By Robert Darling, President at Eko.

As companies continue to manage the transition of their employees from office-based to remote working at home, keeping team culture alive, despite having people dispersed in different locations has become a challenge for many. Probably the most difficult task employers face is replicating the same sense of community previously nurtured in the physical office environment, into a virtual workplace. Workplaces play such a significant role in a person’s social life and happiness at work and being connected to others helps them to create meaningful workplace relationships. That strong sense of culture also promotes high employee engagement and productivity levels.

Another challenge for businesses is ensuring employees continue to collaborate and communicate with their colleagues even when working remotely. Making sure that teams stay productive during the crisis is also a concern amongst managers right now. Employers want to make sure that even when staff are not physically in one place, they remain accountable with their respective responsibilities and keep them up-to-date with the progress of their tasks.

Keeping employee morale high during this time of uncertainty is another primary concern that impacts day to day operations. Everyone is feeling uncertain about their future after the lockdown is lifted and this situation makes employees feel worried, adding to stress, which will affect their work if not appropriately addressed.

A sense of belonging

Maintaining a sense of belonging within the workforce is crucial now more than ever. With today’s current situation, employees will feel anxious, not to mention isolated as they work at a distance from their colleagues. Remote workers struggle with loneliness anyway, and this issue continues to rank as one of the top challenges faced when working from home.

Disengaged and disconnected teams impact, not just the employees’ performance, but their team’s productivity too. When engagement and connection are absent, employees are not motivated to give their best at work. This situation will affect not only their output but also the morale of the rest of the team. Collaboration among the members will also suffer, which will affect ideation and solution, making ideas and projects more stagnant if it doesn’t improve. Disengagement can be contagious too, and will easily rub off on the other members of the team if not addressed quickly.

Inclusion is everything for remote workforces and business leaders should provide tools that help employees to stay connected and informed even when they are in various locations. What they can also do is to offer multiple ways to communicate, be it for just one-to-one meetings or larger team discussions. Instant messaging can help initiate conversations quickly, while video calls are useful for team meetings or even online socialising with the workplace such as team lunch or virtual happy hours.

A duty of care

Team culture is all about friendship, inclusion and motivation so replicating social networking elements is essential to keep people engaged even when they are working remotely. A digital workplace that has community tools such as employee-driven discussion hubs can help to establish a social platform for employees to talk about anything online just as they would if they were in one physical location. Whether they talk about work-related topics, or more casual, socially-led discussions, having a virtual venue to interact can make it easier to maintain that special sense of community even when people are apart.

Employers also have a duty of care to maintain culture in respect of the mental health and wellbeing of their employees because working life has a significant impact on general health and wellness. As employees work remotely, communicating what they feel might become more of a challenge for them. Further, without a manager physically looking after them, they might take on more responsibility, thinking that they have more time now to accomplish more things. This situation defeats the purpose of work-life balance, and when left unchallenged, it can cause stress and burnout to employees. This can also take longer to spot if the employee is working remotely.

It is crucial that companies set out official ‘work from home’ best practice guidelines, as well as provide support and tools to help their employees. These policies and workplace solutions can help manage their workload, as well as make sure that they communicate with their managers regularly. By having these in place, employers can ensure that the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff is still their top priority even when working remotely.

Distance shouldn’t stop people connecting

Spotting isolation and loneliness when teams are dispersed can become a challenge, but it’s not something that employers cannot address head-on. When there’s lack of participation from one of the team members, it’s a sign that they might be having some difficulty and managers should tackle this problem right away. Another way to spot these conditions is that if there’s no communication from specific members of the team. When teams are communicating properly, they can fully express what’s bothering or stopping them from accomplishing their tasks. The decline of productivity can also be a telltale sign of issues within the team, and often, these can be due to feelings of being isolated or lonely.

The truth is, distance should not stop people from connecting. With today’s technology, it’s now easier to stay connected in multiple ways. Teams should fully utilise their digital workplace tools to ensure that they stay in touch even when separated. Not only will this solution assist them to be more productive as a team, but it will also help them reach out to one another, be it about their work or anything personal. It’s during times like this that we need to connect with more people and in times of uncertainty, staying connected, even if virtually, can positively impact our feelings and attitudes towards our situation as it is now.