The loss of social interaction through remote work

Cover Story, Editorial, Features

There is no doubt that video networking is a great tool for businesses, with applications such as Zoom and Teams commonplace in many businesses today. These applications certainly bring remote locations together and enable us t collaborate in real time despite differences in locations or even time zones.

However, despite being such a boom to business communication and facilitating online meetings, is it also slowly stripping us of our normal social graces in the workplace? Are we losing the social connection to our colleagues through non-present interaction? No more chats in the coffee room, no ad-hoc discussions in the corridors, no more popping into a colleagues room to see how they are doing.

We are no longer complimenting colleagues on their clothing or style, we cannot see anything more than a head and shoulders image, we hardly notice anything through our video connections and bad connections make things worse. Maybe we might compliment someone on a new hair style but it might simply be a “bad hair day” as they did not realise their camera was on! All of this leads to us possibly forgetting simple social graces – when was the last time you shook hands with someone? Do you even remember to dress well also below the waistline for a remote meeting?

So what can businesses do to ensure that remote working is not adversely affecting employee social niceties? Many businesses have already been introducing remote “coffee” mornings or afternoons online, where employees get to meet each other for a non-official and non-work related chat using the company video networking application. This is a step in the right direction but many employees feel that it is too “artificial” and that the chat is not so free-flowing – there is always the shadow of the employer in the background and it does not feel as relaxed as a “normal” coffee room discussion. Some businesses have also introduced virtual fitness sessions for employees, and these seem popular for those that miss the physical sessions – this addresses the physical health maybe, but what about the metal health?

In normal times, employers in Finland often have staff days where all staff can get together and participate in various activities – often sports or culture related. What then of today’s remote working employees? Employees hardly ever get together if they have been restricted to remote working, no meeting up for lunch or drinks after work, no getting together for sports, not even taking a walk together during the lunch break.

So, if your employees are forced to work remotely, consider getting them together for social events. If it is not possible to get together physically then I have a good suggestion – here in Finland many people are actively engaging in outdoor activities, especially so in the winter time. Give your employees the chance for a fun and active outdoor staff day online – the emphasis is on fun and active! Choose a time and date when work is put on hold, from midday on a certain date “work” ends for the day. Set up a virtual platform (Teams or Zoom for example) where employees can get access. Provide employees with an incentive to participate, e.g. lunch will be provided via coupons for a take away picnic lunch, or buy your own and claim the amount back. Employees should be able to decide themselves what they will do and where, and encourage meeting up for the afternoon with a few colleagues if possible – in real life! People could decide to go cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, snowboarding, snowperson building, or just go for a good walk in the winter scenery, anything goes. The idea then is to start off the event live in the chosen platform, everyone turning on the video of their smartphone, showing where they are, what they are doing, and who with, even what did they get for lunch! Then have fun and enjoy the outdoors together.

I hope to be doing this soon, and will be reporting back on how the event went, and what colleagues thought of it. Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be fun, I’m off skiing!