbated by the lack of face-to-face social interactions and the blurring of work-life boundaries. Often, remote workers may feel detached from their team’s culture and camaraderie, adding to the sense of isolation. “Remote workers are doing real work, and they are often doing more than if they went in to an office. And part of that is that they don’t want their boss to think they’re not doing their part. So they’re working even more than necessary,” shares Dr. Kyle Elliott, a tech career coach and remote worker.
One of the first steps to tackling this problem is for remote workers to understand that others experience loneliness and isolation, too. “It’s important for employees at home who feel isolated, overworked, or fatigued to know they are not alone. Sometimes people feel like they are the only ones living alone or exhausted, isolated, and lonely,” says Dr. Elliot. “You’re not the only one. There are a lot of people who feel just like you do.”
Keep reading to learn about the causes of loneliness and isolation for remote workers, the consequences, and what employees and employers can do about it.
Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and tech career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine. He offers various coaching services, including career, interview, and executive coaching, catering to senior managers and executives.
With his extensive expertise and exceptional speaking skills, Dr. Elliott has become a sought-after professional speaker, delivering talks on professional development, personal branding, and more. He holds a master’s in public administration with a focus on non-profit management and philanthropy from the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, University of Washington, and a doctor of education in educational practice and leadership from the University of North Dakota.
The causes of remote worker loneliness and isolation are multifaceted and complex. From the sudden absence of office chatter to the lack of physical presence, remote workers often feel left out of the social loop. The feeling of isolation may also be amplified by the lack of casual, face-to-face interactions, which play a crucial role in building relationships and providing a sense of belonging.
Dr. Elliott has observed firsthand some of the causes of loneliness and isolation for remote workers: “More communication is going asynchronous, which is challenging because people don’t communicate regularly with colleagues. It’s difficult to understand what’s going on with coworkers and to read the mood and tone to know how this person is doing,” he says. “When you know someone well, quick communication is fine, but when you don’t know someone, and you’re not able to interact regularly, it can be hard to tell.”
Loneliness and isolation can also be exacerbated by the sheer nature of working at home: “A lot of folks spend eight to 12 hours a day in front of their computer at home, sometimes never leaving their house. So for many of my clients, the homework I give them is to leave the house every day, even if it’s just to check the mail or get a cup of coffee,” says Dr. Elliot.
Unfortunately, conversations about the loneliness and isolation remote workers might face are becoming less commonplace. “I find now that we have more people who are hybrid, there’s less of a conversation around it. Now that more people are in the office, some companies have forgotten that we still have remote workers,” remarks Dr. Elliot.
Another factor is the potential overlap between personal and professional life when working remotely. Without the physical separation of an office, remote workers may find it challenging to unplug from work and disconnect from their laptops. This can lead to a constant feeling of being “on” and difficulty switching off from work mode, resulting in burnout and further exacerbating feelings of loneliness.
The consequences of remote worker loneliness and isolation can be far-reaching, impacting both employees and organizations: “You will often find decreased productivity for the organization due to employees feeling isolated and alone. This is easily one of the biggest costs to employers,” says Dr. Elliot. “You will also often see an increase in absenteeism as employees find themselves in a place of just not wanting to work anymore. You will also find that people experiencing isolation and loneliness sometimes show up and not really work or do the bare minimum.”
He continues, “But ultimately, it all boils down to burnout. There is a lot of burnout right now. Employees are stressed, anxious, and fatigued. They’re saying this is overwhelming. Finding some sort of balance is critical to help them feel like they don’t need to escape and find a new job.”
Employees and freelancers themselves can play an active role in mitigating feelings of isolation and loneliness in remote work contexts. Here are several strategies they can employ:
Managers and leaders also play a crucial role in creating a positive work environment for remote workers. Here are some ways they can support their team members: