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Social isolation is one of the biggest personal and business risks of our times. So, what can you do about it?

Here are three strategies you can use to improve social connection at work:

1) Identify and remove barriers that limit social interaction

Consider your policies. Barriers could be an overly strict hybrid work policy where individuals can only come into the office on specified days. If someone prefers to work from the office, why stop them?

It is worth while conducting a study of the age and vaccination status of your staff. Perhaps you can relax your standards if the majority of your workforce is vaccinated and/or in low-risk age categories? You won’t know this unless you are armed with data.

Consider your ways of work. Social connection is easier in person. But it can still be effective when consciously cultivated through remote interactions. Identify any barriers created by your hybrid ways of work. Then take steps to fix these:

  • Create space at the start of virtual meetings. Before jumping into the agenda, allow sufficient time for informal, personal conversations. It can be an unfacilitated conversation or prompted through the use of ice-breaker questions. You may get to know colleagues better than ever before. Who knew your boss’s favourite music genre is R&B or that your colleague did a gap year in Spain?
  • Make time for one-on-one check-ins. Yes, we’re all busy. But 39% of people view check-ins as the greatest contributor to their sense of belonging at work (EY, 2019). Check-ins should not only be between the manager and team members reporting to them, but between colleagues as well.
  • Celebrate each other’s contribution. Recognition and appreciation are more important than ever with the challenges we have faced over the past two years.

2) Create opportunities for employees to connect with each other

Social connections can be in person, virtual or a bit of both.

  • Volunteer together. Corporate social responsibility projects such as packing Christmas parcels can improve feelings of social connection between team members. It can even take a virtual form if necessary. Studies show that virtual acts of kindness such as making a donation decrease feelings of loneliness.
  • Connect different areas of the organisation. Host a coffee meet and greet combining two teams or departments, where each shares knowledge with the other. This increases weak-ties– the network of acquaintances that is necessary for access to new contacts and information, bridging silos and leading to innovation.
  • Host regular team building.
  • Arrange an organisation-wide wellness challenge.
  • Share a meal as a team.

3) Training

  • Train managers on how to create psychological safety.
  • Train staff on the link between mental health and social connections. Encourage them to participate in social events their team may have, as well as take the reins to host their own.

We are humans before we are workers. If you lead in a way that values social connection, you are more likely to lead your business to long term success.

By Elizabeth Ross

Sources:

Claire Hastwell. (2020). Great Place To Work. 7 Things You Can Do Today to Give Your Remote Teams Social Support. Retrieved from: https://www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/x-ideas-to-keep-your-remote-team-socially-connected

EY.(2019). Karyn Twaronite. Five findings on the importance of belonging. Retrieved from: https://www.ey.com/en_us/diversity-inclusiveness/ey-belonging-barometer-workplace-study#:~:text=T%20he%20latest%20EY%20Belonging%20Barometer%20study%20uncovers,finding%201%3A%20Diversity%20and%20belonging%20are%20workplace%20expectations.

Houston, E. (2021). The Importance of Positive Relationships in the Workplace. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/positive-relationships-workplace/

Howatt, B. (2021). Social Connections and Profitability. Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved from: https://chamber.ca/social-connections-and-profitability/

Kohll, A. (2018). 5 Reasons Social Connections Can Enhance Your Employee Wellness Program. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alankohll/2018/01/31/5-ways-social-connections-can-enhance-your-employee-wellness-program/?sh=5e9df1d8527c

Longqi Yang, David Holtz, Sonia Jaffe. et al. (2021). The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. Nature Human Behaviour. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01196-4

Seppala, E. (2014). Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection. The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Retrieved from: http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/

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