Has working from home broken our relationships?

When the pandemic hit, our lives changed forever. First, we stopped going to work because our workplaces closed in response to lockdown orders. Not meeting in person meant no chit-chat, no birthdays celebrated, no shared meals, and no in-person camaraderie. Although our teams have had more time to work, productivity has not always increased.

I joined the remote workforce when my organization’s building was sold, but I knew what it was like from my years of writing novels in my home office: the closet. Your days belong to you. You work, but you also deal with family life, like taking care of your children and family members.

Why people don’t want to go back to the office

Why would people want to work in offices with time constraints, daily commutes, and supervisors who can see what they’re doing? It’s a rhetorical question. Why would anyone want to go back to the old way of doing things? Getting dressed, commuting, sitting through endless meetings, going to meetings outside of the office, and commuting back home at a reasonable time? It was tiring. Forget family time. Frankly, most people weren’t appreciated and didn’t earn enough to make all that effort worthwhile.

The pandemic has caused people to reevaluate what life is

According to WSJ, more than 200,000 businesses closed in the first year of the pandemic. When companies closed their offices, employees stopped commuting and a new normal set in. A new awareness grew about the value of many types of once unrecognized professions, and many people began to question their current role, leading to the Great Resignation. Workers did not want to return to their offices or quit their jobs altogether to find more fulfilling work. Remote work persists, but how does it really affect us?

Are people honest about how hard they work on the actual job? If our remote teams aren’t engaged, we could lose days and weeks of productivity because it’s hard to get answers and even care when other people aren’t providing real day-to-day support.

What I noticed was a certain lack of urgency in returning calls or emails. It can be difficult to organize meetings when your employees are busy with life, children or family members and their needs. Worse, as an employer, I no longer hear about people’s troubles, triumphs, hopes and dreams, because we are not in the same room or even in the same state in many cases. As leaders, we need to cultivate better relationships with work and with each other. Working remotely is just that – remotely. It might be work, but it’s not always people or human friendly. As leaders, we need to make work fun.

How employers can engage and reconnect

I miss people, and I know my team misses the community for being together, recognizing accomplishments, having goals, sitting around the conference table, and celebrating birthdays and milestones. But we can build new human-centric resources to reconnect and improve employee satisfaction. It takes a bit of creativity and empathy, but we have that, don’t we?

We know it’s very important to have friends at work, but what if you don’t see your friends every day or they’re no longer part of the organization? Here are five ways to help your employees feel included, needed, and valued in a hybrid or remote work environment.

1. Make everyone tech-savvy and inform team members of updates on what is happening in the company. This can be done through emails, newsletters or group chat. In my company, we publish weekly newsletters.

2. Host virtual meetups with water coolers. You can set a weekly time and provide a discussion topic – or not. We’re a wellness organization, so we like to suggest companies provide a safe space to discuss mental and emotional health. Having programs that your staff can join can help your employees if they are having difficulty. Meetups 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. Recognize achievements and milestones for teams and individual employees. Do it regularly. Again, being tech-savvy is crucial. You can recognize achievements in the office with cookies, but in a remote environment, make sure there is a virtual option. Feeling appreciated is very important for employee satisfaction.

4. Host a party. Yes, meet again in person or virtually, whichever works best for your organization. At my company, we love picnics, baking, and get-togethers. Your business can do something together this spring and summer—consider celebrating the 4th of July, Memorial Day, or Labor Day. The options are truly endless: sing along, go to a game, or host a quiz. Whatever your employees love to do, do it together.

5. Engage in charity work. It’s my favorite way to engage others and do good. Involve your employees in a cause they can support together and volunteer. Participate in a local food drive. Help veterans or homeless people. No matter the nature of the charity, giving and volunteering together can bring unity and pride to your business.

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

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