Some people argue that working remotely has several benefits. However, many work relationships suffered in the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic when many workers left the office to work from home. The impact of missing out on daily informal interactions and general workplace camaraderie with colleagues was huge.
Loss of Social Capital
The unplanned interactions of people going about their work are known as social capital. Its benefits include mentoring, kindness, and knowledge sharing, which contribute to the thriving of organizations and their employees. Furthermore, social capital helps generate new ideas, lower staff turnover, better employee performance, and lower employee absenteeism.
Changes to social capital spurred by the shift to remote work changed social capital within the workplace. Yet, despite the continued need for interactions and online meetings, people globally reported feeling disconnected and isolated.
Studies showed increased interactions with close networks at the onset of remote work, whereas those with more distant networks shrunk. However, even close network interactions started fading with time, leaving a legacy of increased silo effect with more one-on-one or small group chats.
Less Productivity and Innovation
Strong workplace relationships positively affect organizations, leading to more productivity and innovation. However, with the breakdown in communication during COVID-19, many people reported decreased ability to brainstorm, innovate, or collaborate.
Social isolation was challenging for new employees and those in their mid-twenties. The lack of networking, onboarding, and training made it difficult for new employees to feel included in communications with both their direct teams and leadership.
Remote communication and lack of networking made it more difficult for young employees to feel engaged. They found it more difficult to share ideas during remote meetings or to have their say.
The upside is that many people reported improved communication when companies returned to a more hybrid model, decreasing their sense of isolation.
Shifting Command-and-Control Leadership
Collaborative processes bore the brunt of working from home for many teams as many leaders used the opportunity to avoid the process to get things done faster. However, the shift from a collaborative approach to a direct approach often leads to feelings of voicelessness and frustration since people are side-lined. In addition, tensions can ensue from this approach, disrupting the balance of power.
The danger remains that the collaborative leadership approach, one not favored by everyone, will be dismissed for a more directive approach.
Friendships and Work
Close work relationships and the rituals followed increase work fulfillment while improving productivity and company loyalty. On the other hand, working from home leads to loneliness. Its effects are the same as some people’s loneliness in the office, affecting their professional and personal well-being. Moreover, the lack of shared spaces and conversations takes its toll on these friendships, requiring extra effort to survive long-term. However, maintaining these friendships has the benefits of relieving both a sense of alienation and stress.
Uncertainty is another aspect of working from home, notably since the pandemic increased unemployment and social injustices. The results include increased depression, lack of energy, and burnout. On the other hand, maintaining office friendships remotely became an effort for some people, making it easier for some to recalibrate the balance of work life.
Whatever is best depends on the individual, but the difficulty of maintaining work friendships may mean that people shun them and their positive effects, preferring to shift their energy towards non-work relationships, their families, and favorite pastimes.
Maintaining Workplace Relationships Post-Covid
Ensuring people don’t feel isolated requires a small effort but promises great rewards to help keep everyone mentally healthy, productive, and fulfilled.
Replacing the conversations around the water cooler with digital communications like regular messages and newsletters encourages people to stay in touch, whether they work remotely on a hybrid model.
Listening remains vital to ensuring everyone has a role to play, helping to foster workplace relationships across all divisions and chains of command.
Employee relationships remain vital to satisfied employees who pay it back with loyalty and better productivity. In addition, communication and collaboration require encouragement, whether teams work remotely or just a few meters apart. Moreover, strong teams thrive on appreciation and recognition, which involves effort under all circumstances.
The pandemic impacted work relationships in several ways; studies have shown its adverse effects. However, as people shift to a hybrid work model or return to the office, the opportunities for a social connection and work satisfaction remain. These opportunities include keeping an open line of communication, listening, and creating chances for involvement and team-building activities. Maintaining the above ensures teams that will collaborate happily together, no matter where they work from, at home, in the office, or the new reality of hybrid work.