In the midst of Covid-19, a vast majority of leaders transitioned employees from a face-to-face environment to working virtually and for many, that became permanent. In the beginning, I think we could all agree that it was a bit of relief being home with the unknown balance of the world, but fast-forward a few years, and it has left a lot of people still feeling alone. This new way of work has taken a huge toll on mental health and led to deeper feelings of isolation as well as unseen disabilities such as stress, depression, and anxiety. This backdrop means that leaders must create a culture that allows their people to open up and actively participate. Making an otherwise isolated environment feel significantly more engaging.
Loneliness and isolation are the largest reported concern amongst remote workers, and their effects can go further than affecting just the individual. Some symptoms of isolation include increased stress levels and bad decision-making. For an employer, these are concerning characteristics for someone who has crucial responsibility.
Good communication via team collaboration tools will really go a long way in aiding a sense of social presence and help include team members who may be feeling left out. Video conferences, online meetings, text conversations, and phone calls can be a good substitute for those face-to-face encounters you are missing. And remember to change up your media – sometimes a live phone call or online voice chat goes farther than an email or text message to create a social bond remotely.
Be proactive in connecting and engaging with your team often. Instead of simply waiting for scheduled meetings, take a virtual lunch together or have a ‘coffee break.’ Checking in with them one-on-one can offer the opportunity to have some informal chats just like you would in the office, but also reassure them you’re there to support them if they need it. These talks have a bigger impact than you think.
Another thing we often overlook when working virtually is taking breaks. Commuting to work brought us out into the elements and on days when the weather offered sunshine, being outside was a bigger mood booster than many of us realize. So encourage your team to take a break, be in the sunshine, or go for a walk. And don’t forget to take a break yourself! A change in scenery is always a great refresher and increases productivity.
Even in the best of times, working remotely can sometimes present the challenge of social isolation, no matter how long you’ve been virtual. While everyone’s situation is different, and personal needs for social interaction may vary, it’s important that each of your people feels included, seen, and stay positive. By being open and uplifting, you open the doors for your people to feel positive about the opportunities that come along with working from home, instead of sinking back into isolation.