Working From Home: It’s Complicated

Remote workers historically have worked longer hours and gotten less recognition than their office-based colleagues. It doesn’t have to be that way, says an expert on organizational behavior.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

remote work fomo

A recent study shows that some remote employees are dealing with anxiety as their co-workers have started returning to work in-person at their companies.

It’s been called the “Great Remote Work Experiment” — as the pandemic forced nearly all workers who could do so to work from home, millions had the opportunity to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of remote work.

And many employees liked what they experienced. So much so, that in a survey conducted by Breeze, an insurance company, 65 percent of employees said that they were willing to take a pay cut if that meant they could continue to work from home at least some of the time. Another recent survey, conducted by Momentive, found that 52 percent of workers would rather quit than go back to the office full-time.

But as some employees begin to go back to the office, other data shows that a rising number of remote workers suffer from FOMO — fear of missing out. In a second Breeze survey, almost half of remote workers said that they have been dealing with anxiety as other employees have started returning to work in-person at their companies. Of those, 66 percent said remote work anxiety and/or FOMO has hurt their productivity or efficiency at work, and more than half of respondents reported feeling symptoms of depression.

Marissa King

Marissa King

Their fears are not unfounded, according to data released last April for the Office of National Statistics in the U.K., which showed that, before the pandemic, remote workers put in almost double the overtime compared to their in-office colleagues — but they were less than half as likely to be promoted over a five-year period. They were also 38 percent less likely to have received a bonus, and less likely to receive training opportunities.

For Marissa King, a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and an expert on social networks and connections, the question is not whether you work remotely or in an office. “What matters,” she told Convene in an interview last spring, “is where you sit in the web of interaction. That has a huge impact on your health, on whether or not you get promoted, and your emotional wellbeing.”

King predicted then that hybrid work environments could cause some problems as some but not all workers came back to the office. “I think where things are going to get really, really tricky is when we have hybrid work environments, where people are choosing their own schedules when they’re in the office and when they’re not, because then there’s no coordination,” she said. “A hierarchy also could emerge … you can end up really creating two classes of citizens within the same workplace.”

Research shows that those who have the opportunity to interact with senior management are much more likely to be promoted and are going to have better information and better access to resources, she said. “If senior management is in the office, and there’s going to be a privilege to being able to work in the office and have the opportunity to be face to face, that can be really isolating for people who are working remotely,” she added. “But I think as the flip side is true, that if there’s no real career benefit to being at the office, then who doesn’t want to work in their pajamas?” A lot depends, she said, “on what leadership is doing.”

It doesn’t mean hybrid work is impossible, King said. “But it’s really critical to realize the value of relationships and the time that will have to be spent on them.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.