Remote work isolation is forcing IT people to work in new ways

Nearly 60% of employees feel more isolated and disconnected from work and teams, and 50% want employers to do something about it, says a new report from Boomi and ResearchScape.

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Image: iStock/ngkhanhvukhoa

The pandemic quickly isolated households from family, friends, and coworkers, but in addition to being separated physically, it was an emotional and mental readjustment. As COVID-19 sent people home to work, e-learn, and quarantine, the interpersonal and technological impact of being remote required new ways of coping, according to a newly launched survey commissioned by ResearchScape on behalf of Boomi, the Boomi Connection Survey.

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The focus of the survey was to examine the interpersonal and technological impact of remote work, while highlighting how IT leaders and the technology workforce have adapted, overcome challenges, and moved their organizations forward. 

Isolation and the big disconnect

Many factors directly impacted those for whom working in an office on-site was the then-status quo. When offices went remote, many factors were affected, including the morning and evening commutes, on which many relied to prepare for or unwind from the day.

Remote workers without the responsibility of making breakfast or encouraging the start of an e-learning day for their families could go to bed and wake up later than before. Office tech was shifted or adjusted so that work could be done from home. 

Initially most were focused on this dramatic shift and working out logistics. However, the working new normal stopped physical contact, water-cooler chat, in-person evaluations, and more. This led to many feeling isolated from work, and this spilled into social lives, too. While they were quickly physically set up, that isolation shifted to interpersonal and emotional wellbeing.

The Boomi survey revealed that workers are clearly feeling isolated as well as forced to work in new ways. It showed that 58% of employees feel more isolated and disconnected from their work and their teams. And in response to this, 49% of workers want to see their offices improve collaboration tools and systems.

Tech, as always, is evolving: 41% of workers have changed how often and which technologies they use, while 38% have added new apps or processes to help get their work done.

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Value and satisfaction

The Boomi survey indicated that there may be some concern that innovation--often bred from collaborative impromptu gatherings--may suffer in the long run, with 39% of workers and 57% of the C-Suite saying that remote work has affected their ability to innovate and be creative. A further 60% said it is due to a lack of in-person connection with colleagues, and 49% of workers said remote work has had a negative impact on not only interaction, but their ability to glean information from colleagues.

But remote work is not without positive results. Despite the challenges, workers are also getting well-deserved recognition. The heavy reliance on technology remote work poses has driven a new appreciation for IT teams. 

Seventy-nine percent of IT leaders say their team feels more valued during this era of remote work, and 78% of senior leaders said IT has been helpful or extremely helpful, compared with 58% of individual contributors. 

Challenges and rewards

Working from home has been a challenge for tech teams: 40% of IT professionals said remote work has been the biggest career challenge, while 39% acknowledged that it was challenging but also said it was rewarding.

It's also brought senior leaders--previously not readily available for consult--closer to employees. More than 44% of IT leaders said that senior leadership's involvement in their tech initiatives is on the rise. And 25% of senior leaders said there are not enough virtual meetings, compared with only 6% of individual contributors.

It's lonely at the top: the Boomi survey also found that 45% of senior leaders are the most likely to feel disconnected to their direct reports. 

While there's comfort in connectivity from social media, both introverts and extroverts miss connecting and are looking toward new tactics and their pets to help cope. About half of both extreme introverts (48%) and extroverts (55%) miss peer connection. Conversely, 85% of workers have some level of concern about the return to the office. To ease the burdens of this challenging time, 38% of workers want their companies to prioritize health and wellness programs.

There are others, though, eager to go back to their desks in the office. Returning to the office tomorrow is exciting to 58% of CEOs, compared with only 23% of individual contributors. 

It's a gender thing

Men miss the office more than women, with 46% excited to return compared with 27% of women. But men (49%) also feel less creative and less able to problem-solve while working remotely, compared with 29% of their female counterparts.

Creative expression is more important to men (48%) than women (33%), the survey said.

The generation that most misses working in-person with colleagues are the Baby Boomers (48%) who say it makes them feel isolated. 

Pets: The survey found that "with no water cooler to chat around, 20% of workers have started chatting with their pets to cope with isolation."

Other workers have turned to:

  • meditation (18%)
  • professional development (17%) or 
  • therapy (9%). 

Methodology

The survey queried more than 1,000 US workers and more than 200 US IT decision makers. To qualify, respondents had to work in an office prior to COVID-19 lockdowns but be working from home currently.

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...