MIT Sloan Management Review Article on The Loneliness of the Hybrid Worker

  • 6m
  • Caroline Knight, Doina Olaru, Julie Anne Lee, Sharon K. Parker
  • MIT Sloan Management Review
  • 2022

Unprecedented levels of hybrid work seem likely to persist beyond the pandemic conditions that revolutionized employers’ attitudes toward flexible working arrangements. Even as offices have reopened, many employees are loath to give up the benefits of working from home at least some of the time. But some two years into what has been an unplanned global experiment in remote work, the costs of that approach are coming into sharper focus.

While employees appreciate saving time, shedding the stress of commuting, and having more flexibility to balance work and personal demands, remote work has downsides that go beyond domestic distractions and blurred work-life boundaries. In particular, the quality, frequency, and nature of interactions change when colleagues are physically remote and there is less dynamic, spontaneous communication. Neuroscience research has found that only in-person interactions trigger the full suite of physiological responses and neural synchronization required for optimal human communication and trust-building, and that digital channels such as videoconferencing disrupt our processing of communicative information. Such impoverished virtual interactions can lead to static and siloed collaboration networks, workers with a diminished sense of belonging to their organization, and social and professional isolation.1 Long before COVID-19, these issues led some to question whether the large-scale practice of remote work would create a society devoid of social connection, lacking communication skills, and less able to develop meaningful relationships.

About the Author

Caroline Knight is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Transformative Work Design at Curtin University’s Future Work Institute in Western Australia. Doina Olaru is head of the Department of Management and Organisations at the University of Western Australia (UWA).Julie Anne Lee is a professor of marketing at UWA, director of research for the UWA Business School, and founding director of UWA’s Centre for Human and Cultural Values.Sharon K. Parkeris an Australian Research Council laureate fellow. This research was funded by UWA’s Planning and Transport Research Centre and the iMove Cooperative Research Centre and supported by the Cooperative Research Centres Program, an Australian government initiative, as well as Australian Research Council Laureate funding awarded to Sharon K. Parker.

In this Book

  • MIT Sloan Management Review Article on The Loneliness of the Hybrid Worker