Within 48 hours of being dropped off in the remote wilderness of Patagonia, the first contestant of the popular History Channel reality show Alone radioed to the support crew to be extracted. He wanted out of the wilderness. He wasn't injured, malnourished, hypothermic, or in fear of predators. The real problem was isolation. He was truly alone.
In a world of connectivity, cameras, and constant communication, people have never felt more alone. Remote workers are craving connection. While pandemic conditions created intense isolation and loneliness, even pre-pandemic remote workers reported high levels of loneliness. In fact, one pre-pandemic study showed that full-time remote work was found to increase loneliness by 67% when compared to in-office work, according to research by organizational psychologist Lynn Holdsworth.
Don't throw remote work out with the bathwater. Rather, remote teams must find innovative ways to build connections into the daily experience of their employees. There are exciting opportunities for leaders who are willing to embrace an intentional approach to connection, and I don't mean virtual happy hours.
Here are a few principles and actionable tips to keep in mind as you build connections for your remote team.
Shared time and space aren't requisites for building meaningful connections. When colleagues are geographically distributed and stretch across many time zones, doing something in real-time isn't always possible. Instead, make space for individuals to share their experiences. Create an avenue for this and team members can give a glimpse into their own lives. Don't let a lack of proximity rob you of experiences that bring people together. Create shared experiences that connect people, even when they're apart.
If you're looking for a great resource on the topic, check out this marvelous table from the folks at Atlassian.
People who feel a sense of connection from the beginning of their employee journey stay with their employer much longer than the average team member. Ensure the hiring and onboarding process makes an effort to connect candidates to their future colleagues. Think less about activities and more about processes in this area. The power of a hiring process that is collaborative and exposes candidates to a healthy swath of their peers is not to be overlooked.
Since you're saving piles of money with your reduced (or non-existent) real-estate footprint, you'll need to think about a dedicated budget for facilitating connection. While the office might have been a catalyst for conversation, a 100% remote environment relies heavily on intentional effort from leadership to make those bonds materialize.
After punching the clock at an office building, connection and culture-building opportunities presented themselves as paid time. Coffee refills and water cooler chats, hallway happenstance encounters, cubicle drop-ins. By contrast, remote work is notorious for viewing all online activity that doesn't directly relate to product or service delivery as unnecessary and unpaid. Some employers resort to employing activity tracking software to ensure all online happenings are strictly work-related, leaving workers craving connection. It's time to bring back the idea that cultural connection is part of the cost of doing business. Allocate a budget for activities that promote connection.
Feeling connected to colleagues is an important part of the conversation and is a goal worth pursuing. It's also important to recognize the value of other communities. Not all connection happens at work. Employers that recognize the value of people being involved in their local church, cycling club, 4-H group, school board, bowling league, book club, or any number of other social groups are wise. Facilitate opportunities for your people to connect deeply in satisfying relationships outside of work. Work should not be a barrier to this, but rather should look for ways to encourage it.
Remote work and flexibility are table stakes in 2023. The best talent in the world is craving connection, looking for autonomy, agency, and trust in the workplace. Employers must recognize that connection has historically been an on-the-clock thing. It only makes sense that committed employers should approach connection with intentionality. The ones who succeed here will make a strategic plan, communicate it well, and invest in the experience.
A thriving remote culture is a collection of the experiences you create for your people. Connection is a key ingredient.
Want to dive deeper into this topic? Subscribe below to get exclusive access to Episode 9 of my podcast, where co-host Joshua and I spend more time talking about the value of connection in a remote environment and sharing some of our experiences.