With the Covid-19 pandemic and the world going on lockdown, a new trend appeared in workforces all over the world: working from home. While the pandemic has ended, many workplaces still continue to work remotely or in hybrid mode. While according to some, working remotely was part of a healthy work-life balance, to others this became and remains a challenge. Physical distance, no formal working space, lack of face-to-face interaction, frequent distractions from family and children, lack of proper childcare facilities, inability to socialise with colleagues etc., were some of the challenges faced by the global remote workforce during the pandemic. While most of these have subsided with the end of the pandemic, one challenge remains constant for those still working remotely: isolation.
Why is remote work and consequent isolation a challenge?
Workplaces have rituals which ground the workforce and help it navigate through the workplace smoothly. These rituals are emotional practices and are indispensable for the emotional health of the workforce. Making small talk, sharing personal stories, going for coffee and lunch breaks and more, can be considered as workplace rituals. Not only are they crucial for the emotional well-being of the workforce, according to the Harvard Business Review workplace rituals such as, “small talk is important to us in other ways, putting us at ease and helping us to transition to more serious topics like negotiations, job interviews, sales pitches, and performance evaluations.” In virtual settings, these rituals suffer leading to isolation.
No man is an island: how can organisations bridge the gap?
Maintaining a sense of community and connection via good virtual communication is indispensable to combat feelings of isolation in virtual workplace settings. Here are a few steps organisations and their employees can take to ensure work-from-home wellbeing:
Starting the day with small talk
As weird as it sounds, small talk (not gossip) is essential for the healthy functioning of the workforce of an organisation. Daily meetings must be started by exchanging pleasantries and greetings, or asking about their weekend. Ice breaking exercises may also be employed before each meeting. These could look like the team leader with questions like, “Who had the most fun during the weekend?” or “Who petted the most dogs this week?” This would encourage employees to share personal stories and set the tone for the work-day.
Online team-building activities
There is no limit when it comes to team-building activities. These could include quizzes, games or forming ‘clubs’ on the basis of shared hobbies. For example, employees who enjoy gardening could form a ‘plant-parent club’ while those with a passion for photography could form a photography club. Employees can share their stories, experiences, progress or setbacks in respective areas of interest.
Informal social interactions
Informal social interactions ensure employee engagement. Tools such as virtual Slack Lounge can be used to get employees to gather together virtually and have conversations, virtual lunches or coffee breaks. The point is to bond, develop a team spirit, and form a community. Sharing playlists, film or book recommendations etc. could further foster these feelings.
The law of fake candid
One of the most pleasant aspects of working from the office is the random, spontaneous interactions that arise among two or more colleagues who do not necessarily know each other. This charm of the uncertain and organic is lost during virtual meetings where every interaction is rather planned or organised. However, a good technique to break such routine interactions would be to pair up colleagues who do not know each other to have an informal real-time social interaction. This would encourage spontaneous, casual interactions and help building networks organically, much the same way a fake candid is orchestrated, yet organic.
Encourage personal initiative
Though team building activities are mostly carried out on a large scale, it is necessary to encourage employees to initiate one-on-one virtual interactions with each other on their own. This could include texting or emailing a colleague to ask about their day, weekend plans or advice for a new recipe you’re about to try out.
Online group therapy
The organisation must organise group therapy sessions for their employees to combat isolation. These sessions must be led by mental health professionals and experts.
Manah Wellness offers a wide range of digital resources and personal sessions with its expert team of mental health professionals.
Ask your workforce
A fool proof way to initiate and maintain virtual employee engagement and combat isolation is to simply ask your workforce about what you can do to help and their preferred methods for the same. Make sure you regularly assess and measure employee engagement and figure out methods to improve the same. This might require you to regularly make interventions and customise your strategies according to specific needs of the workforce.
There are a wide range of benefits to the methods mentioned above. These include creating a connected, happy, healthy and engaged workforce that does not regularly burn out or have to go through mental health challenges resulting from isolation. It has faith in its organisation, and because its own needs are met, it continues to work diligently and efficiently.