Work from Home But Connect with Peers on a Personal Level

Working from home is the new workplace, at least until this pandemic continues to keep office workers in quarantine. Yes, this may give us a reprieve from the traffic gridlock and keep us safe from the coronavirus, but it can also lead to increased bouts of depression and a sense of alienation. After all, human beings were made and designed to socialize with one another in a very personal empathetic way. 

To boost morale, Ascend Harvard Business Review suggests making friends in this new workplace and overlooking the fact that it cannot replace human touch and physical proximity. Regardless of the communications bridge that video-conferencing tools provide to a disrupted workforce these days, it cannot fill actual physical connections. 

A flat 2-dimensional screen that shows headshots of our colleagues in virtual boxes does not capture the intimacy and excitement of live human interaction. The nuances conveyed by body language are lost. So is that intangible, but very vibrant connection imparted by a mixture of tone, mood, visual contact, and verbal interplay. 

This lack will inevitably impact work disposition and behavior, along with productivity. According to research by Ascend Harvard Business Review, members of a remote team take five to 10 times longer to respond to each other’s concerns, compared to another team that works in the same location. 

The virtual team also tends to mistrust their colleagues or perceive them as incompetent 2.5 times more than a co-located group or department.

Working from home, though, is here for the long-term, and managers have recognized that reality. Some of the bright tech geniuses in San Francisco are pulling out all stops to create 3-dimensional holograms that can approximate good old human interaction. Pending their discoveries, these are some practical suggestions to bring empathy and sensitivity into the virtual workplace:

Use tech to help your team bond more closely, and not just because of work

This advice from Time might even be more helpful for assignees away from their home country. Despite their 2D limitations, apps like Zoom and Slack can transform into the digital equivalent of the watercooler. In short, don’t just limit its use to meetings.

Purposefully set aside a few chunks of time in the day for your team members to chat with each other in a personal way. They can talk about their love lives, family, struggles in coping with the virus, hobbies, favorite video streaming shows—anything and everything except work. 

The topic of this 15-minute facetime must be personally important to them. It might take a little nudging on their part, but pretty soon, remote workers dealing with self-isolation will look forward to these personal convos.

Be more flexible with the casual set-up

As pointed out by Ericcsson, there are times when the work-from-home policies we planned for and implemented will not be followed. A child may walk into a Zoom meeting, or the pizza delivery boy’s loud voice can suddenly disrupt a one-one-one convo. 

In this new normal, the plumber may not be always available to fix a home’s broken leak; if this translates into less laundry water for your colleague, she might show up in your virtual department meeting wearing a shirt instead of the mandated blouse. 

If these things happen, relax, be more forgiving, and even have a laugh about it. Bear in mind that what your teammates are going through is not the typical work-from-home arrangement that has successfully served many professional outsourced groups. 

With the crisis thrust on them unexpectedly, they had to make do with what they had at home. A child’s desk is converted into their office cubicle, and the kitchen is shared with their spouse as their different companies’ joint conference rooms.

Unexpected mistakes are bound to happen, as everyone is still trying to work things out. Your capability to surmount all these disruptions, with a smile on your face, will go a long way in encouraging your team. More important, they will know and feel that you actually understand their tough situation—and that you care.

Lower your walls to address your needs

The pandemic has made people feel vulnerable to a heightened degree, and they do not know where they can turn to for support. 

You can lower their walls by lowering yours first and admitting that you too need help once occasionally. Recognizing that you are all in the same boat, and are willing to help each other swim to the shore, can forge deeper lasting relationships that will help you overcome this crisis together.

Anxiety will also lessen if they can acknowledge their fears without being judged. As the team leader or global mobility manager, take time to gently ask them how they are dealing with personal matters, like a partner’s neglect, loneliness, insomnia, a parent’s illness, or a child’s failing grades.