One of the things I hear from remote employees is that they miss the social aspect of going to work – it’s not all about productivity. If you are familiar with Gallup’s employee engagement survey, one of the statements is, “I have a best friend at work.” This is not necessarily a best friend for life, but the person you trust with your grievances, the one you go to lunch with, a person, or people, who connect you to work on a personal level. The shift to remote work can erode or erase that relationship. Leaders and teams have an opportunity right now to create moments that matter. A small break or relief from the monotony, better communication, and more connection will all mean so much to employees under stress. And right now, we could all use that.
First, the grapevine. While idle gossip and misinformation can be toxic, culturally, all offices have a grapevine, and feeling connected to it is an engagement factor for the workplace. And with months of remote work, limited interaction with co-workers, family, friends, missed life events and missed work events, employees need connection more than ever.
Loneliness is emotional. Isolation is structural. Your remote employees are likely experiencing both. Isolation is related to access — or lack of it. Employees who feel isolated feel they can’t get the materials or information they need, they think their achievements or developments are ignored, and they feel cut off from the business. Those aren’t emotional issues; they’re technical ones. Managers need to adjust their listening when they speak with their remote workers to hear when an employee is experiencing isolation and keep an eye on how they can remove it. Some ways to help with isolation are to be sure your employees understand how to get and share resources, be overly communicative about team and individual successes, and share how the team is impacting co-workers, customers/clients, and other stakeholders. While there are a plethora of advantages to having a remote workforce, one of the drawbacks is the physical and operational separation of our employees.
Loneliness is at least as necessary to address as isolation. Our cultural milestones are missing. At work, anniversary recognitions, birthday cake in the breakroom, and pot-luck lunches are gone. Add to that the disruption to our personal lives; employees need connection. Encourage your team to virtually meet socially, not just for work. While virtual happy hours might be getting old, just a weekly “hi” meeting is great. Allow for some goofing off time. Use the technology you already have, or is available, to allow for more realistic, sometimes more spontaneous, social and work interactions for your employees. Get creative about recognition. Can you use your virtual platform to record a message for a co-worker for their birthday, work anniversary, or other milestones? Put in your schedule catch-up calls/video calls with work best-friends; make it part of your workweek. Ultimately, the goal is to find creative ways to re-create the socially fulfilling aspects of work.
Another thing to do to create a moment that matters for your team is to give a gift of time. Take over a meeting or a project so a parent can engage with a child’s teacher or class. Find a way to break the monotony of a day – instead of a team meeting, do a series of short one-on-one meetings.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t make your remote workers literally remote. Leaders need to purposefully and intentionally be pro-active about connecting with employees. Communication shouldn’t just happen when there is a work result or meeting required. Check in, be willing to listen to whatever they want to say, and act on what you hear. Employers Council wants to help; please contact us with questions.