Humans - even the shy ones - are social creatures. We don't have to be in the same room to enjoy the benefits of social interaction, but we're happier and more productive when we feel connected with the people around us - including our co-workers.
"Loneliness in the workplace negatively impacts the commitment employees have to their work and team mission," explained Dr. Erika Bocknek, a licensed therapist.
While remote work options offer a lot of benefits, they also can leave some employees feeling lonely. Research shows that full-time telework increased loneliness as compared to working in the office by 67 percentage points. Remote workers in a 2020 study reported that loneliness from online work was the biggest struggle they faced. Feelings of loneliness, in turn, impact retention, productivity, and creativity.
Why connection matters
Creating connection at work isn't just a feel-good goal: It affects a company's bottom line. A panel of senior people leaders at Glassdoor's Best Places to Work (BPTW) overwhelmingly agreed that workplace social connections are important to employee engagement, (69% "agree" or "strongly agree"). Building those relationships is achievable - both in the office and remotely.
"The ability to socially interact with one another is very possible and effective in the hybrid work environment," one panelist responded. "It just requires more intentionality, as well as a desire to seek each other out for meaningful conversations and connection points."
How to combat loneliness and increase job satisfaction
Although companies may be attempting to gauge and address isolation through employee surveys, BPTW leaders note that companies should also be leveraging managers' feedback to assess employee satisfaction: 76% of the BPTW leaders surveyed "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that most managers have a good sense of whether their employees are happy in their jobs.
According to Dr. Bocknek, addressing loneliness within a team starts with an honest conversation. "Ask your employees what they need. Demonstrate your own accountability and create solutions together," she said. "Big or small, embracing ideas demonstrates that you, first and foremost as a manager, invest in your team so they can do their very best and drive the mission forward together.
Play on your employees' strengths
Gallup suggests identifying each team member's strengths and incorporating those strengths into the team's culture. "Employees can get to know one another more quickly if they have a common language to describe one another's natural tendencies. Also, doing productive work with others builds social bonds. Fifteen percent of those who strongly agree that they have an opportunity to do what they do best report feeling lonely. This compares with 40% who strongly disagree and 32% who disagree."
Create social moments
Companies can also look for ways to encourage friendships within teams, without resorting to forced fun. ("Icebreakers can be fun, but often do little to create positive climates that are sustainable," Dr. Bocknek observed.) Employees in communities on Glassdoor highlighted coffee chats with peers, Slack's "Donut" app, employee resource groups, and virtual happy hours as options for internal team building.
Finally, make extra efforts with new team members to make them feel welcome from the start. "Identify mentors who can easily check in and serve as a connection point for feedback to be integrated into action," Dr. Bocknek said. "Multiple mentors, when possible, is a recipe for success. Different people offer different skill sets and more opportunities for organic, supportive relationships to emerge."
Overcoming remote work isolation
Addressing isolation is important for your employer brand and your company's overall output, but managers should remember that intra-team relationships aren't the only way to reduce loneliness. When employees feel socially fulfilled, they're more likely to be happy at work - regardless of whether those connections start through volunteering, attending group fitness classes, starting a book club, or participating in online communities.
If you're looking for ways to help your teams feel more connected, encourage employees to join conversations on Glassdoor company bowls.