As lockdown restrictions ease, many businesses are facing a situation where part of their workforce is returning to the physical workplace, while other employees in the company continue to work from home. Those remaining at home may be vulnerable to coronavirus, have family commitments or live far from work.
These differences in where people are located may create a disconnect in your workforce. Some people will probably be experiencing more in-person engagement with their colleagues again, while others remain more isolated in terms of personal contact.
Here we outline why loneliness is an important issue for you to take note of as a manager right now. We also give five tips for keeping your team connected and supported during this time.
Understanding loneliness at work
Loneliness is a significant concern for society at large. The Office for National Statistics reports that 1 in every 20 adults in England feel lonely often or always. A quarter of adults feel lonely at least occasionally. While we tend to think of older adults as being most affected by loneliness, it is actually reported more commonly by younger people in the 16 to 24 age group.
Crucially, people can feel lonely despite being surround by others. So physical proximity in itself isn’t the only remedy for loneliness – which is important for managers to bear in mind as staff return to work.
Working from home can be isolating, especially if people live alone. Even if they have a family around them, they may feel disconnected from their team. Loneliness can have a negative impact on our mental health. Half of all employees who answered our Workplace Wellbeing Census said that colleagues had a positive impact on their wellbeing at work. Which suggests that having a good relationship with people we work with is important. And it’s good for business. When we feel connected with colleagues, our enthusiasm goes up, our morale rises and we are more inclined to get the job done.
Five ways to combat loneliness and keep your team connected
If an employee is staying at home because they are vulnerable or at high-risk of coronavirus, it’s important to understand how this affects them and any adjustments you might need to make.
For your team as a whole, here are some tips for keeping connections going between those at home and those in the workplace.
1. Share with your team
Encourage staff to check in each morning – connecting virtually as a group whether they are together in the workplace or at home. They could share some information about what they plan to do today, and any successes or challenges they are facing. A simple morning routine can help people get into ‘work-mode’ and feel part of a work community.
2. Make time
Encourage non-work chats or a ‘good-news’ thread. Many people have found that they have been getting to know their colleagues more personally and that an insight into everyone’s home life has helped them to bond.
3. Stay social
Online social events can help staff stay connected. For example, a virtual coffee or tea break, yoga, a quiz or craft sessions. Ask your team what they would like to try. Make sure to keep these work-free so that people have time to relax and have a little fun with their teams.
4. Create a virtual calendar
Bear in mind that different teams and team members may like different ways to socialise and keep in touch. A virtual calendar of support, information and social events with the relevant links or meeting passwords might help people plan their week and choose what to attend.
5. Be kind
Misunderstandings and conflict may happen more often in teams working remotely. Workplace conflict and bullying can increase symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress related problems. Try to be sensitive and practise kind leadership (PDF, 1.7MB). Remind the team to be mindful and compassionate when having difficult conversations.
Our guide to supporting your team through coronavirus (PDF, 1.3MB) has more tips that you may find helpful right now.
- Office for National Statistics. Loneliness – What characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely? www.ons.gov.uk, last updated April 2018
- World Health Organization. Mental health in the workplace. www.who.int, published May 2019
- Bupa Workplace Wellbeing Census, November 2019