Humans are social creatures by nature and have existed in close-knit hunter-gatherer groups for most of our 200,000-year history.
Now we live in a world that is more connected than ever. 5 billion people have access to the Internet. Revolutionary communication technologies like Facebook are free to use. These miracles should satisfy our ancient need for intercourse, right?
Not quite. Paradoxically, loneliness increases. There are a lot factors play a role, but our increasingly virtual lives have a lot to do with them. They are often the same tools that allow people to communicate anywhere, anytime they feel more alone and isolated.
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There are concerns that the recent resurgence of remote tech will only make matters worse. After two years of lockdown and social distancing, it’s easy to equate remote work with lonely, limited home working.
If it’s true – that the loneliness epidemic will increase – it’s hard to overestimate how damaging this would be.
Loneliness can be deadly. According to the Campaign to end loneliness website, it is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It even puts individuals at greater risk for cognitive decline and dementia.
So should we slow down the remote working revolution? Do we all need to get back to the office as soon as possible?
It’s time to stop arguing and start solving
We were not convinced.
Immersed in the remote working movement for years – a building the world’s largest hospitality platform for digital nomads, the other who is a global campaign for workers’ rights — we wondered whether deliberately designed remote working could offer a solution.
To get to the bottom of this, we enlisted the help of leading experts at Boston University to survey more than 1,000 remote workers from 55 countries.
This is how ‘Social Connection in Remote Work’ (SCRW) was born. It is a first-of-its-kind study exploring solitude in remote work environments.
We hope the findings will open up the ‘remote vs. in-office’ will help evolve. The world will never go back to how it used to be. That’s why we focus on making flexible working a positive experience for everyone.
Here’s an overview of what we found
1. The pandemic caused the biggest shock to working life since World War II
This chart shows the major lifestyle upheaval that our culture has seen for generations. Any disruption of this magnitude will pose serious risks and challenges – which is why we need to understand how our social and mental health is affected.
2. More than half of our respondents experience recurring loneliness
15% of our sample population fell into the ‘risk’ category. In addition to the problems mentioned above, loneliness has also been linked to damaged relationships, depression, substance abuse, sedentary behavior and many other health risks.
3. There is a desire for social connection during the workday
Psychologists define loneliness as the gap between the desired level of social contact and the actual level of social contact. It is a subjective feeling and refers to one’s perceived quality of their personal relationships. If social contacts during the workday were not important to most people, how and where they work would be irrelevant to the issue of loneliness. But that is not the case.
4. Loneliness could cost employers billions of dollars
In addition to health risks, loneliness has another important consequence: the deterioration of employee retention in the workplace. It is estimated that major US companies lose at least $1 trillion every year as a result of voluntary staff turnover, which many employees believe could have been prevented by their managers or organizations.
5. Working from home has real risks
This doesn’t mean that working from home is all bad. The ‘least lonely’ people still spend most of their working day there. But our data is doing show that there is a link between working from home and loneliness. Home workers in our survey also reported home as their most socially satisfying workplace considerably less than those who work mainly from offices or third rooms.
6. Third rooms are more satisfying than offices
The term “third space” refers to a place where people can work outside their home or office, such as cafes, public libraries or coworking spaces. What is striking about this finding is that more than 30% of our sample population has never worked from third rooms during an average month. If all of our respondents had tried third spaces, the 42% figure would probably be even higher.
7. Coworking can tackle loneliness in the workplace
Coworking spaces offer much more social satisfaction than other third space locations. This suggests that coworking spaces, the most socially satisfying of all third-party spaces, offer a tangible proposition to combat loneliness in remote work environments.
Our research showed that working remotely is possible: fewer lonely than office work.
That’s because coworking spaces proved to be more socially satisfying than offices for many employees. This also indicates that returning to the office is possible harmful For some.
So what can governments, employers and even coworking providers do to help?
Selina has spent years implementing programs that promote social bonding between guests and locals. They have seen hundreds of locations become community hubs for digital nomads who crave a sense of belonging on the road. As a coworking and coliving destination and global platform, building a strong community is not an option, it is a must.
Now that the coworking phenomenon has become an integral part of the work culture, Selina is urging providers to recognize and understand the big picture and their role in reviving local communities. Building a community of people is how the industry can take a hit on the loneliness epidemic.
In addition, #WorkAnywhere believes that governments should fund the creation of community workplaces in underprivileged communities. A world where only the wealthy have access to coworking hubs to tackle loneliness is one where we have magnified existing inequalities.
Companies can also help by supporting their remote employees with memberships. We’ve seen how loneliness correlates with the costly issue of employee turnover. That’s why organizations looking to retain their employees would do well to make coworking spaces more accessible.
With public and private sector stakeholders moving in the same direction, we will find a mutually reinforcing system that improves the work experience for millions of people.
The workforce has changed forever. Seizing the historic opportunities presented by the pandemic can have huge benefits, but only if we act decisively together.
View the full report Social Connection in Remote Work here.