Has Working From Home Broken Our Connections?

When the pandemic hit, our lives were changed forever.


When the pandemic hit, our lives were changed forever. First, we stopped going to work because our workplaces closed in response to stay-at-home orders. Not meeting in person meant no chitchat, no birthdays celebrated, no meals shared and no in-person comradery. Although our teams had more time for work, productivity did not always increase.

I joined the remote workforce when my organization's building was sold, but I knew what that was like from my years of authoring novels in my home office: the closet. Your days are your own. You work but you're also contending with home life, like taking care of your kids and family members.

Why People Don't Want to Return to the Office

Why would people want to work in offices with time restrictions, daily commutes and supervisors who can see what they're doing? That's a rhetorical question. Why would anyone want to return to the old way of doing things? Getting dressed, commuting, sitting in endless meetings, going to meetings outside the office and commuting again to get home at a reasonable hour? It was exhausting. Forget family time. Frankly, most people weren't appreciated and didn't earn enough to make all those efforts worthwhile.

The Pandemic Made People Reassess What Life Is About

According to the WSJ, more than 200,000 businesses closed in the first year of the pandemic. When businesses shut their offices down, employees stopped commuting and a new normal set in. A new awareness grew about the value of many kinds of formerly unheralded professions, and many people began to question their current role, leading to the Great Resignation. Workers didn't want to come back to their offices or quit their jobs altogether to find more fulfilling work. Remote working is still persisting, but how does it really affect us?

Are people honest about how hard they're working on actual work? If our remote workforces are not engaged, we could lose days and weeks in productivity because it's hard to get answers and even care when other people aren't providing actual daily support.

What I've noticed is a certain lack of urgency in returning calls or emails. It can be hard to set meetings when your employees are busy with life, kids or family members and their needs. Worse, as an employer, I don't hear about people's troubles, triumphs, hopes and dreams anymore, because we're not in the same room or even in the same state in many cases. As leaders, we need to cultivate better connections with work and with each other. Working remotely is just that — remote. It may be work, but it's not always people- or human-friendly. As leaders, we need to make work human-friendly.

How Employers Can Engage and Rebuild Connections

I miss people, and I know my team misses the community of being together, acknowledging achievements, having goals, sitting around the conference table and celebrating birthdays and milestones. But we can build new human-oriented resources to reconnect and improve employee satisfaction. It requires a little creativity and empathy, but we've got that, right?

We know that having friends at work really matters, but what if you're not seeing your friends every day, or they are no longer with the organization? Here are five ways to help your employees feel included, needed and appreciated in a hybrid or remote working environment.

1. Get everyone tech-savvy and inform team members with updates about what's going on in the company. This can be through emails, newsletters or group chat. At my company, we do weekly newsletters.

2. Have virtual water cooler meet-ups. You can set a weekly time and provide a subject for discussion — or not. We're a wellness organization, so we like to suggest that businesses provide a safe space to discuss mental and emotional health. Having programs your workforce can opt into can help your employees if they're struggling. Meet-ups will allow new employees to get to know team members in a relaxed setting, and employees who know each other can check in and stay connected.

3. Acknowledge achievements and milestones of both the teams and individual employees. Do this on a regular basis. Here again, being tech-savvy is crucial. You can acknowledge achievements in the office with cookies, but in a remote setting, ensure there is a virtual option. Feeling appreciated is very important for employees' satisfaction.

4. Have a party. Yes, get together again either in person or virtually — whatever works best for your organization. At my company, we love picnics and bake-offs and getting together. Your company can do something together this spring and summer — consider celebrating the 4th of July, Memorial Day or Labor Day. The options are truly endless: Have a sing-along, go to a game or have a trivia contest. Whatever your employees love to do, do it together.

5. Engage in charity work. This is my favorite way to engage others and do good. Get your employees involved with a cause they can support together and volunteer. Be part of a local food drive. Help veterans or people who are homeless. It doesn't matter what the charity is, giving and volunteering together can bring unity and pride to your company.

While remote working may have forced us to change the playbook, that doesn't mean our connections are lost forever. You just need to rebuild connections in any way you can.

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
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