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How to reignite workplace connections during the pandemic and beyond
With the pandemic accelerating workplace transformation and changing the nature of work, creating human connection in the workplace is essential.
When COVID-19 accelerated the trajectory to a fully digital work environment ten years before its estimated arrival, new patterns began to take shape. Employees gained an increased reliance on their digital tools, virtual meetings and in-app messengers. In fact, these tools enabled many to achieve newfound productivity and success during the mass workplace transformation and changing nature of work.
However, they also distanced employees from one another, exasperating employee loneliness and escalating the need for human connection in the workplace like never before. If not used with a thoughtful strategy, they can contribute to a workplace that’s lacking connection.
The need for human connection in a post-pandemic work environment
COVID-19 forced us to reevaluate how we foster relationships, both in the workplace and in our normal social lives. In 2020, 61% of Americans admitted they were lonely at work. Over a third said they felt a sense of emptiness and disconnection from their colleagues. And in recent years, businesses have become aware of how this sense of disconnect affects their workforce and even their bottom line.
Some of the consequences of poor connection in the workplace include:
As social beings, we have an innate need to socialize with others. Even the introvert needs to socialize once in a while. Job performance takes a nose-dive when humans feel cut off from their colleagues and have unmet social needs. To understand how lonely employees impact your organization, take note that they:
- Are less productive and five times more likely to report being absent due to stress
- Contemplate quitting their jobs more than double the amount of times compared to their more connected colleagues
- Receive poor performance ratings from their superiors according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal
This is because those suffering from loneliness at work do not feel committed to their organization and perform poorly. Most lonely people sink into depression, also associated with poor productivity, which costs employers approximately $44 billion annually.
Low company morale
Another consequence of employee loneliness is low company morale or poor company culture, which is a massive deterrent for new talent. Suppose your employees have no kinship for one another and do not celebrate wins or experience losses as a team. In that case, you’re bound to run into frequent interpersonal conflicts and experience high churn.
When employees feel lonely at work, they become a ticking time bomb. With time, they will leave your organization as they feel little attachment to their jobs. Since their sense of belonging is missing, they feel they serve no purpose in the company and leave. If your company is highly siloed or in the process of becoming more siloed as you scale, you may notice a high turnover rate and lower levels of productivity.
6 Ways to foster a workplace culture of companionship, support, and growth
Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human, described the use of technology in a remote environment as only “creating the illusion of connection” and explained that “unless it is used in the right way it will make people less productive, less engaged, and more lonely.”
However, not all is lost. HR, managers and leadership teams have a unique opportunity during this time to foster a digital culture of companionship, one in which relationships can naturally grow and thrive.
1. Help new hires integrate within your organization
When new employees join the organization, it is essential to help them form connections from the get go. Encourage your older employees to be welcoming and accommodative, and thoughtfully choose who should mentor or train each new hire.
Make sure to explain the ins and outs of your organization’s work culture before they start working to help them feel more comfortable. For example, you could include in an onboarding handbook that they should schedule virtual one-on-ones with their new team members and the entire leadership team, or explain who they can go to for an extra hand with their first assignments.
Also be sure to hold an informal video meeting to give your entire team the opportunity to introduce themselves and welcome the new hire. This could be as simple as replacing a weekly standup meeting with introductions and it goes a long way in fostering a welcoming culture.
2. Foster team building
Team-building prevents loneliness and builds a spirit of camaraderie. When employees work in groups, they interact, form connections, and get to know each other outside work. Team building also allows employees to make friends in the workplace.
Your workforce is likely already structured by teams according to employee roles as it is. Some things you can do to establish them further as a team include:
- Give team members a say in new hires to ensure there is always a strong culture fit
- Encourage them to meet every week and work towards collective goals
- Promote an exemplary team member to be manager of the team for better alignment
- Encourage them to process everything for improved onboarding
3. Encourage talking
Most employees do not discuss their feelings of loneliness or disconnect with HR or their managers because they fear it could harm their careers.
Encourage employees to speak by creating a culture of compassion. After all, an employee who is choosing to give you feedback on your organization’s work environment is doing you a favor. They’re giving you a different perspective on many things: your organization's structure, culture, tech stack, and more.
So whether this feedback has been given through an anonymous survey or in a meeting, simply aim to understand and know that very few conflicts are unsolvable. Try to come up with a list of possible solutions, or if there is a reason for why something is done the way it is, explain it to your employees, so they understand the logic behind the process.
4. Connect your departments with virtual events
In many organizations, people from different departments do not socialize. However, helping your employees from the various departments interact and form social connections is essential. And luckily, it's also very easy to do within a remote or hybrid work environment.
Hold a monthly company-wide meeting to meet new team members, discuss your organization's trajectory, and focus on large-scale initiatives that apply to all employees. You can also introduce something like this at a smaller scale with a weekly team sync or virtual events on Fridays.
5. Create a positive work culture where all employees are respectful of each other
When employees respect each other, and there is no bullying or discrimination, they are happier and more productive. They get a sense of belonging in a company that values voices from all backgrounds, making them want to work harder for its success.
To promote a positive work environment, reduce all biases in the work environment, including in the hiring process. Some ways to do this are to:
- Create standardized work, promotion, and wage calculation processes that apply equally to all employees
- Set diversity requirements within your enterprise
- Ask for work samples when choosing among job applicants, to base your selection purely on skill, rather than an unconscious bias
- Enable a safe system for employees to voice concerns if they feel they are being targeted or not heard
A fair environment also encourages more positive communication and social interaction among employees.
6. Leverage employee experience solutions
When in doubt, software can also be used as a tool to reunite a siloed workforce. Employee experience solutions like Pattyrn can help HR and managers prioritize human connection at work by showing how employees need support in their tasks.
These solutions show:
When employee workloads are too high
Managers can see the items employees are spending the bulk of their time on and if this work helps them meet project objectives and deadlines. With this information, managers can help employees deprioritize lower-value work, create a more efficient process for important projects, or even determine if their workload is too high. And with better support from their managers, employees get clarity into how they can best fulfill their role and get work done efficiently.
Solutions like Pattyrn keep your teams connected, both in in-person and remote environments. Employees are encouraged to share and review each other’s work and follow up on deliverables on time.
Meanwhile, managers gain insight into employee sentiment, so they can check in with more understanding of the ongoing challenges they face, and the context to help them come up with effective solutions.
Lastly, managers gain all the analytics they need to advocate for their team and empower them to take control of their job. For instance, when non-essential meetings and low-priority tasks run overtime, causing employees to work late hours, managers can note it and approach the topic with their team members.
Ultimately, managers receive a tool that shows them a holistic view of the employee experience, so they can guide it to be better.
Empower your employees in the face of workplace transformation and the changing nature of work
Pattyrn empowers employees to own and improve their performance. They can access their work data to see how their tasks contribute to their team and organization at large, and when they could benefit from reaching out to a colleague or manager for help.
Want to learn more about how to reignite human connection in your modern workplace? Contact us to learn more about how Pattyrn is used to reconnect an enterprise throughout its digital transformation, or request a demo to see it live.