When you choose to work from home, it can be wonderful. If you perhaps negotiated the right to work remotely to or three days a week, then to you, those days mean no commute, no traffic, and way less stress.

Choosing to work from, however, is very different than having to work from home. Millions of Americans have been put into that situation by the coronavirus pandemic. They have no choice but to work remotely, and many of them are feeling less connected and less informed, according to a new survey by Smartsheet.

A person at a conference table leads a videoconference.

It's possible to remain connected even while working remotely. Image source: Getty Images.

Working from home isn't a choice right now

While a few states have begun to relax their stay-at-home orders -- and a handful never imposed them -- about 290 million Americans remain under state- or municipality-imposed restrictions that prevent all but essential workers from going to their jobs. Those companies that can continue to operate with remote employees are doing so, and using a lot of new tools to keep their teams connected. But during this period of social distancing, those tools are falling short for many workers.

"Three-fourths of the American workforce feels less connected," according to the survey of 1,004 U.S. professionals -- adults who are currently employed, and who previously worked in an office setting but are now working from home due to COVID-19.

According to the survey, 60% of professionals "feel less informed about what is going on within their company since they started working from home."

"This research shows that the key to helping remote workers cope with the current circumstance, and thriving in the longer-term, goes far beyond simply connecting people and teams through video-based technology," said Smartsheet CEO Mark Mader in a press release. "To be effective, people need to stay deeply connected to their work and the work of their teams. They also need context, structure, tracking, and visibility into their work."

How can you fix it?

As a business owner or manager, you can take some clear steps to help your now-remote workers feel more connected -- and those will continue to be sensible even after the current high level of social distancing is relaxed. The simplest one is to regularly communicate what's going on. Be honest, even when the news you have to share isn't great.

A lot of businesses are struggling under these circumstances. Others may be doing well because of them -- and it makes sense to communicate that too.

Take the time to schedule one-on-ones, and don't just use them to track progress. Have real conversations and try to understand the challenges facing each person. Some employees may be struggling with the schooling needs of their children, while others may just feel lonely. Take the time to find out.

As a worker, you should remember that when you physically went to work, not all of your conversations there were about the job. Remember that you also interact with coworkers on a social, human level and while that can be harder to do in a video conference format, it's not impossible.

Schedule quick coffees or lunches with the people you normally socialize with. Consider holding group events like everyone having lunch together online or even a virtual happy hour after work.

Not being physically in the same place does not have to mean not being connected. It does, however, take more work to make everyone feel included, heard, and well informed.