When the effects of the pandemic forced nearly all employees to work remotely, there existed a perceived “even playing field” in terms of workers receiving an equal share of valued assignments, mentorship opportunities and promotions. But with many employees returning to the workplace on a near-regular basis, the ones still operating from home are starting to feel increasingly isolated and neglected, with an “out of sight – out of mind” sense about their career. The lack of facetime with colleagues and superiors is causing employees to re-evaluate the benefits of the remote and hybrid work.

From a practical standpoint, a percentage of employees are finding it increasingly difficult to balance two separate workspaces and many times determining that a critical document or file exists on top of “the other desk.” Poor Internet connections at home, interferences ranging from a talkative spouse or household chore that comes calling, a sense of isolation and general diminished set of resources is making the traditional work environment look increasingly enticing.

The most significant reason for the attitude change might be proximity bias. Employees participating on a Zoom call often times struggle to find equal footing with those present in the conference room and are not available for “side sessions” at the conclusion of the meeting. Even though workplace policy may allow for regular remote work, many employees are starting to feel relegated to the sidelines, downgraded or otherwise forgotten as compared to those that are always present.

“Data exists that demonstrates an increase in employee productivity when working collaboratively,” explained Shawn Costello Whooley, a Licensed Psychologist in Baltimore County. “For those that have been unable or unwilling to return to work, the sense of community erodes and stress and anxiety levels rise. Workers are facing difficult decisions. Do they act in a manner that is best for their family or their careers?  The answer, as always, resides in elevating communication and establishing a clear set of expectations among employees and employers. Workers need to explain what is realistic when balancing the demands of home with their work life. Employers, in turn, should be specific in what needs to be accomplished by the employee. We are seeing designated days in which remote workers are returning to the office to establish some type of normalcy to reduce anxiety levels.”

“Anxiety levels have indeed reached new highs,” agreed Deepan Chatterjee, a Clinical Psychologist based in Ellicott City. “I am still seeing a reluctance to head back to the office and many employees are quitting their jobs in lieu of getting a vaccine or working in an environment that they consider unsafe. Especially in those instances in which vaccines are mandated by companies, I am encouraging people to return to the workplace whenever possible.”

A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn determined that more than half of all professionals believe “there is a stigma associated with those working from home.” Respondents indicated the reality of proximity bias with many worried that they are not viewed as fully committed or as productive as employees that have returned to the workplace full-time.

“Eighty percent of success is just showing up,” Woody Allen once famously said, a statement that has been put to the ultimate test over the past 18 months.