Whether they like it or not, many businesses must learn to work from home as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. It remains to be seen whether this crisis will usher in a new era of remote work. But in the meantime, companies must learn how to maintain a strong, healthy culture by proactively combating employee isolation and encouraging new ways to connect and share critical information.
Of course, the actual work being done is an important part of the typical workday.
Employees also spend a lot of time chatting in the break room, sharing details about their personal lives, and brainstorming solutions to challenges.
The chats help employees feel like they’re part of a team and that their work matters. Though it’s easy enough these days to sit at a computer at home and cross tasks off our lists — it can be harder to maintain those channels of connection.
The Pitfalls of Remote Work
When employees feel cut off from one another and the company at large, they feel isolated.
Without regular interactions from these parties, they can easily become stuck in negative thinking. Their mood suffers, and engagement and productivity plummet.
Remote workers’ health can also deteriorate: In fact, social isolation is correlated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and other ailments. This leads to higher health insurance costs and sick days — and you probably also want employees to stay healthy for their own sake, too.
The risk of employees feeling isolated is even more severe when companies that usually encourage in-person interaction to establish remote work policies overnight. This was the case with many companies at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and it leaves no time to transition to remote life.
Building Remote Connections
It’s on company leaders to make relationship-building a strategic priority. They must create new ways for employees to interact virtually and encourage cross-team collaboration, communication, and interaction — including chats that aren’t related to work.
Leaders need to walk the walk, too: They should demonstrate the importance of building relationships virtually by reaching out to employees and scheduling one-on-one videoconferences and informal catch-up sessions.
Run-of-the-mill collaboration tools (such as videoconferencing and instant messaging) are good places to start, but they’re not enough.
These tools are great at bringing together individual employees or small teams, but they’re not so great at facilitating connections across companies. Important messages can easily become lost in the noise.
Again, when employees face prolonged periods of isolation, they need to feel connected to the company in addition to their co-workers and teammates.
The Right Tech for the (Remote) Job
Companies should invest in an accessible internal communications platform that can serve as a centralized, trusted source for the company to communicate with employees and provide emotional support during uncertain times.
In other words, companies need a single place to share news, reinforce values, and celebrate wins.
For example, when Simpplr was in the process of moving to a new office, we were delayed for a week, forcing everyone to go remote. We used our own centralized platform to stay connected with departments and teams and kept everyone updated about move-in dates and new office policies.
By using this technology and not relying simply on email or instant messaging, employees knew exactly where to go for updated, accurate information.
The Virtual Watercooler
Regardless of what tech you implement to keep connections going strong among your remote workforce, the goal for doing so should be to create a feeling of normalcy and help employees engage with one another. You can use technology to virtually replicate the office watercooler or break room.
Here are a few ways to start your virtual watercooler:
1. Post weekly fun prompts.
On your communication channel, post prompts that employees can respond to that aren’t related to work. For instance, you might ask questions about TV shows, movies, podcasts, or recipe recommendations.
You could also host contests to see which employees come up with the best-themed photos each week. This allows employees to connect in a fun, lighthearted way and talk about their hobbies and interests outside of work.
2. Host virtual lunches.
Get people together from different departments or teams for lunch every few days. By connecting people who don’t typically work together on a day-to-day basis, you can help employees talk to people they usually wouldn’t be able to connect with and build new personal relationships.
3. Recognize remote workers on a companywide scale.
Whenever remote workers have big wins or reach notable milestones, toot their horn. Just because they’re out of sight doesn’t mean they have to be out of mind, and a little bit of public recognition can go a long way in securing their trust and loyalty.
Whether remote work is a crisis-only situation or becomes a new norm for your company moving forward, you need to proactively think through how to maintain your company culture and keep employees connected, healthy, and happy. With the right tech, who needs a watercooler anyway?