Over the last several decades, new technologies in the workplace have been introduced to make our lives easier, make processes faster and make work more efficient. However, with all of these “improvements” we now interact more with technology than we do with people. How can employees make and keep personal connections with co-workers, and how can managers build engagement and team environments without technology getting in the way?
I just read an interesting article about how easily remote workers have jumped from job to job since the pandemic. These workers never met any of their colleagues or developed any personal connections, so found it easy to jump ship when a new opportunity came along. Certainly the pandemic lock downs and remote work have made many workers feel isolated, but this phenomenon of workplace loneliness has been growing for many years.
Back in the day (what some may say were the dark ages), employees spoke with their customers and co-workers in person or on the phone. The polite protocol to begin these conversations was to ask how someone was, or how their day was going. It would have been rude to just burst into your request or sales pitch. However, with the advent of email and text communication, that “polite chit chat” has gotten severely truncated, if not entirely deleted. Emails and texts do allow for us to answer queries when we have the time (not right away when the person calls), but we lose the face-to-face (or at least ear-to-ear) connection that in-person or phone calls provided.
Company meetings used to be in-person in on-site conference rooms, sometimes with doughnuts and coffee or other snacks brought in. The first few minutes of the meetings were spent filling your coffee cup and catching up on personal updates, like your weekend activities, etc. Now more and more companies are using video conferencing platforms for appointments and meetings. You would think there would still be a personal connection because you can still see each person as well as talk with them. However, the reality is that (as mentioned in last week’s blog) there is an inherent stress and nakedness to being on-screen and having all participants seemingly looking directly at you during the whole meeting. There are also often technical difficulties with these platforms. Someone’s low bandwidth may require they turn off their camera, or the audio gets choppy and everyone struggles to hear, etc. These technical distractions limit the camaraderie of the meeting and make participants feel distant.
So what can workers and managers do to combat the loneliness and isolation that technology has brought into our lives?
Upgrade Your Bandwidth - One of the first things companies should do is upgrade their internet connections to make sure they have sufficient bandwidth/service to support the technologies they are using. Employees should not have to battle slow program response times or disconnections when logging into virtual systems – not to mention video lag and garbled audio in meetings – whether they are on-site or remote.
Stay in Constant Contact - Next, make sure that managers are in daily communication with their reports. This is in addition to scheduled meetings. Managers should give remote workers regular quick personal calls to see how they are doing, what challenges they are facing, and what support they need. Even more so that on-site workers, remote workers need to feel that they are supported and cared for – not forgotten.
Encourage/Facilitate Team Projects – Help co-workers get to know each other by encouraging team projects. Mentor these groups by showing them ways to more easily interact and share personal stories. Reward their good work with a dinner or drinks out to allow them to connect even more. If team members are too far apart geographically to get together for a dinner or the like, then send say a drinks and games kit that they can open together and enjoy together virtually.
Management Should Lead the Way – If you want to change the culture of an organization, you have to lead from the top. If managers rush through meetings, or never share their own stories, then employees will feel that they shouldn’t. However, if top executives make a point to connect with workers at all levels of the company and create opportunities for employees to interact on a social level, it sends a very different message. The top brass needs to make sure that managers are building relationships with their reports and modeling inclusive and encouraging behaviors – not just getting the work out.
Some may think that these “touchy feely” efforts are unnecessary. However, over the past year and a half it has become resoundingly clear that companies need to do something to develop employee engagement and loyalty. If employees do not feel that their company cares for them, then it becomes oh so easy to jump ship at even the smallest increase in pay or benefits. Human resources are the most expensive assets for most companies. Protect your investment in your employees.
By Ann Condon, Marketing Manager
Ann Condon has been with Dion for 17 years, working in Dion’s Marketing and Business Development Department. Although this was her first position with a jewelry manufacturer, she has learned a lot over the years. Ann enjoys getting involved in “All Things Dion” from volunteering at the Dion Golf Tournament to being a part of the Dion Diamonds Relay for Life Team. She has quite a number of Dion event t-shirts to show for it!
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