Bridging the Emotional Distance in Remote Work
Finally, working from home is gaining the respect it deserves, and you are part of the growing movement! You’ve set up your work-from-home office to your liking, acquired the necessary technology to get your work done, and communicated your remote work boundaries with your family. You are ready to excel.
On average, you attend three virtual meetings a day, so you are interacting all the time with colleagues. But you still have this nagging feeling that you are not really connecting to anyone.
When we feel truly connected to others in the workplace, we may experience a sense of purpose, ease, belonging, and happiness. While formal meetings can help to foster connection, we cannot forget about the other, informal ways in which we can interact with our coworkers to feed our need for emotional fulfillment. Sometimes, these informal moments can help to create a meaningful sense of connection with others.
Working from home can greatly lessen the opportunities for informal interactions. If you were previously working on-site, you probably easily were able to stop by someone’s office for a quick chat about the new movie that you saw yesterday or to make plans to eat lunch together. But this type of interaction is much harder to have in the world of remote work.
When working from home, you need to develop a new outlook on, and strategies for, how, where, and when you can stay connected with your colleagues. In addition to “work talk,” it’s important that you engage in “small talk” or “coffee talk” with your coworkers, to share some information about your life and to learn about your colleagues’ lives and interests. All of us are social beings, and in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance, it’s important that we stay connected with coworkers socially, as well as professionally!
The Emotional Toll of Working From Home
Working from home has its pros and cons. While you may save time on commuting, spend less money on gas or lunch, and gain some flexibility, you also may feel lonely, at times. You also may feel disconnected, stressed, or sad, all of which can affect your home life, sleep patterns, and even your commitment to your employer.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Does everyone else feel like this while working from home?” Rest assured, you are not alone; most remote employees are still learning ways that they can combat loneliness and increase meaningful interactions with their coworkers. The first step is to recognize your feelings, so that you can take actions to create and maintain connections with your coworkers.
Strategies for Fostering Meaningful Connections While Working From Home
You may have spent a lot of time making connections and building relationships at work, but now feel as though they’re awkward or unstable. Or you may just feel like you’re constantly alone and out-of-the-loop. Either way, don’t panic! There are several steps that you can take to form and maintain meaningful connections with your coworkers. Here are a few strategies for you to consider.
- Welcome the New Hires: In the remote work landscape, new hires can often feel particularly isolated without the benefit of in-person orientations and casual office introductions. Take the initiative to set up virtual 1-on-1 meetings with new remote employees. This not only helps them to acclimate more quickly, but also expands your own network within the company and can improve the overall culture.
- Set Up a Virtual Lunch: Schedule a virtual lunch or coffee break with some of your coworkers. Ask how their weekend was, or if they are binge watching any interesting shows. You even could make it a theme-based lunch (e.g., Marvel movies, a certain color, etc.).
- Start a Group Chat: Use Slack, Discord, WhatsApp, or a similar app to start a group chat with some of your coworkers to discuss your mutual interests. For example, you may use the chat to discuss a book you’re all reading, gardening tips, or your new quick and easy weeknight recipes. Discussing topics not related to work can help you to maintain ties with your coworkers.
- Arrange a Geo Meetup: If there are colleagues with whom you work virtually who are in your geographic locale, suggest a coffee after work or meet up for lunch in a physical spot. It gets you and your lunch partner away from your virtual world for a bit, and you will return feeling renewed and refreshed.
- Make Time for Small Talk: Whether it’s at the beginning or end of a virtual meeting, make time for small talk with everyone who is comfortable discussing their life outside of work. Meaningful connections don’t always have to take a lot of effort; just periodically checking in with others to share a funny story or ask how they are doing can help you to feel connected with them. Sometimes, it’s the little moments that can have the biggest impact.
Keep in mind that in this new work-from-home world, you are not the only pioneer charting new territory. While we interact with others every day in virtual meetings, at the grocery store, in our neighborhoods, and so forth, meaningful connections, or those that make us feel a sense of purpose and belonging, don’t happen on their own. Given this, it’s important that you be deliberate and purposeful about creating new connections and maintaining existing connections. Who knows – your efforts may inspire others to create new connections as well!
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