This is a guest post by Annabel Maw.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the shift to remote work was immediate. In spring 2020, up to 88% of organizations worldwide either made working from home mandatory or strongly encouraged it. By fall 2020, 33% of employees were still working full time from somewhere outside the office, and two-thirds of workers expressed a desire to continue doing so.
Employees and employers alike have found a lot to like about working from home: It’s convenient, cost-effective, flexible, and productive. But there are also ongoing remote work challenges — especially when it comes to socialization.
It’s hard to overstate the value of face-to-face social interactions with co-workers. As many of us discovered in recent months, something is missing when you can’t talk about a movie you watched over the weekend or commiserate with a work friend during stressful times. It’s been a year without team birthday celebrations, after-work happy hours, and conversations over lunch.
Some might be relieved to avoid the social obligations that come with work, but fewer people want to toil away in obscurity and isolation. If some or all of your team plans to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future, acknowledge the social aspect of work and make sure it doesn’t get lost when emails and texts replace grabbing a coffee with a friend.
Why Are Friends So Important at Work?
We spend at least eight hours a day at work and center our lives around our jobs, so it’s no wonder that some of our best friends, closest confidants, and most important relationships come from work. When the office goes away, as happened in 2020, so does an amazing amount of social interaction in our lives. And not without consequences.
Work friendships and social time with co-workers build organic links between team members. Over time, those links translate into smoother communication, stronger collaboration, and smarter ideas in the organization overall. For the sum to be greater than its parts, everyone needs to know and feel connected to those around them.
A lack of socialization also hurts morale because work feels like, well, work. It can also damage organizational trust because collaborators only know each other on a shallow level. The shift to remote work and the lack of social time together has the potential to weaken the bonds between team members. And for anyone who joined an organization in 2020, minimal opportunities for socialization may have made it hard to feel included and up to speed.
How to Stay Connected While Working Remotely
Here are four ways to prevent these problems from affecting your organization while prioritizing interpersonal relationships in the face of remote work challenges:
- Make time to talk. When you don’t naturally see people around the office, you have to be intentional about setting aside time for social interactions. Don’t hesitate to schedule this time just as you would any other meeting. And don’t be afraid to make the informal nature of the meeting explicit — you don’t need a pretense to chat. Build social time into your schedule, and allow anyone you supervise to do the same.
- Connect differently. If you have work meetings via Zoom, use phone calls to catch up with work friends. If you usually spend your workday in your home office, go for a walk outside while you reconnect with work friends. Boundaries between work and social life are clear when working in an office, and the same should be true when working from home.
- Chat constantly. It’s easy to crack a joke or share a meme when sitting at adjacent desks. Keep that feeling of closeness and seamless connection alive by using chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. The casual nature of these channels makes them ideal for the kind of casual conversation that doesn’t translate well to email.
- Find parallels. At work, you discover people who share your hobbies or tastes; it’s a big part of how communities form at work. Keep looking for commonalities with your co-workers by having informal conversations over Slack or during your next videoconference. These casual moments aren’t distractions or wasted time — they’re the times when teams come together.
Teams can get stronger or weaker while working remotely, but they likely won’t stay exactly as they were before. Those that do become even better will have to go to great lengths to preserve and promote work friendships, setting up a stronger company and workplace for all.
About the Guest Post Author:
Annabel Maw is the director of communications at JotForm, a popular online form builder that’s on a mission to make organizations more productive and people’s lives easier. This all-in-one data-collection solution is perfect for gathering, organizing, and analyzing important business information. With more than 9 million users worldwide, JotForm is a trusted global brand that’s growing every day.