With the preference for remote work here to stay, it’s essential that business managers and team leaders are prepared to address the issue of loneliness within their remote teams.
Loneliness, the negative feeling that arises when our social needs are unmet by our current social relationships, was already an important issue for Australian employees, prior to the pandemic.
In fact, the 2019 Workplace Loneliness report (from global HR thinktank Reventure), found that 37% of Australian workers reported feeling lonely at work.
Add to that the increased physical isolation of pandemic lockdowns and work from home arrangements, and it’s easy to understand how over 50% of our population reported feeling lonely during the pandemic.
The impact of workplace loneliness
Whilst loneliness might seem like a personal issue, it’s often not that simple. Numerous studies have shown that over the long term, loneliness poses a serious risk to our physical and mental health, with some suggesting it’s worse for the brain and body than smoking.
And, when loneliness shows up at work, it becomes a business issue, as well as a health issue.
Loneliness can lead to social withdrawal and affect everything from concentration through to overall workplace engagement and performance.
With so many employees experiencing loneliness (and the known impact it has on employee health, wellbeing and performance), this is an essential issue for workplaces to address.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 ways for business owners, managers and team leaders to effectively reduce workplace loneliness within remote teams.
1. Prioritise consistent and effective communication with your team
Reducing loneliness in the workplace starts with good communication. Communicating frequently through video conferencing and other channels can help to alleviate isolation and boost morale within remote teams.
This can include keeping employees updated on what’s happening within the business (even when there is no news), scheduling regular team meetings and providing pathways for people to provide feedback. Being in contact with others in meaningful ways is known to reduce feelings of isolation, reduce uncertainty and improve employee engagement, so prioritising consistent communication is a great first step.
2. Organise regular workplace social events
Unlike a traditional office environment, remote work offers less opportunity for social activities, such as sharing lunch with colleagues, catching up for Friday drinks, or celebrating work anniversaries with the whole team.
These activities are an important part of maintaining a healthy workplace culture and fostering employee engagement.
When considering how to involve your remote teams in social events, there are a few factors to consider:
- Is an in-person group gathering possible?
- Would an online social activity make more sense?
- Are there circumstances that might make it difficult for employees to join social events, such as caring responsibilities, accessibility to buildings or shift work hours?
The best way to include everyone in the process is simply to ask them what you can do to make it easier for people to get involved.
3. Focus on learning and development
The past few years have created a lot of change for career development opportunities. As a result, some employees have felt they are being left behind. The experience of feeling left behind is a contributor to loneliness. One way to alleviate this is to support your employees to continue to upskill in areas that they’re interested in and that are relevant to their role or role progression. This shows your employees that they are valued and that you’re there to support them. When discussing development opportunities with employees, it can help to ask them:
- What are their career goals (both long term and short term)?
- What support and resources do they need to reach their goals?
- What skills would they like to develop?
Prioritising continuing training and development improves engagement, performance and employee retention – keeping your ideal team with you for longer.
4. Prioritise employees mental health
Isolation is a known driver of depression, and yet many employees don’t feel confident to raise concerns about their working relationships with management or HR. In order to give people the confidence and language to reach out, it’s important to foster a culture where talking about loneliness and mental health issues is normalised.
Organisations such as BeyondBlue and R U OK provide a variety of research-informed resources to support conversations about wellbeing and mental health within the workplace.
Different wellbeing strategies and programs can also be introduced to build stronger social relationships and alleviate loneliness.
Some ideas include:
- Providing access to an Employee Assistance Program for free and confidential counselling
- Meditation and mindfulness classes
- Health and work-life balance presentations
- Resilience training
- Opportunities for flexi hours in order to prioritise physical activity during the day.
5. Celebrate wins and achievements
Celebrating the wins with the entire team is just as important for remote teams as it is for office-based teams.
Whether they’re team-wide achievements or individual wins, making time to acknowledge them lets your team know that they’re contribution is valued.
Reduce the loneliness of remote work with a virtual celebration such as a Zoom team lunch with grazing plates, or an online trivia event.
There’s no doubt that remote teams pose a new challenge to managers, including how to reduce loneliness in the workplace. By prioritising consistent open communication and regular opportunities to connect with colleagues, businesses can help to alleviate the impact of loneliness, and improve workplace wellbeing and performance.
If you are looking for advice relating to effectively managing your remote team effectively and considering implementing some new strategies into your HR processes, give the team at Dreamstone HR a call today on (02) 8320 9320 or email@example.com and let our team take the stress out of your remote team management processes.