Loneliness: remote work’s most dangerous adversary in 2024?

In the pursuit of success in 2024, employers are being proactive with strategies to combat the loneliness epidemic among their workforce.

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The working world is grappling to get staff back into empty offices, testing the vision of flexible work that the modern employee demands. But, despite the obvious benefits of zero commute, endless toast, and working in your pyjamas should you choose, a growing problem of loneliness is emerging among the remote workforce. 

According to new research from productivity platform Slack, nearly a quarter (24%) of businesses identify lack of connection and feelings of loneliness among staff as big challenges they currently face. 

For businesses struggling to find the right balance of flexible work, a sensitive focus on employee mental health and investing in the right technology to boost collaboration will be crucial for the year ahead.

The loneliness of the long distance worker

Studies reveal that prolonged loneliness can contribute to a 26% increased risk of early mortality, a 29% higher likelihood of developing coronary heart disease, and a 32% higher risk of stroke

We may think of loneliness as a crisis affecting older generations, yet some 73% of Gen-Z and 51% of millennials report feeling alone sometimes or always. 

As a quarter of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grapple with the challenges of connection and loneliness, the Slack research findings reveal a determined push towards new ways of working, and tech investments to tackle collaboration blockages.

Commenting on the findings, Chris Mills, Slack’s Head of Customer Success, tells us, “Our research shows that SMEs want to take control of their own destiny and invest in tech that helps increase connection amongst their team.”

According to Slack’s findings, 76% of business respondents identified internal communications as the most important employee skill for SMEs going into next year, followed by teamwork (74%) and external communications (73%).

Embracing project management software and the right business communication tools for your team can help maintain connections with stakeholders, for example. The right kinds of tools can help ensure that teams stay aligned and productive, irrespective of where they are in the world.

But, for all the technical advances of the remote working age, a focus on the emotional impact of isolation can’t be ignored. 

“Without a doubt, a happier workforce is a more productive workforce,” Mills tells us. “Getting this right will help small businesses thrive in the year ahead.”

Smarter work from home design

Ineffective remote working setups often manifest in various ways, including communication breakdowns, reduced team cohesion, and difficulties in monitoring and coordinating tasks.

The lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to feelings of isolation and hinder spontaneous collaboration, impacting the overall coordination within teams.

The findings also show that a quarter (24%) of SMEs are prepared to shift the way they work in order to be successful in 2024, with over a quarter (26%) of small business owners calling communication and collaboration within teams vital.

To tackle these hurdles, it's a great idea for employers to support their team in upgrading their home work setups, making remote work more enjoyable. 

Investing in better equipment and tech that makes working from home smoother can really amp up productivity and keep the team happy. Especially in conjunction with the addition of quick and user-friendly communication tools that suit the team's style. 

Flexible, not forcible work structures

Slack’s research has found that 34% of SMEs recognise flexibility as their most significant business opportunity in the coming year. 

While addressing the loneliness epidemic within your workforce is crucial, implementing a one-size-fits-all solution might not yield the most effective results. The complexity of human emotions and individual work preferences suggests that mandating a particular approach as an absolute law may not serve the diverse needs and nuances of every employee. 

Instead, fostering a culture that encourages empathy, flexibility, and understanding can pave the way for a more organic and inclusive environment. Providing diverse options and support mechanisms tailored to individual preferences and circumstances allows employees to navigate and address feelings of loneliness in a manner that aligns with their unique situations. 

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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