By Emma Goodey

It is no controversial statement to say that lockdown has taken its toll on the UK’s mental state. Humans are primarily sociable creatures; and many of us have now come to realize just how much we rely on the workplace for social interaction.

In the age of technological advances, employers have come along in leaps and bounds to ensure working from home is possible and productive. Systems such as Citrix, Google Drive and TS Plus have allowed for business continuity, despite 46.6% of UK citizens reportedly working from home in April 2020 .

But now that we have established productivity from home, may employers have begun to shift focus to a new, and arguably more complicated question; how can we maintain closeness from a social distance?

According to Gallup Research , only 15% of remote workers would strongly agree that they have a best friend at work. And yet with the majority of us spending some 40+ hours a week working, nurturing workplace friendships is essential for maintaining a happy, mentally healthy (and therefore productive) workforce. But we can’t force friendship, and most of us have had just about as many zoom quizzes as we take… So, with that in mind, here are our top 5 tips on *gently* encouraging remote workplace friendships without any painful teambuilding exercises!

1. Invest in a Good Employee Social Platform

With over 73% of the population reportedly using Facebook in 2019 , social media already plays a momentous role in our lives – so for many businesses, extending this into the workplace just makes sense!

Here at Goodman Masson, we use Blink as a social platform for our employees to chat, share ideas and collaborate on the projects that matter to them. However, there are countless employee engagement platforms out there like Actimo, Simpplr, Workplace by Facebook and Yammer (to name a few!).

Offering a social media platform allows for employees to engage on their own terms. Providing an informal space for employees to chat about non-work-related events helps to build friendships and comradery – In the age of remote working, social media is the new breakroom!

 

2. Fancy a Coffee?

A combination of working from home and flexible working hours has seen the majority of team communication go online. Conversations that we previously would’ve had with colleagues at our desks or before meetings have been ousted in place of emails and zoom calls where we discuss our work and nothing else.

Studies have shown that taking short breaks throughout the workday to socialise and un-wind increases productivity during our ‘focused’ hours. Moreover, while emails and group chats are helpful communication tools – nothing quite measures up to a good old-fashioned chat. To preserve this while working from home, why not introduce ‘coffee break calls’?

By scheduling 15-30 minuet chat breaks for teams once or twice a week, you can help to encourage employees to maintain work-place connections; after all, who doesn’t love a coffee break?!
For businesses with a bigger budget, you could even throw in a Deliveroo voucher to participating teams to help get the ball rolling; this is a technique we at Goodman Masson have used to get our breakfast club back up and running during the pandemic with huge success.

Whether your providing the coffee or simply scheduling the time though; nothing starts a conversation like caffeine!

3. Welcome to the Cribs!

There is something about having a shared space that unites us. Even if we can’t be together, just being able to picture where our colleagues are can help to make us feel closer to one another. But with the majority of us working from our own homes rather than in a shared space like the office or coffee shop, it can feel difficult to imagine any space outside of our own four walls.

The solution? Why not invite the whole team over to visit (virtually at least)! You could ask staff to host weekly MTV Cribs style house tours (starting with your SMT is a great way to break the ice with this) or ‘guess the desk’ picture competitions…. anything goes! And the bonus? It’s completely free!

So, go ahead and break the fourth wall, Cribz style!

4. Show Some Love

With the redundancy rate from October-December 2020 estimated to be at around 12.3 per 1,000 employees it’s understandable that many of us are feeling a little nervous about the future. A knock-on effect of this is that staff social engagement can suffer, after all its hard to feel chatty and anxious at the same time.

In order to combat this, it’s important to make staff feel valued as individuals. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to achieve this simply, no matter what your business size is! For example, David McKay, Head of Culture at Innocent Drinks revealed in November’s Work.Life blog that one of their methods for achieving this is simply that their CEO, Douglas Lamont, calls all staff on their birthday to say hello. We think that’s a pretty great way to remind staff they’re special!

 

5. New ‘Colleagues’

Dogs barking at the door when you’re on the phone? Kids determined to make their debut appearance during your all-important zoom meeting? Spouse breathing too loudly when you’re trying to work? We’ve all felt the struggle of working from home ‘colleagues’; but as an employer, why not capitalise on this as a fantastic conversation starter!

It’s great to remind staff that we are all in this together – CEO or Apprentice, some things are just out of our control (like how the postman always seems to come when you’re on the phone). Instead of hiding these inconvenient interruptions, we recommend embracing them – why not have an ‘Covid employee of the month’ photo award for the best non-staff member meeting appearance? *cue cats on keyboards and doggy disasters to get your staff laughing*

In fact, GoCo recommend widening your staff engagement programme to include the whole family ; they host daily ‘GoCoNut Conferences’ for kids of staff members over zoom. This provides entertainment for the little ones, and supports parents working from home by giving them a much-needed break so that they can have an adult conversation while the kids are distracted.

Whatever you chose to do in your business, remember we’re all in this together! For more top tips and info on how we’re encouraging staff social engagement during the pandemic, ask your Consultant about The Experience™.

 

Resources used:

Coronavirus and Homeworking in the UK: April 2020, The Office For National Statistics (July 2020)

‘Why Friendships Among Remote Workers are Crucial’, Gallup Research (March 2018) :

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236072/why-friendships-among-remote-workers-crucial.aspx

‘Social Media & User Generated Content’, Statistica (September 2019)‘Foundations for Success; The Importance of Taking Breaks’, The Wellbeing Thesis (2021)

https://thewellbeingthesis.org.uk/foundations-for-success/importance-of-taking-breaks-and-having-other-interests/

Redundancies: 2020, The Office For National Statistics (February 2021)

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peoplenotinwork/redundancies#:~:text=The%20UK%20employment%20rate%2C%20in,lower%20than%20the%20previous%20quarter.

Work Happier: David McKay, Head of Culture at innocent drinks, Wrok.Life Blog (November 2020)

https://work.life/blog/work-happier-innocent-drinks/

‘Employee Engagement Ideas for Working Remotely through COVID-19’, Allie Collins, Director of Marketing – GoCo (2020)

https://www.goco.io/blog/employee-engagement-remote/

 

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