Strengthening social connections in a world of remote work
Humans are social creatures—a simple fact that provides both opportunities and challenges in our new world of remote and hybrid work. Running into people in the breakroom, swapping fist bumps, and chatting about weekend plans in the elevator are everyday interactions that seem to be receding further and further in the rearview mirror. Human connection is the glue that keeps us engaged with our teams and invested in our businesses. So, how do we successfully ensure connection in an increasingly remote world?
Evolution of remote work
While remote work has been on the rise for a while, the trend was supercharged by the pandemic. Out of necessity, companies sent their employees home to work. And now, many employees don’t want to ever go back to the office.
Flexible and remote work policies increase gratitude and job satisfaction while decreasing stress. Workers love saving hours a day in commuting time, managing their own schedules, and having a quieter, personalized work environment. Remote workers are also more productive, manage fewer distractions, and are happier in their jobs.
On the flip side, rethinking effective collaboration and communication, and—most critically—loneliness, are often cited as challenges threading through remote work. But they don’t have to be stumbling blocks. There are many ways to successfully transition to remote work, including facilitating effective communication and fostering self-care. How companies accomplish this is important to success.
One is the loneliest number
When COVID-19 forced millions of employees to shrink their social contact to the home, the growing feelings of isolation set off a ripple of loneliness that extended through many sectors of the workforce.
More than a year later, loneliness is quickly becoming a public health concern. It affects not only our performance in the workplace, but our physical and mental well-being. Social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and are contributors to the other worldwide epidemics of addiction, violence, anxiety, and depression.
Another risk of loneliness is burnout. Without the easy camaraderie and feedback loop from fellow coworkers in simple daily interactions, workers can start to feel disconnected. If the response to this feeling of disconnection is to spend even more time working online, burnout can quickly become an issue.
Business leaders have a responsibility to support employees and help mitigate social isolation and the resulting loneliness and burnout. By prioritizing social connections and making sure people feel valued as contributors to the success of their companies, leaders can ensure a smooth adjustment to remote work, and better weather industry shocks and retain top talent.
Meet your employees where they (virtually) are
The good news is that employee loneliness and isolation are states that are far from inevitable. Leadership can help prevent them by focusing on simple measures to increase perceived proximity when physical proximity isn’t an option. Promoting a sense of relational closeness can be one of the best investments you make as your company pushes to succeed in a world of remote work. Here are three suggestions:
1. Be intentional about recreating your (virtual) office culture
“Companies should never implement telecommuting without changing anything else,” says University of Georgia psychologist Kristen Shockley. “They also need to shift their cultures and norms to support the new arrangements.” What’s important to you and your employees? Is it your company’s sense of fun and innovation? Or its free exchange of ideas? Whatever it is, make sure to focus on maintaining and strengthening your culture by effectively communicating the company mission, listening to feedback, and finding ways to connect.
2. Know your employees
What makes them tick? Are you offering support in navigating remote work? Are you helping new employees feel like part of the team with solid online employee training systems? Consider each employee’s unique contributions and discover their communication preferences. What are their strengths and natural talents? What are their work patterns? How, when, and with whom do they like to work? Taking the time to truly understand and get to know remote employees can pay off in spades, ensuring everyone is enjoying projects where their specific skill sets can best add to the bottom line.
3. Focus on these three pillars of connection
- Performance feedback
Share formal and informal assessments regularly with your employees. Effective communication can go a long way toward replacing the casual in-office interactions and non-verbal cues that employees used to rely on for feedback.
- Employee recognition
Make employees feel appreciated. Let them know that their work is advancing the business. This will help them feel respected and connected to the company’s greater mission.
- Continuous development and training
Give employees the tools, training, and resources to do their jobs increasingly well. Using remote training software—such as Rise—you can further your people’s learning, which can enrich your company’s performance while increasing self-satisfaction and well-being.
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