Remote and Hybrid Workers Lack Meaningful Work, Sense of Belonging

 remote workers fall behind on sense of belonging at work

Belonging Employee Well-being Remote & Hybrid Culture

Remote employees have better work-life balance and are more productive, but what is missing from their experience at work?

Remote work isn’t a panacea for the employee experience.

The flexibility that workers get when working from home comes with downsides. In a recent Great Place To Work® market survey of nearly 4,200 full- and part-time employees, fully remote workers were less likely to feel they made a difference in their organization. They’re also less likely to feel they can be their true self at work.

On the one hand, only 58% of fully remote employees said they “make a difference,” compared to 65% of employees who report to a workplace every day. For hybrid workers (one to four days on a worksite per week), its 60% who said they made a difference.

Employees who don’t feel they can have an impact in their role hurt the bottom line. Employees are 64% more likely to be engaged in high levels of innovation when they feel they “make a difference.” And in today’s challenging economic environment, companies that can’t innovate will fall behind.

On the other hand, remote workers report higher levels of work-life balance and psychological and emotional health. Among remote workers, 63% reported having a healthy work-life balance compared to just 59% of hybrid employees and 57% of in-person workers.

Without a psychologically healthy work environment, employees can’t innovate. And when they’re burned out? Productivity and innovation suffers.

The data reflects more about the overall employee experience than the merits of remote or hybrid work. Successful hybrid cultures are built on trust, listening, workplace equity, and empowered employees. None of those things are unique to the on-site, remote, or hybrid work experience.

Hybrid work and productivity

Concerns about the productivity of remote workers aren’t supported in the data.

Productivity hasn’t suffered during the massive increase in remote and hybrid work in the aftermath of COVID-19, according to Great Place To Work data. Instead, healthy workplace cultures that implement hybrid work saw a big bump in productivity.

Only two in three remote and hybrid workers (64%) said they could be their true self at work.

What drove the increase? Camaraderie and positive culture, which were made possible by effective leadership and company’s willingness to be flexible. In Great Place To Work research, when employees share positive phrases about their executives like “excellent leadership” and “honest leadership,” productivity among remote workers went up.

These remote employees are keenly aware of their productivity. In our July market survey, remote workers were more likely than both hybrid and in-office workers to believe they and their colleagues give extra effort to support the organization and its goals.

Less than half of hybrid employees at a typical U.S. company (49%) report giving extra effort at work. For onsite employees, the percentage goes up marginally to 53%. For fully remote employees at a typical U.S. workplace, it’s 60%.

Hybrid work and belonging

One area of the employee experience that demands scrutiny is how remote work affects a sense of belonging for employees.

Some research has shown that hybrid and remote work has created opportunities for increased diversity, and more equity and inclusion across the organization. Companies that are pulling back on remote work are having to reassess their DEIB strategies.

Yet, remote work might actually be holding back on belonging.

In the market survey, only two in three remote and hybrid workers (65%) said they could be their true self at work. For fully onsite workers, that number rose to 71%. 

What’s driving this gap? The rise of surveillance tactics for remote workers could be part of the story. Or, employees are tired of feeling they have to perform for the camera, and are having trouble connecting with colleagues in a virtual environment.

As organizations have increasingly focused on productivity, some of the niceties that accompanied remote work in the early days have fallen away. It takes a lot of work to build trust and help people belong. Just offering remote work doesn’t guarantee that employees will feel a sense of belonging.

Less than half of hybrid employees at a typical U.S. company (49%) report giving extra effort at work.

Whatever the cause, the response from organizations must focus on showing respect for workers. Helicopter bosses who don’t trust their employees are undermining the employee experience for remote talent, and perhaps negating any DEIB boost that a remote work strategy should provide.

The bottom line

There are no easy answers when it comes to remote and hybrid work. Flexible work options have plenty of benefits for workers, but come with risks that have to be considered when implementing your people strategy.

Leaders must seek data-driven feedback from employees to understand how remote and hybrid work models are affecting their experience. Remote workers need support so they feel comfortable bringing their full selves to the virtual workplace. For in-person employees, leaders must help employees find a healthy work-life balance.


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Ted Kitterman