Your Desk Might Be the Loneliest Place for You

By: Lauren Mineau

Technology has made it seem like we are closer than ever. Most people are now constantly aware of what their friends are doing across the globe or even just across the street. However, this has also created some toxic consequences.

Constantly seeing what others are up to, coupled with faceless ways of communication in the office like email or Slack, can make your workspace feel like a prison.

Lots of companies are now seeing the damage “virtual distance” can cause, according to Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, founder and CEO of Virtual Distance International, in a CNBC commentary piece. Her company created software that analyzes virtual distance and how it may impact a company’s performance.

She describes this as the detachment that occurs when a majority of office conversations occur through digital devices. She notes that devices “distort context and mediate our relationships.”

A 2011 academic study by professors from California State University and Wharton School of Business found that workplace loneliness can impact employee performance significantly.

The researchers surveyed 672 employees on their feelings of workplace loneliness and concluded that the feeling of being alone has a great impact on employee performance “both in direct tasks, as well as employee team member and team role effectiveness rated by both the employee’s work unit members and supervisor.”

Once you admit to being lonely, things get worse, according to the researchers. Once others knew a coworkers dissatisfaction, colleagues were hesitant to reach out.

Lojeski described a scenario at a finance company where she was hired to analyze the culture. She found that employees primarily emailed to communicate, even to colleagues who were just a cubicle or two away. At this company, customers were not satisfied and big projects were often late and overbudget. By using data collected by her software, she found that virtual distance was directly the cause of million dollar losses and many other marketplace disadvantages.

The company then implemented a push for more in-person discussions and almost immediately, the grim performance reversed. The company’s stock price went up and employees reported better workplace satisfaction overall.

Next time you want to send an email about something quick, try walking over to that coworker’s desk and asking their thoughts. Next, try striking up a conversation with someone new when the opportunity arises.