Although remote working has increased threefold over the past 15 years, when 2020 began it was still not a common situation, accounting for a scant four percent of all workers, according to the Chicago Tribune. In 2015, 3.9 million Americans were working remotely. Right before the pandemic hit, that number was up to 4.7 million, but the coronavirus changed everything.

Suddenly, companies and employees were scrambling to figure out how to make working from home "work." At first, throngs of people were enjoying the perceived "freedom" that remote work offered.

Then reality started setting in; remote work isn't easy. Zoom fatigue became a thing many experienced. Working from home is far less desirable for extroverts or parents with young children, particularly for women. 

LeanIn.Org and McKinsey report that one in four women are leaving the workforce due to job loss and caregiving needs from the pandemic. For the ones that stay, 70 percent fear their career growth may be limited. It also poses a number of unique challenges most women weren't expecting, such as having to be more disciplined to get the work done and managing distractions. 

Given that remote working is on the upswing, especially given the recent trends of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and SalesForce announcing new work-from-home-indefinitely policies, it's critical to stop and see how this shift in dynamic can affect your company culture. Here's what initial research confirms:

It can impact employee loyalty and engagement over time.

Tom Rath, New York Times best-selling author of Vital Friends, embarked on a gigantic study about the impact of friendships. Many fascinating findings surfaced in his research. But the most potent discovery was this: People that have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. That feeling of family is key in anchoring people to a company, and that's done through meaningful personal connections. And employee engagement is top of mind for business leaders because there's a direct correlation between level of engagement and performance. 

So how does remote work affect people's abilities to connect and build meaningful relationships with co-workers? 

One of the primary complaints, and problems, people cite about working from home is loneliness. This isn't isolated to just single men and women, but those with families, too.

There's a sense of connection, a bond that employees build with their coworkers over time, especially in an in-person environment. That can get stripped away when having to work from home.

So as a business owner and leader, what can you do to bring the team together and help build meaningful connections? Plenty. There are effective ways to foster and deepen your work relationships within your team and company by design. 

How do I know this? Because in our leadership development workshop, for instance, clients reported feeling more connected and in tune with each other. Now more than ever, investing in your team's personal development and doing it as a group is a no brainer: A two-for-one kind of deal.   

Investing in deepening work relationships is key.

As technology got better and communication was made easier, socially we've slipped into lazy habits which lend itself to putting much less effort into relationships. Technologies like instant messaging, emailing, texting, or voice notes are the preferred medium of communication among younger generations. But that negates much of the human interaction and connection we all yearn for.  

How can we change this dynamic?

  1. Mix it up. Don't make work all about work. Consider investing in activities that bring the team together on a periodic basis and that are developmental. You can also take part of the meeting time to connect on a personal level with people individually.
  2. Enforce quality video and audio for meetings. When remote work is necessary, request that everyone meet with videos on and make sure it's on higher-quality equipment and services for meetings. Video keeps people accountable and helps them feel more connected. And make sure they're dressed appropriately!
  3. Get some "alone" time. This may sound counterintuitive for those feeling isolated, but this means alone from devices, too. Turn the phone off, stay away from the computer, and disconnect. We all need time to recharge, but when you're constantly checking texts, emails, and so on, you're still dealing with the same underlying issue: Connected-ness without relationships. Instead, focus some time on the most important relationship you have: With yourself.

Remote work has changed dynamics in the workplace, but it doesn't necessarily need to have a negative impact on your company culture if you get in front of the principle issues. It's smart to get ahead of this and invest in creating opportunities for people in your company and team to deepen their relationships.