Social interaction is vital in the workplace, but in the last year, more employees than ever before have been experiencing a different kind of workspace — one that doesn't come with a water cooler or shared conversations next to the morning coffee pot. Some of these people will eventually return to life as they once knew it, while many will continue on the remote path. Without the proper skills or tools, remote work can become very lonely and isolating. This, in turn, can lead to many health problems, both physically and emotionally.
As a leader in your organization, you've probably faced challenges with your remote workforce. Chances are, you've tried to figure out how to keep them productive while they're in a space where you can't just walk in on them to see what they're doing. It makes sense to be concerned about productivity, but are you also factoring health, happiness, and engagement into the picture when you think about how your remote employees are doing?
[Read More: Emotional Agility]
The truth is, people need social engagement. Just because they might be working from home, it doesn't mean they don't still have this innate human desire. With this in mind, let's take a deeper dive into social interactions at work and how they affect work-from-home employees.
What are Social Interactions at Work?
Social interactions in the workplace help your employees build bonds and trust with each other, thereby ultimately enhancing your company's culture and the work it produces. These relationships are incredibly important to workers' well-being because, as humans, we crave connection and contact with other people. Social interactions are beneficial to your business for a number of reasons, including the following: increased happiness, less stress, improved employee engagement and loyalty, and reduced turnover.
In a traditional setup, social interactions often look like this:
- Social spots. This might be the aforementioned water cooler or kitchen conversation at lunchtime. When the weather's nice, maybe people head to a picnic bench or walk a few laps around the parking lot with their colleagues. In a remote environment, peers might set aside some time in the morning to have a coffee hour via Zoom or partake in an off-hours happy hour online.
- Celebrations. Birthdays, anniversaries, and babies are all great excuses to throw parties in the office. Fortunately, the same appreciation can be shown virtually. Cards, flowers, and gifts can be mailed, and everyone can enjoy the excitement online.
- (Inter)Departmental connections. A lot of times, silos can happen (even if accidentally). Take the time to introduce team members from other groups to each other to build a bond that's company-wide.
- Team-building exercises. In the past, teams might have gone through ropes courses, but in the remote world, there are a lot of great virtual team-building opportunities that can help your group members get to know each other better.
Importance of Social Interactions
A positive culture indicates a healthy workforce. A healthy workforce then benefits the community at large because:
- Having friends at work increases employee engagement and work quality
- Evidence suggests that peer pressure affects productivity, which means a happy workforce can influence positive productivity results
- 73% of business leaders feel soft skills are more important than job-specific skills, and those soft skills can only be honed with peer-to-peer interaction
Telecommuting Issues for Employees
Now that the world has started to re-examine the ways companies can handle remote workers, businesses everywhere need to be cognizant of issues telecommuting employees face, such as isolation, difficult communication, lack of career advancement opportunities, poor relationships, and a loss of culture. When there's a lack of social interaction and bond with a company and its workers, employees are at risk of becoming disengaged. This isn't just a morality issue; it's also a bottom-line issue. Disengaged employees cost around $3,400 for every $10,000 they make in annual salary and cost the American economy around $350 billion per year due to lost productivity.
Benefits of social interactions for remote employees
Employees are employees — and everyone benefits in the same way from healthy “togetherness.” What makes remote workers different from those working in the office is that socialization with coworkers has to happen more deliberately. There isn’t opportunity for casual run-ins at the water cooler, so employees have to take time to connect on a personal level before or after work video calls. They have to schedule specific times for fun, whether that’s a group getting-to-know-you roundtable or virtual coffee sessions.
How to Facilitate Social Interactions for Remote Employees
We already mentioned a few ways you can get your whole team involved, even if they're working remotely. Virtual lunches and happy hours are great ways to leave work on the table and get to know each other a little better. You might also consider incorporating virtual fitness challenges, encourage random acts of kindness, and celebrate special events in creative ways. Be sure to bring your whole team aboard and ask for input so everyone feels like their voices are being heard.
When it comes to engaging employees, Grokker knows how to get things done. For insights into how living and working during a pandemic are impacting your remote employees’ work-life balance, don’t miss our guide Taking Care of Remote Employees.