Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing about COVID-19, the pandemic, social distancing, or quarantines.
I know you can’t see it, but our hands are waving high in the air. And, if popular memes and viral videos are any indications, so are most Americans’.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the pandemic will not be going away any time soon. We’ve all had to adapt to a new normal, and this includes how we socialize. The workplace is no exception. There are so many benefits to social interaction at work that we must consider how the pandemic will affect these areas.
First, what are these areas? Why is social interaction at work so beneficial, and how does it impact the bottom line?
Employees who have quality relationships built within an organization are more likely to be attached to the organization. Those employees are less likely to leave, contributing to lower turnover.
In collaborative settings, social interaction leads to knowledge sharing and productivity spillover. In this article, 9 Ways to Improve Knowledge Sharing in the Workplace, experts suggest that social interactions like after-hours events or non-work functions naturally foster knowledge share among colleagues.
Social interactions play an essential role in employee engagement. According to this Gallup study (2015), organizations with higher employee engagement levels also boast lower business costs, improved performance, lower turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents.
Mental health & wellbeing
Humans naturally crave connections with other people. In fact, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs includes belongingness as a significant psychological need associated with human behavior. With a majority of an adult’s day spent working, you can imagine that positive relationships and a sense of belonging have a significant impact on an employee’s wellbeing.
We’ve determined relationships and the social dynamic in the workplace is important. So, what are some creative ways you can foster those relationships among employees with the pandemic’s limitations on our get-togethers?
Here are 6 ideas to consider:
Form cross-departmental teams whenever possible.
In fact, why not start with creating one with the mission of developing social or team-building type activities for the whole company? However, it doesn’t have to be for social or extracurricular activity purposes. Which of your organizational projects could benefit from cross-departmental collaboration? Working with a different set of employees helps form new relationships. It gives colleagues experience working alongside different personalities with a different set of talents and experiences to share.
Include a short social time at the beginning of meetings.
If it is a meeting of individuals who regularly get together, plan the discussion topic. For example, ask each attendee to name the song that describes how their week is currently going. Alternatively, you could ask attendees to share a funny story that happened to them with the meeting moderator. At the beginning of each meeting, the moderator can share one story while attendees guess whose story. These activities can give employees a brief, much-needed break from thinking about work activities while simultaneously giving them a platform to get to know each other better on a personal level.
Use video platforms whenever possible.
It’s much easier to replicate a face-to-face meeting when using video technology than the telephone. Seeing people’s faces adds a critical element to relationship building.
Encourage group instant messaging.
It could facilitate a quicker conversation than a series of emails and feels more like chatting over a cubicle wall.
Host social events.
There are many creative ideas and incredible technology platforms to assist with hosting virtual events. You could organize a happy hour using Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Maybe your employees prefer to play games. Check out group game platforms such as Jackbox.tv or Trickster cards. Perhaps your company culture is more aligned with hosting a book club meeting. Have a plan to get things started but commit to letting the event go where it takes you. For example, you may start a book club meeting discussing a novel hot off the press and find the discussion going in a completely different direction. The idea is that employees attend and discuss non-work-related topics, thereby getting to know each other personally.
Talk about the pandemic.
We know we just said we were tired of hearing about it. However, the reality is that it is affecting your employees in every area of their lives. Some may have kids remote learning. Ask how that’s going. Others may be struggling with the isolation and lack of social events and activities. Share ideas on how to connect. The pandemic has made it more difficult to shop, travel, take care of loved ones, celebrate holidays and special occasions, and has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. And while everyone is dealing with the same pandemic, we’re all dealing with it in unique ways. We are all mentally impacted differently. Allow your employees the platform to talk about what’s going on in their lives. It shows you care and allows them to vent and discuss potential solutions.
It’s critical that you recognize the importance of social interaction in the workplace. And, in a virtual work environment, organize ways for them to happen in a way that aligns with your company culture and values.