Remote work comes with plenty of perks--for instance, all that time employees would've spent commuting is now being put to better use. But the downsides can be significant, too. Career-development opportunities can be diminished, as mentorship opportunities slip by. And, according to new research, remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center says that 60 percent of those polled felt less connected to their co-workers as a result of working from home. Four percent reported feeling closer to their colleagues thanks to remote work, while 36 percent said they felt no change. The survey was conducted at the end of January and included responses from more than 10,000 individuals.
These feelings of disconnect can eventually sow discontent. So employers would do well to be more attentive--checking in on their staff and make sure that they're offering enough opportunities for colleagues to get to know one another.
And even as companies head back into the office, this need doesn't go away--especially as remote work gets replaced by hybrid work models. Deloitte's Steve Hatfield, who serves as a principal at the consulting firm and as the Global Future of Work leader at Deloitte, shares some methods employers can use to help strengthen workforce connections.
Set meeting parameters.
For those operating in hybrid mode, organize a meeting where everyone (virtual and in-person colleagues alike) appears on the screen so that everyone feels included. Having a manager actively facilitate a virtual or hybrid meeting can prevent awkward exchanges, such as the discomfort some feel when gauging when to speak during a meeting.
Make an extra effort to check in with people and ensure that their voice is being heard. It's also helpful to relay expectations around how work gets done and how teams should be working together versus by themselves. Being able to home in and understand the personalities of a team can help foster a more inclusive environment.
Establish a buddy system.
A mentor program or a "buddy system" can give employees a chance to connect with either a colleague or someone at a higher level that they typically wouldn't talk to--or at least wouldn't talk to everyday. This can especially be helpful for new hires.
Meet up and not talk shop.
Set up a virtual lunch or virtual drinks where workers can casually congregate away from work. Bonus points if your company is able to send over some type of kit that workers can use together (such as a meal kit, or something else that everyone can participate in). But make sure that you don't overdo it--no one wants to feel forced to attend yet another Zoom meeting, even if it's one intended for socializing. When in doubt, it's best to check in with your workforce and solicit feedback.
And for those that may be skeptical, the data doesn't lie. Hatfield points to a 2021 study from Harvard Business School on virtual water coolers, in which remote interns who participated in the virtual event were more likely to outperform and receive full-time job offers compared to their peers who did not participate.
"It's important to recognize that the physical and digital workplace are in need of a bit of a redesign and it's much more about integrating them together," explains Hatfield.