Everyone loves a bit of ‘me-time’. Whether it’s time to clear your head or just take a mental break, studies show alone time has been linked to increased happiness, better life satisfaction and improved stress management.
But there can be a fine line between spending time alone productively and feeling isolated.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were suddenly forced to work remotely every day in a major departure from our regular routines.
While working from home can feel like a bit of a novelty at first, doing it for longer periods of time can start to affect mental health, according to studies by the Black Dog Institute. It’s not uncommon to feel isolated, lonely and disconnected from other people.
According to research Redback conducted earlier this year on working from home, more than one in two workers say they’re spending more time alone since the onset of COVID-19, and two out of three feel less connected to their colleagues, teams and managers.
While most communication with colleagues is taking place via email, more than a quarter of those we surveyed said they were also making audio or video calls more often.
But unlike in physical workplaces, encounters with colleagues don’t spontaneously happen when we’re working remotely, so it’s worth remembering we need to be proactive when it comes to maintaining positive work relationships remotely — encompassing both the work and social aspects of your workplace.
Here are some ways to improve connectedness while we’re all working from home.
- Proactively organise regular virtual meetings
The Black Dog Institute recommends scheduling regular virtual or phone meetings as one method of staying connected to co-workers, managers and employees and maintaining mental health.
It’s not as simple as setting a recurring calendar meeting however: your virtual meetings should provide a benefit to everyone involved and deliver on the expectations of your participants.
For instance, if you’re holding a weekly work-in-progress meeting, make sure you have an ongoing backlog of upcoming activity to run through and refer to everything on the previous week’s list so there’s continuity from week to week.
- Have a clear, efficient agenda and structure
Our study also found that some remote meetings are not being run as effectively as they could be, with employees often unhappy with the length, structure and reason for having meetings.
When asked about their experiences of remote meetings at home, almost half (44%) of respondents said meetings were too long, and more than a third said they should be more structured and productive, resulting in clearer actions and better progression of projects.
It’s important to set a firm agenda for your meetings, run through it efficiently and keep to time.
- Require participation
Almost one in three respondents to our study said everyone needed to be focused in virtual meetings – so make sure you set expectations before the meeting: why are people there, and what will they be expected to do in the meeting?
Give people tasks in which they can actively engage. Ask them to come with some ideas, vote for an outcome, help brainstorm during the meeting, or break into small teams in separate online chats and report back to the group.
Participation also needs to come from the top: more than a quarter (27%) of respondents told us they expected all key decision-makers to attend: so make sure you invite the right people.
- Schedule a virtual coffee break
All your work meetings don’t need to be formal, task-related events. The remote working revolution has spawned a menagerie of fun ways to connect to colleagues online.
For many of us, mingling in the kitchen for a chat with colleagues while boiling the kettle or reheating lunch is as much a part of the day as logging on to our computer.
Consider quarantining 15 minutes in your calendar for coffee over video calls with your co-workers. Have a chat, discuss the news, share links to the TV series you’re binge-viewing at home, or just enjoy a gossip.
- Lunch and learn
Everyone loves a free lunch. Especially if it arrives on the doorstep via UberEats and courtesy of the boss or a company partner or sponsor.
Don’t be afraid to mix up the menu: sessions could include a lunchtime speaker, inspirational guest, comedian or a meditation or life skills session. Or you could simply ask each team to update colleagues on their latest new project or initiative.
- Interactive polls, quizzes and competitions
Break the ice with a short online quiz with your colleagues or turn it into a competition by offering a prize for the best response. Reward your winner with an instant prize that can be redeemed online and delivered.
Another great way of building more personal connections is getting everyone to anonymously post a photo of their home work area to a virtual chat and guess which photo belongs to whom. You’ll learn things you never knew about your colleagues in the process.
- Friday afternoon happy hour
What better way to mark the end of a busy week than with a regular TGIF video conference where everyone can bring along a drink and have a chat about the week that was?
Give it a bit of structure by including games like virtual bingo, celebrity head or trivia – the list is endless.
Have one person nominate a wine, their favourite cheese or craft beer each week that they will bring along to review – do this ahead of time so colleagues can join in a tasting.
You may have other ideas for ways to improve connectedness while working from home. And you may try a few initiatives and find that one or two work well, while others peter out.
Regardless, it’s important to make your WFH time count and be proactive about maintaining those work and social connections — so we can all work remotely without feeling isolated.