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Loneliness is bad for your health – according to some research, it’s as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
That’s hardly good news for the millions of employees now working (and living) at a distance due to COVID-19 — or for their employers.
Even if you’re taking steps to help your remote workers prevent burnout, adapt to telecommuting and balance work and family obligations, living and working under shelter-in-place orders for an extended period of time can make it difficult not to feel lonely.
Fortunately, there are practical things you can do to help your remote employees build strong social ties, experience connection and stave off loneliness.
Why is social interaction and support important in the workplace?
Research shows that social support — family and friends you can count on, as well as other close relationships — can cushion us against a variety of worries, including workplace stress, that can compromise health.
At Great Place to Work®, we measure social support and connection by whether employees have sufficient social networks and teamwork in the workplace. That is, do people feel cared for and included?
In our 30+ years of studying employee experience, we’ve identified key aspects of workplace culture that influence how socially connected and supported employees feel and contribute to greater employee well-being and mental health:
How do you develop these areas of your company culture?
Here are a few specific ideas that come from:
1. Encourage acts of kindness
In a recent study of people experiencing social isolation, researchers found that feelings of social isolation coincided with an increase in circulation of immature immune cells that travel to the brain and promote anxiety.
The same study showed that “asking lonely people to be kind to others has significantly reduced the offerer’s feelings of loneliness.” Other similar studies have shown that such acts also improve mental well-being.
The good news gets better. The same evidence tells us that online acts of kindness – such as donating to a crowdfunding campaign – are just as beneficial as face-to-face acts of generosity. There are more ways to engage employees in giving while working remotely:
2. Unleash your Employee Resource Groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led committees that promote a diverse and inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve.
ERGs are built on cooperation and shared interest, and naturally bring people together. For members, they create a sense of group belonging that builds strong social bonds.
One way to tap into the potential of your ERGs is to task them with designing social activities. The Great Place to Work “Fun Committee” doesn’t let our happy pill supply run dry with events that include everyone in our distributed team.
Our “Spooky Place to Work” meme-fest and costume contest has us in stitches every Halloween – all the way from Siggerud, Norway to San Francisco.
3. Celebrate special events in creative ways
Celebrating accomplishments is more important than ever.
While some organizations have sophisticated recognition programs, our study of millions of employee surveys uncovered that the most valued form of recognition is often the simplest and most personal.
Some ideas to celebrate with your remote workforce:
4. Instigate informal interactions
In the socially close physical office, people pop over to desks or gather in the kitchen for an informal chat.
These exchanges often bring together employees from across teams and give junior team members an opportunity to connect with their senior colleagues. (I recently got a brilliant idea for a blog during a virtual check-in with my coworkers from sales, customer success and finance.)
You can still foster these candid interactions without a physical office.
One easy way to do this is to set up casual meetings:
To encourage extra connection, you can make these gatherings cross-departmental.
5. Create space at the top of meetings
Without the incidental chat that comes with sharing a physical office, small but crucial bits of social interaction are lost.
When working remotely, it’s tempting to jump right into meeting agendas, but if you want to encourage these interactions, you need to set the example for your teams and bake in time for personal, non-work related conversation in your meetings. Carving out this time also gives your people the chance to air any stresses they might be carrying.
“If you’re moving right through the agenda, that doesn’t mean you’re in a productive meeting,” explains Holly Petroff, EVP at Great Place to Work. “It just means you may have plowed over the very roadblock that’s standing in the way of your people.”
Making space in meetings for employees to clear their minds is an effective way to show that you care and create social support.
6. Make time for fun
For example, when you start your next meeting, you can ask everyone to share what’s on their feet (yes, not mind, feet) today, as we did in a recent all-staff meeting.
Here are a few other ways you can inject some fun into the workday even while working at a distance:
7. Check in on a 1:1 level
Supporting employee well-being works best when individualized.
When employees get one-to-one support, they feel seen. Plus, as a leader, you become better equipped to respond to their personal needs. How will you know if someone’s language of appreciation is “words of affirmation” without taking the time to get to know them on a personal level?
One health care company connected employees affected by COVID-19 with a “buddy” to:
At another, their CEO is doing virtual “drive-bys” via Slack calls to check in on a personal level.
Sharing strengthens us all
A Swedish proverb tells us, “Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” Shared experiences – from a pandemic to a LOL meme – can cut across generation, race and workplace hierarchies and bring us together. As these examples show, you don’t need to be sitting side-by-side to encourage social closeness.
ABOUT OUR METHOLOGY
To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.
ABOUT OUR METHOLOGY
The Best Workplaces in Asia List
Great Place to Work® identifies the top organizations that create great workplaces in the Asian and Middle Eastern regions with the publication of the annual Best Workplaces in Asia list. The list recognizes companies in three size categories:
To be considered for inclusion, companies must appear on one or more of our national lists in the region, which includes Greater China (covering China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau), India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka and UAE. For the 2021 Asia List, companies ranked on the national list in the Philippines will also be included. Multinational organizations must meet the following requirements:
Multinationals also receive additional credit for their efforts to successfully create an excellent workplace culture in multiple countries in the region. The data used in the calculation of the regional list comes from national lists published in 2019 and early 2020.