Building Community Among an Isolated Workforce

With over 1.5 billion people globally being asked to stay home, employers and workers are coming to terms with a new reality. Building a sense of community and human connection among employees during this time might be one of the most important and impactful things employers can do.

As COVID-19 has progressed into a global pandemic, employers have been challenged to keep pace with rapidly changing guidelines and varying levels of restrictions across different countries and cities around the world. Companies have had to quickly make high-stakes decisions with the potential to impact the viability of their business and the safety of their employees. Rarely has the phrase “life and death decision” felt so appropriate.

While there are plenty of practical challenges to shifting to a majority or 100% remote workforce, one of the most important things a company can do is help employees feel connected and part of community during this period of social isolation.

Prior to social distancing, loneliness had already been declared an epidemic and had been argued to be more dangerous than obesity and as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Multiple studies have linked isolation with a number of negative mental and physical health outcomes, ranging from depression and impaired cognitive ability to increased risk of heart disease, stroke and mortality.

In the midst of a global pandemic, now is a time all of us will need social connection and support of community more than ever. So, what can company leaders and people managers do?

1. START WITH GRATITUDE 

After a few days of working in isolation, you may find many of your meetings turning into venting sessions. While it is important to acknowledge and address the challenges we’re facing, complaining can be detrimental to team morale and has been scientifically linked to damaging our brains. Try balancing negativity with gratitude by asking team members to share something they are grateful for, or one positive experience from their day. Gratitude has been linked to a number of mental and physical health benefits and you can spark feelings of shared gratitude and team pride.

2. BE WEBCAM READY

It can be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day and avoid your webcam while working from home but getting virtual face time with your team members can go a long way. Even virtual eye contact can reduce perceived distance and increases feelings of connectedness among colleagues. Additionally, studies have linked wearing professional clothes while working from home to feeling more engaged during the work day.

3. HOST SOCIAL GATHERINGS ONLINE

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you have to cancel all of the social work events you had planned, like the monthly book club or your usual Thursday night happy hour. Try hosting your scheduled in-person events online or come up with new ideas like virtual coffee chats or team lunches that are designed to be informal. Encourage participants to join with their camera on and enjoy a beverage or snack together to simulate an in-person experience as much as possible.

4. GET PERSONAL

Many of us are living up to the phrase “bring your whole self to work” more than ever as spouses, pets and children make surprise guest appearances in our meetings. Whether intentional or not, sharing more of our personal lives with colleagues can build trust and help us feel more connected to each other. If your employees are comfortable with the idea, take time to ask questions and have candid conversations about the challenges people are facing and encourage some just-for-fun sharing too. We’ve been sharing photos of our home office spaces, posting our favorite recipes and talking about the new hobbies and house projects we’ve taken up with our non-work time.

5. GIVE BACK AS A GROUP

Those of us able to work from home during this time are part of privileged segment of the population. An unprecedented number of workers are currently facing job loss, aren’t able to call in sick to high-risk jobs, or do not have access to proper healthcare. Rally your team around a cause to support those affected by the coronavirus outbreak through volunteering or making a group donation. Volunteering and charitable giving has been linked to a number of psychological benefits and can create a sense of camaraderie among a team.

We hope these ideas will serve as inspiration for leaders and people managers, and we’d love to hear from you. What else are you or your company doing to create connection and build community among your teams?

Liz O'Connor, Principal

Liz O'Connor, Principal

Liz O’Connor is a Principal at Daggerwing Group, based in Los Angeles. She works with leading companies to transform the way they work through culture change, employee experience design and digital collaboration tools.

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