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7 Things You Can Do Today to Give Your Remote Teams Social Support

Loneliness is bad for your health – according to some research, it’s as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Even if you’re taking steps to help your remote workers prevent burnout, adapt to the virtual world of work and balance work and family obligations, living and working under the same roof for an extended period of time can make it difficult not to feel lonely.

Here are a few practical things you can do to help your remote employees build strong social ties, experience connection and avoid loneliness.

Why is social interaction and support important in the workplace?

Research shows that social support — family and friends you can count on, as well as other close relationships — can cushion us against a variety of worries, including workplace stress, that can compromise health.

We have identified key aspects of workplace culture that influence how socially connected and supported employees feel and contribute to greater employee well-being and mental health:

  • Work relationships are meaningful
  • Management is approachable
  • People cooperate with each other
  • Interactions between colleagues are caring
  • People feel they “belong” to a group
  • People believe they have each other’s backs
  • There is a sense of fun
  • Special events are celebrated

How do you develop these areas of your company culture?

1. Encourage acts of kindness

In a recent study of people experiencing social isolation, researchers found that feelings of social isolation coincided with an increase in circulation of immature immune cells that travel to the brain and promote anxiety.

The same study showed that “asking lonely people to be kind to others has significantly reduced the offer’s feelings of loneliness.” Other similar studies have shown that such acts also improve mental well-being.

The good news gets better. The same evidence tells us that online acts of kindness – such as donating to a crowdfunding campaign – can be just as beneficial as face-to-face acts of generosity.  There are more ways to engage employees in giving while working remotely:

  • Get your team involved in a virtual charity event
  • Encourage peer-to-peer thank you notes
  • Start a gratitude activity, inviting all employees to send one-to-one e-cards of appreciation to colleagues.

2. Unleash your Employee Resource Groups

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led committees that promote a diverse and inclusive workplace aligned with the organisations they serve.

ERGs are built on cooperation and shared interest, and naturally bring people together. For members, they create a sense of group belonging that builds strong social bonds.

One way to tap into the potential of your ERGs is to task them with designing social activities.

3. Celebrate special events in creative ways

Celebrating accomplishments is more important than ever. While some organisations have sophisticated recognition programs, the most valued form of recognition is often the simplest and most personal.

Some ideas to celebrate with your remote workforce:

  • Invite a senior leader to your team video call to speak about the accomplishments of those involved.
  • DIY cocktail kits or pizza boxes or cupcake treats delivered to employees’ homes for a team meeting toast or celebration.
  • Send a hand-written thank you note in the post to the employees’ family telling them just how much the employee is appreciated.
  • Treat an employee to takeout/home delivery from a restaurant in their area to celebrate the accomplishment, while also supporting their community.

4. Instigate informal interactions

In the socially close physical office, people chat to colleagues at desks or gather in the kitchen for an informal chat. These exchanges often bring employees from across teams together and give junior team members an opportunity to connect with their senior colleagues, and listen and observe the various chats and conversations that take place in this setting.

You can still foster these candid interactions without a physical office. One easy way to do this is to set up casual meetings:

  • Virtual coffee dates
  • Opt-in meetings with no agenda
  • Walk and talk team calls – where everyone is out for a walk and join a team call for 10 minutes

To encourage extra connection, you can make these gatherings cross-departmental.

5. Create space at the top of meetings

Without the incidental chat that comes with sharing a physical office, small but crucial bits of social interaction are lost.

When working remotely, it’s tempting to jump right into meeting agendas, but if you want to encourage these interactions, you need to set the example for your teams and make time for personal, non-work related conversation in your meetings. Carving out this time also gives your people the chance to air any stresses they might be carrying, and this will give you an insight into the well-being of your team colleagues.

Making space in meetings for employees to clear their minds is an effective way to show that you care and create social support.

6. Make time for fun

When you can, it’s important to infuse a little fun into your co-workers’ day, because team members who laugh together grow closer together, and laughter is know to be a de-stresser.

Here are a few simple ways you can inject some fun into the workday even while working at a distance:

Create online channels for non-work banter, focused on topics like pets, kids, or artistic interests.

  • Invite a performance artist, like a musician or poet, to give a virtual performance
  • Swirl and sip over a virtual wine tasting
  • Take Trivia Night and Bingo online
  • Startup a book club and get together virtually
  • Join one of the online museum or gallery virtual tours together

7. Check in on a 1:1 level

Supporting employee well-being works best when individualised. When employees get one-to-one support, they feel seen and valued,  plus as a leader, you become better equipped to respond to their personal needs. How will you know if someone’s language of appreciation is “words of affirmation” without taking the time to get to know them on a personal level?

One example is to connect employees affected by COVID-19 with a “buddy” to:

  • Check in on them
  • Keep their spirits up
  • Offer encouragement
  • Sharing strengthens us all

Remote working is here to stay and we all want to make it a successful experience especially as we move froward post Covid restrictions and start to have a little more freedom and the ability to create better remote working environments for our people.

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