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July 16, 2019

Alone Yet Connected: The Key to Engagement for Remote Workers

Remote work is on the rise. Staying connected with co-workers is key.
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The last ten years have given rise to over four million remote workers in the United States. This new way of working has prompted employees to challenge the notion of the daily commute and the 9am to 5pm workday. Now, employees are not only looking to eliminate commute times with remote solutions, but achieve greater work-life balance, flexibility, and raise children while pursuing professional aspirations.

Remote work also affords companies the ability to hire employees anywhere on earth...with good Wi-Fi. Many of the world’s largest and most innovative organizations are offering remote arrangements to secure the best and brightest minds in the “global war on talent.” Simply put, working remotely offers employees and organizations a new and potentially better way to work.  

Yes, remote work technologies are redefining contemporary work arrangements, but these technologies often come at the expense of regular, informal social interactions with colleagues. Which is cause for concern, as the ability to connect socially with others at work supports individual well-being, healthy psychological functioning, and engagement.

While socializing less to get work done may seem like a productivity hack, our research shows that being socially connected at work is key for remote workers to be engaged. Looking at the numbers, feeling socially connected at work predicts 33% of remote worker engagement. In other words, if the pie below represents all the factors in the known universe that might contribute to the engagement of a remote worker, 33% of that pie would be how socially connected they feel to their colleagues. That’s a huge piece of the engagement pie!

With a new understanding of how important social connection is for remote workers to be engaged at work, what should be done?

First, if your business operates remotely, it would be worth setting aside time each week to gather employees and allow them the space to just chat during the workday about non-work-related topics. Allowing for this structured free-time is an easy way to ensure employees feel connected to their peers and are thus engaged when it is time to work.

Second, investing in technologies that support quick and informal communication, like Slack, is a great way to help people stay in the loop and build community for folks who don’t have the chance to interact with each other face to face.

Third, companies are now replacing their traditional office spaces all together with cloud-based virtual workforces. In a virtual world like VirBELA, employees are represented by customizable avatars that can meet at a café for informal conversation and the next minute teleport to a boardroom to discuss business strategy (see screenshot above!).

The bottom line? Remote arrangements allow for freedom and flexibility, but remote workers will do better and be more engaged when they can socially connect with others at work.


Global Workplace Analytics (2017). The 2017 state of telecommuting in the U.S. employee workforce. Flexjobs.

Allen, T. D., Golden, T. D., & Shockley, K. M. (2015). How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16 (2), 40-68.

Hill, E. J., Miller, B. C., Weiner, S. P., & Colihan, J. (1998). Influences of the virtual office on aspects of work and work/life balance. Personnel Psychology, 51(3), 667-683.

Chung, H., & van der Horst, M. (2018). Women’s employment patterns after childbirth and the perceived access to and use of flextime and teleworking. Human Relations, 71(1), 47-72.

Beechler, S., & Woodward, I. C. (2009). The global “war for talent.” Journal of International Management, 15(3), 273-285.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

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