How HR leaders can foster connectedness and help workers thrive during remote working

remote working

Remember, isolation isn’t just bad for your employees, it’s bad for business. Employees who feel isolated and disconnected at work have lower motivation, lower performance, and lower productivity, writes Stuart Taylor, CEO and Founder of Springfox

With the realisation that remote working will almost certainly change the landscape of office-based work forever, leaders are now having to think longer-term about how they can help their teams thrive in a remote arrangement.

A recent report by Springfox titled ‘The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19: A call for courage, connection and compassion’ found that worry and anxiety were the prevailing emotions for 21.7 per cent of professionals in Australia’s COVID workforce. Unsurprisingly, stress levels also increased significantly.

While remote working has certainly presented many challenges for Australia’s workforce, it also presents some exciting opportunities for flexibility and freedom in the way we work.

Interestingly, the main cause of stress for workers was not due to personal or health concerns, but rather as a result of changes to ways of working. In fact, an alarming 55 per cent of those surveyed were experiencing stress mainly due to their new working conditions. In addition, the combined pressures of working with technology, blurred boundaries between home and work, time management issues, operating in an ‘always-on’ culture, and worry about the future also contributed to workers feeling stressed.

It’s, therefore, unsurprising that 32.1 per cent of survey respondents reported lower levels of positivity and optimism compared to pre-COVID-19, and 39.4 per cent of leaders recognised this negative turn in their staffs’ outlook. Interestingly, one of the strongest drivers of positivity and optimism for our survey respondents was having a connection with others, in particular with work colleagues.

As workers were removed from their offices, they were disconnected from the constant stream of social interactions that influenced their well-being and sense of belonging at work. While working from home can bring a sense of freedom and opportunity, it can also feel lonely and isolating.

An individual’s well-being is deeply influenced by their opportunity to engage positively with other people. Remember, isolation isn’t just bad for your employees, it’s bad for business. Employees who feel isolated and disconnected at work have lower motivation, lower performance, and lower productivity.

So, what can HR leaders do to foster connectedness among staff and address some of these overarching concerns felt by workers?

These are some simple and practical steps leaders can take to promote a thriving workplace culture for remote teams and staff facing significant changes to their ways of working.

1. Communicate regularly
So much communication is non-verbal, especially in a remote working environment. It’s therefore important to set up periodic virtual face-to-face meetings to help everyone connect and stay on the same page.

However, be sure to strike the right balance. Our survey revealed many managers and leaders have gone over the top in trying to compensate for the absence of connection by scheduling back-to-back Zoom meetings and constant check-ins – leaving workers feeling hypervigilant and fatigued.

Instead, encourage a healthy mix of face-to-face calls and other platforms for communication. Cloud-based platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams are great for facilitating fuss-free collaboration and communication with co-workers throughout the day.

2. Promote empathy
Teams are made up of people who need to be able to understand one another and feed off each other in order to effectively work together. Therefore, it’s important not to underestimate the ability of staff to directly influence the level of positivity and optimism in the workplace.

Leaders will need to practice empathy as their staff endures increasing uncertainty and more changes to ways of working. Actively facilitate ways for your team to touch base with you to express their concerns or feelings. It goes without saying that showing personal warmth can help to build the trust of your team.

3. Give clarity of purpose
Your staff are already feeling the pressure of uncertainty when it comes to their future work and their workplace setting, so re-establishing a sense of purpose by giving clarity to what that might look like is vital for boosting employee morale and engagement across all levels of the organisation.

Overall, purpose is a powerful driving force of daily behaviour and collaboration amongst staff members. For this reason, make it clear to your team what their shared purpose is, and how they can work together to achieve it.

4. Practice resilience
Connection and resilience go hand in hand, as having a strong support network is imperative for improving overall well-being and positive mental health. This is even more important in the absence of physical presence.

There are a number of ways to build resilience and boost mental well-being including exercising regularly, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, taking the time to detox from technology in the evening, and making time for hobbies outside of work.

Leaders can encourage staff to build resilience by leading by example and modeling some of these practices in their own life.

While working from home can bring a sense of freedom and opportunity, it can also feel lonely and isolating.

5. Build leadership trust
Our survey highlighted a huge disconnect in how much staff felt trust levels had dropped compared with leaders’ perceptions of this. One-third of workers reported lower trust levels compared with just 16 per cent of bosses who thought the same.

This blissful delusion has contributed significantly to staff feeling stressed and disconnected while working from home. Therefore, fostering positive connections in the workplace starts with building a culture of trust at a leadership level.

Leaders should aim to build trust with their employees by promoting a sense of shared purpose, connection and openness rather than setting tasks and excessive meetings that can cause fatigue and a sense of micromanagement and isolation. Instead, leaders should demonstrate care for their staff by showing compassion, integrity, and honesty.

While remote working has certainly presented many challenges for Australia’s workforce, it also presents some exciting opportunities for flexibility and freedom in the way we work. As remote working becomes more permanent, HR leaders would do well to consider the potential pitfalls associated with this model and strive to foster environments built on trust and connection.

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