Is Hybrid Working Making Us Lonelier?

Simple fact: hybrid working is making us lonelier. 

264 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Loneliness is an epidemic happening right now. For the past two years, the globe has been locked down and people worldwide have been confined to their bedrooms, living rooms, and home offices. Only now is society beginning to open back up again, and how humanity functions socially has been fundamentally altered, at least for the immediate future. 

The new norm does work for many, it doesn’t work for all. There are corporates struggling on a political tightrope trying to get employees back. But there are also employees to whom this new one-to-three day week in the office doesn’t suit them. 

Senior managers may live in spacious houses, where a home office isn’t a stretch, but there are many lower paid, newer employees that don’t have that luxury, for whom the office is a great escape where they gain those social and interactive communication skills that zoom really doesn’t offer. 

Turning this issue into a ‘culture war’ just isn’t right. Some employers are losing a sense of cohesion and seeing productivity drop. As we move into a probable recession, keeping businesses alive and people in jobs must be the priority over a scenario where employees demanded ‘freedom’ overrides the needs of the business. For some employees this new norm works fine, but if there is a productivity drop and equally if the effecta on employees’ mental health are diminishing this cannot be ignored. 

Theoretically, remote working shouldn’t impede collaboration, only alter its methods. Meeting rooms are transferred to virtual spaces, and online correspondence becomes a must. But there is the human desire to connect. At the end of the day, the sense of community that comes from the work environment is completely stripped away, and employees are left staring at boxes on a screen for the majority of their waking week.

Humans are social creatures, whilst solitude can be peaceful in small doses, a two year period is somewhat overdoing it. Over 40% of hybrid employees experience loneliness when working outside of the office. That almost half of the entire millennial and gen-z workforce experiences frequent loneliness in a hybrid or remote setting is a sobering realisation. 

And loneliness isn’t just a feeling, it can impact physical health. Loneliness can accompany a list of other ailments, such as cognitive decline and a weakened immune system. There is evidence that it can increase the likelihood of coronary disease and stroke by as much as 30%. What, then, can this epidemic teach us about hybrid working and our response to the pandemic in general?

So where does the workforce go from here?

Unfortunately, right now, there isn’t one solid solution. Although the world is now over two years past the first Covid-19 lockdowns, there is still a strong level of uncertainty about how the workspace needs to evolve. Some businesses want to buckle down. In March, Goldman Sachs demanded its employees return back to the office 5 days a week. Others seem more apprehensive of employee backlash. PwC offered UK employees shorter hours during the summer, a controversial decision to many but one that highlights the competitiveness of the current talent acquisition market and the lengths corporates will go to keep employees on their payroll.  

Co-working offices seem to be a happy medium – spaces that entice employees back to the office in a more comfortable environment with hospitality-led management. 

Loneliness has often dominated discussions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and the world’s response to it. Countries around the world experienced lockdowns with varying degrees of isolation, and, now with everything opening up again, why is there a hesitancy to step outside the home. How we work and interact has been forever changed. Many now have the privilege of hindsight to look back on pre-pandemic work cultures and see where things went wrong. But, with the increase in loneliness due to hybrid working, are we headed down the same path in the opposite direction? 

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