February 2, 2022
According to Pew Research65 percent of people who worked from offices prior to the pandemic say they now feel less connected to their colleagues. On the other end of the spectrum, about 50 percent of those same workers said they enjoyed more flexibility, like choosing when they put in their hours or having the ability to take care of responsibilities at home. Although people are feeling real and tangible benefits from flexible work, a lack of overall workplace connection can lead to job disengagement and overall unhappiness.  

With so many in the corporate world working from home at least a portion of the time, people are missing out on the unplanned conversations and moments of spontaneity they took for granted as part of the workday. Connection at work isn’t just important for employee health and contentment, it also impacts companies financially—each year, lonely and disconnected workers potentially cost the U.S. economy up to $406 billion

Given that we spend much of our adult lives working, employers should reengage with struggling employees by promoting meaningful connections in a few important ways.

Ritualize Connection Opportunities

For those who have worked mostly from home since the start of the pandemic, it can be difficult to develop strong relationships with colleagues. With the growing omnipresence of hybrid and remote options, employers and their teams must explore how to build employee rapport and restore casual interactions as a typical part of the workweek.

For example, if your team has a weekly meeting, use a portion of your time to invite coworkers to share what’s going on in their personal lives, what they’re excited about, or what concerns them. According to author and friendship expert Shasta Nelson, healthy relationships need positivity, consistency, and vulnerability to flourish, which means leaders must make a concerted effort to deliver a work environment that allows employees to feel seen and heard.

With regular check-ins around things unrelated to work, meetings with remote attendees will be more fruitful and engaging over time as you learn more about the lives and interests of your coworkers, even if you don’t see them every day.

Revamp Your Onboarding Approach

Virtual onboarding can be a difficult process, requiring a ton of consideration and planning to provide an outstanding experience. Otherwise, employees lack critical engagement from the start, which will inform the entirety of their tenure at your company. Onboarding is your first impression and your first opportunity for connection with new hires.

The Harvard Business Review recommends a quick start that establishes a foundation for employee relationships, one that builds an understanding of your culture and how your team collaborates, including clear expectations and an emphasis on your organization’s larger goals. This process will no doubt be ongoing and dynamic, particularly as technology continues to change the relationship between work and the office. But by building rapport through both formal and informal one-to-ones, as well as a variety of group meetings to help new hires gain context and comfort with the workings of your team, you can give employees a strong start.

Prioritize Downtime

It’s not always easy to create a distinction between the workday and downtime, particularly if you’re spending most of your working time at home. The pandemic deepened an already-existing epidemic of loneliness and pushed employee wellness to the forefront, forcing leaders to reexamine what their people need and how they can best achieve those goals. Maintaining a meaningful work-life balance is a critical pillar of worker health, one that gives people adequate time to disengage from their jobs and spend time with friends and family.

In a Cigna study on employee satisfactionAmericans who report poor work-life balance are seven points lonelier than those with a good work-life balance (based on UCLA's Loneliness Scale)
In addition to having enough time off, encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout their day to check in with friends, loved ones, and colleagues. Keeping your relationships strong is beneficial in all aspects of life, so try to stay connected as much as possible.

Although the past two years have been challenging for everyone, organizations and their employees must continue exploring new strategies for promoting connection and collaboration. As we navigate our way through the pandemic and establish a new baseline for how work is done, hopefully we can see the widespread return of thriving workplace relationships.

 



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