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How to create a loneliness-resistant hybrid culture

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Working from the comfort of our home was a dream for many of us. Now, post-pandemic, more and more people are longing for watercooler chit-chats and team coffee breaks. Many people working remotely are feeling lonely and missing these interactions.

Despite the productivity gains associated with remote work, those advantages came at the expense of remote employees' feelings of loneliness and isolation. After many months of working away from the office, employee engagement, work satisfaction, and motivation have dropped.

Remote work loneliness can be complex because it involves human emotions. The physical separation between colleagues can lead to people feeling they don't have friends at work or are insignificant to the company.

What can managers do to prevent employees` feelings of loneliness and isolation?

It's not that remote work caused loneliness. The loneliness issue was already there, but the pandemic exacerbated the situation. People locked into their rooms with only a machine and no human interaction caused the problem to become grueling. Many companies will foster hybrid working mode in the future, but how to create a loneliness-resistant hybrid culture?

To find best practices, we searched for answers with Urska Stanovnik, Chief Happiness Officer at Optiweb:

1. Reconsider value alignment

Before the pandemic, remote and hybrid work were complete strangers to Optiweb employees. Their strategic goal in 2020 was to implement remote work to a greater extent. Well, this goal was achieved already in March, when the pandemic started, and they started working remotely overnight. They quickly adapted to the change and began to work from home most of the time during the pandemic.

"However, we promptly took advantage of the quieter months for a more significant presence in the company. One of the core company culture advantages is employee relationships; we like to spend a lot of time together. But during the pandemic, social distance hit us the hardest. We had to build our culture differently than we used to. The value of trust came to the fore in the early pandemic, when we had to make many decisions as a company in an uncertain situation. We used a questionnaire to check how satisfied employees are with the work and decisions of the management, and the results revealed confidence in the management at a very high level," says Urska.

2. Foster colleague connection

The pandemic situation has been unfavorable for many. Urska and her team transferred all their gatherings online since the very beginning of the pandemic. They organized morning virtual coffees, virtual one-on-one meetings with leaders, and conducted development talks virtually. Even their New Year's party in 2020 was virtual.

They transformed from a completely virtual way of working to a hybrid work mode, the fastest way possible. Their employees still work in a hybrid mode today, with each team having a dedicated in-office one day a week. The purpose of the in-office day is to maintain personal contact, network, meet with the team and socialize. They have transferred all other activities back to their work environment, away from the cameras and screens. Urska points out that they have indeed given employees complete freedom in where they will work, so "some employees are present in the office every day, while others never. Most of us are somewhere in between."

3. Create opportunities for meaning

In Urska's opinion, there is, of course, a big difference between being in the office every day, co-workers seeing your mood and talking about yesterday afternoon lunch, etc., and being present once a week, when it's only enough time for "small talk."

Therefore, leaders play a critical role in a hybrid work environment. Managers are the ones who have to make sure that they have regular one-on-one meetings with employees and that despite the distance, they know what is happening in their life, that they know how to help them, both business and privately. As Urska says, "leaders have become more important than ever."

4. Embrace workplace flexibility

As previously mentioned, Optiweb is continuing a hybrid work model, and they do not limit themselves to the work location, which is a matter of the individual. They believe that everyone chooses the work environment that suits them best, given their current lifestyle situation.

"Our task is to provide our employees with the best possible environment so they can develop both professional and personal, but the preferred work environment is up to them. Managers need to find out what are the employee's work preferences, which enables them to create a perfect work environment for the individual employee and the entire team," Urska advises.

Challenges in remote work will continue to rise, and managers must address them. Rather than solving the problem only when it arises, it's better to devise preventive strategies. In short, create a loneliness-resistant culture where employees can thrive.

In work from home, sometimes efforts made by remote workers may go unnoticed and unseen by managers. Therefore, recognition and appreciation are responsible for increased morale and engagement of the entire team, and they impact outcomes as well. Creating a company-wide recognition and appreciation system is critical to bring forward these hidden efforts in the digital workspace.

A Harvard study also suggests that a culture of "compassionate love" filled with affection, caring, and empathy among employees "weakens the negative relationship between workplace loneliness and effective commitment to the organization."

Appreciation can be as simple as a simple message of "Thanks" or "Keep it up," which positively impacts workplace performance and helps combat remote work loneliness. Recognize and celebrate wins with Culturate Kudos feature, color-code your weekly schedule according to work location and try other solutions which help bring your team closer together! Sign up for a free demo here.


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