How to support your remote working company’s social life
I have been working remotely all my professional life. As a consultant, my team at BICG never had an office – when not at a client, we worked from home. I deliberately choose a Global – mainly online – MBA at ie business school to study and learn from inspiring people all over the world. And joining the management of Panion, a start-up with amazing talent in Pakistan, Iran and in Spain, my experience to build teams remotely again proved to be very helpful.
Due to the current world situation, working from home has become the new normal for many knowledge workers. I was honored to share my experience and expertise on how to strengthen the social life of a company in a remote work setting with the amazing women tech community at The WomenTech Conference 2020 this month. Now, I’d like to share it with you!
Remote work – or working from home?
Even before Covid-19, remote work was already on the rise: numbers of people working remotely had doubled since 2005 and over 80% of employees wished for more remote work opportunities. The current pandemic accelerated this change in the way we work – a Gartner survey from March 2020 states that 88% of organizations worldwide have encouraged or required their employees to work from home – and nearly all, an astonishing 97%, have cancelled work related travel.
But there is one important differentiation to make: due to social distancing measures, we work from home – unplanned, yet often surprisingly successful – but we do not work remotely! We do not have the opportunity to choose where we want to work – but suddenly have to stay within our own four walls, with all the difficulties that brings.
Now, a lot of countries are slowly opening up again – a great relief, but to many it also raises a question: What is going to happen with our remote work experience?
Remote work is here to stay
This new experience, that remote work is possible – even in work settings and doing jobs many of us thought couldn’t be done remotely – and the benefits of its flexibility, will change the way we work forever. One quarter of Fortune 500 CEOs estimate, that over 90% of their workforce will be working remotely indefinitely. And the Global Workplace Analytics estimates, that 25-30% of employees will work from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
I believe that post Covid-19, the new normal is going to be a hybrid model – many of us will work from anywhere – our homes, a coffee shop around the corner or the family’s summer house – and of course also the office. The way we choose where to work day-by-day will be much more flexible and adapted to our needs and the requirements of the current tasks to be done.
But it’s not without struggle
But of course, working remotely isn’t just great – it has its difficulties too. The State of Remote Report 2020 reveals that 20% of remote workers have difficulties with collaboration and communication – and equally as many name loneliness as their biggest struggle! In today’s fast-paced, always connected environment, transactional conversations are the default. And a remote work setting enhances this trend, leading to less opportunities for casual, organic conversations and thereby having a drastic impact on our social life at work.
Connection ≠ Connection
Just because we are only a message, email, phone, or video call away from our almost 24/7 available colleagues, doesn’t mean we are easily connected to them.
These tools allow for a quick, transactional exchange of information to “get the job done” – but this efficiency of getting straight to the point prevents us from building social, human connection. Take a video call with a client as an example – we no longer pick up our guest at the reception, there is no small talk while we walk them to the meeting room, no opportunity for them to take a glance at “how work is done in this office”, we don’t offer them a drink before actually getting started anymore…
Not only are we as humans a social species that, from an anthropological point of view, needs social interaction – coming back to the work context, having a personal relationship with the people we work with also facilitates work, leading to higher motivation and productivity.
The importance of employee relationships
Let me tell you an anecdote that I believe showcases the importance of social connections at the workplace very well: early on in my career I had a critical meeting with one of my clients and our CEO was supposed to call into the meeting – but I couldn’t get a hold of him. I sat in the meeting room – the atmosphere already tense – and called our office to get him on the phone. I guess, I hadn’t been there for a while because Joaquin, the colleague who picked up, immediately started to ask me how I had been, how life was going… all in Spanish, and my German speaking client got more and more impatient. I interrupted Joaquin brusquely and asked to get our CEO on the phone. The next Friday, when I came back to the office, Joaquin greeted me with “Hola, ice princess, are you better now?” – hadn’t he known me well enough, he could have easily misinterpreted my behavior on the phone and taken it personally. It was a small incident but could potentially have impacted our collaboration for months.
Maintaining and supporting informal interactions and good relationships between employees is always important – but much more difficult in a remote work setting.