Oct 6, 2020 - Economy

Remote work erodes workers' sense of belonging

Illustration of a person working at a desk in the middle of a island

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Most Americans want the telework trend to continue after the pandemic, but there's a lingering problem that companies haven't been able to solve: working at home is isolating.

Why it matters: A sense of belonging at work is becoming increasingly important to workers — and employers who figure out how to build that into the hybrid work culture of the future will have a critical advantage when recruiting and retaining talent.

  • That's a key takeaway from Slack's inaugural index of remote work as part of the company's new Future Forum.
  • Slack surveyed 4,700 teleworkers across the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Australia. The consensus was that working remotely has greatly improved work-life balance but increased isolation.

"Stress levels are down, and productivity is up," says Brian Elliott, VP of the Future Forum. "Sense of belonging is where, on average, the challenge is greatest."

  • The index assigns points to each sentiment, and while work-life balance and productivity are up 25.7 and 10.7 points, respectively, belonging is down 5.
  • And contrary to what managers might think, more Zoom meetings is not the answer. Workers who attended regular catch-up meetings actually reported lower scores on sense of belonging (–2.7) than those who received updates through emails or messages (+5.8).
  • "Cramming people's days with status check-in meetings make it worse," Elliott says.

Slack's data also shows the extent to which the pandemic has changed America's attitudes about work.

  • Only around 12% of people want to go back to the office full time, and only around 11% want to stay home forever. The rest want some sort of mix.
  • Flashback: Before the pandemic, less than 4% of American employees worked from home full time.
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