Written by Christopher Smith and

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According to the Office of National Statistics, more than 4 million people work remotely in the UK. Whilst the benefits of remote working, such as increased flexibility, greater work-life balance and reduced travel costs are well publicised, recent studies have highlighted reduced workforce cohesion and increasing stress levels amongst remote employees.  

A new study from Nuffield Health has suggested that employees who work remotely should spend at least 2.5 working days per week in the office to maintain a connection with colleagues. Increased working from home is associated with the breakdown of working relationships and 62% of remote workers complained that better technology would help them stay connected with their colleagues, thus mitigating the deterioration in well-being and increased stress.

During the study by Nuffield Health, it was reported that managers and their employees felt pressured to “work too hard” in order to prove their productivity and justify their working arrangements. This is supported by research from LogMeIn, which found that 46% of employees feel pressured to prove that they are actually working when at home, including being “more responsive” on email (36%) and working more hours (23%). These results suggest that remote workers struggle to effectively turn-off because they do not have a fixed working environment and routine. This suggests that connectivity and communication with the office and colleagues is crucial to reducing the need for them to “justify” their remote working, but perhaps the underlying issue of trust is the most important factor that needs to be developed, not only with managers but between colleagues, to avoid resentment and irritation building up within teams.

In relation to detachment from colleagues, in a recent by Buffer 19% of remote workers reported increased stress as a result of loneliness. However, one recent study found that colleagues who spend just 15 minutes socialising and sharing their feelings of stress had a 20% increase in performance. So, the right kind of communication is key to overcoming such challenges and putting in the right structures such as scheduled video calls and regular team-building meet-ups should never be under-estimated.

The results of the above studies cannot be ignored by employers.  Using technology wherever possible to mitigate any deterioration of workplace relationships and feelings of loneliness should be regularly discussed with staff and the benefits of each kept under review. The Nuffield study recognises the steps that employers can take to improve workplace relationships between remote workers and office-based staff: “Where we do see negative effects [of remote-working] these are largely the result of factors that can be addressed organisationally (for example, ensuring appropriate technology to enable seamless access to work material),”.

Remote working is here to stay, as property prices, rail strikes and excessive commute times and the desire for work life balance make large offices full of people a thing of the past.   We therefore have to understand the new human issues that come with it and find ways to get the best from our colleagues and ultimately for our businesses.

20th December 2019