COVID-19: How can organisations beat workplace isolation?

When you begin working in a new company, particularly right now, it’s easy to feel left out

COVID-19: How can organisations beat workplace isolation?

Feeling disconnected at work can be the difference between an employee loving their job or dreading the thought of Monday morning. With COVID-19 and the subsequent introduction of compulsory working from home, employees who already felt isolated may be feeling even more ostracised.

Regardless of the company, without daily human interaction, many workers carry the burden of feeling lonely or isolated at their workplace. In order to help mitigate this companies need to take conscious steps to help their employees during this difficult time.

When investigating levels of employee engagement and wellbeing, Gallup asked the question: “Do you have a best friend at work?”. The response was interesting. Only 2 in 10 respondents strongly agreed with the statement.

This lack of connection has implications for productivity. Steve Miranda of Cornell University believes that a lack of friendships at work or social connection can be bad for people - and bad for business.

According to Miranda, people make less “discretionary effort” when they feel isolated. They’re less motivated to do more than the minimum. As productivity suffers, so too can a business’ bottom line. During this period these are the three areas employers need to be particularly conscious of.

Employee Engagement
The organisations that get remote working right will be those that invest in tools that connect everyone, including customer-facing workers. When considering tech investments, think about how you’re going to connect with workers who may continue to work from home while restrictions lift and the smaller number of employees who may return to the office.

Communication and collaboration tech should be mobile-friendly, easy to use and have places for ‘hot content’ - work that gets done in real-time, as well as static or ‘cold content’ so people can catch up at their own pace.

Employers should encourage interactions between different teams so nobody feels on the fringes - mix teams up. Use digital tools that enable people to understand their role in the organisation, tools to help find and collaborate with others in quick and effective ways. Company-wide chat platforms and forums can also bring people together when the physical environment cannot. Encourage video calling - it can be a powerful tool and ensure a personal touch when people are apart. Champion it throughout the organisation.

The emoticon, the funny GIF or a shared video can be a great way for people to build more meaningful relationships with those they work with. Also, new communication platforms which solidify employee engagement could be a way to prevent feelings of workplace isolation from ever appearing in the first place.

Employee Wellbeing
In such unprecedented times, it is important we are all conscious of each other's mental health. By utilising technology, and ensuring we are conscious of our peers and employee involvement, isolation in the workplace, despite our distance, can be minimised.

When you begin working in a new company, particularly right now, it’s easy to feel left out. Given the current climate we work in, it can be difficult for new hires to generate a bond with colleagues early as the offer of going for coffee or lunch to get to know them is not available. It is important for workplaces to put an emphasis on including their new employees, whether through virtual welcome drinks, or simple digital chat introductions - it can all go a long way to decreasing workplace isolation.

Employers can also help with the general integration of employees so there is a sense of support and friendship between them. Use digital chat platforms so people can join together to collaborate and talk about projects. They can talk about other things too, by joining social online groups with colleagues who share their interests and having open and expressive conversations with people in the same ways they talk to their non-work friends. Ultimately, it is paramount to support team bonding. When employees are remote working, too often it’s the social interactions that get dropped. Encourage teams to stay in touch with virtual coffees, catch ups and lunch breaks to avoid feelings of isolation and aid emotional well-being.

Sharing Critical Communications
Foundational to maintaining an integrated functioning workplace is communication with employees. Employers should be prepared to keep employees up to date regularly with the latest information and provide guidance as to how they as a company are responding as well as suggestions and support for their employees. Live leadership videos weekly are a great platform to both relay this information and aid employee engagement, providing them with the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns they might have.

Whilst workplaces are currently at increased risk of workplace isolation, smart management, with an emphasis on employee engagement, employee wellbeing and the sharing of critical communications has the capacity to mitigate this.

Vicky Skipp, Head of Growth ANZ, Workplace from Facebook.

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