UPDATE: The Tulsa Remote experiment appears to be going well for the first group of Tulsa ex-pats.

Working from home has become a popular benefit for both workers who want work-life balance and for employers who want to attract top talent. According to Reuters, the number of remote workers is up 115% over the past decade, and the number continues to grow. Even city and state governments are actively pursuing remote workers. Vermont, Tulsa Oklahoma, and Candela, a small town in Italy, are just some of the places willing to pay people to move there ($10,000!) and work remotely.

With anything this popular, there has to be a drawback, right?

Right. According to Dan Schawbel, author of “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation,” research shows that remote workers are more likely to quit their jobs because of loneliness and a lack of engagement with their colleagues and company. An informal poll of people who work from home revealed a myriad of problems including loneliness, but also household distractions and a common, yet serious, problem of “unnecessary snacking.” Most who mentioned loneliness said it was the casual, “between the cubicles” conversation that they missed the most.

What can employers do to help employees feel less lonely and more engaged? Schwabel recommends video conferencing instead of phone calls, and allowing remote workers to lead meetings. We all know how it feels to be the only person on the conference bridge, the mystery (and sometimes ignored) voice coming out of the Polycom. He also recommends having onsite meetings or social get-togethers at least once a year. Many workers agree that video conferencing helps. They also appreciate teams that include “social time” in a video conference, for example including a getting-to-know-you question as part of the agenda. One worker enjoys her company’s “brown bag lunch” video conferences, where everyone eats lunch together and talks, much as they would in an office.

Remote work is here to stay (wherever here might be). Finding ways to alleviate employees’ loneliness, and provide meaningful connection, will become an important part of employee retention.

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