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The COVID19 pandemic is disrupting our work routines and rituals, and these are valuable behaviors that create connection and shared meaning which we unfortunately, took for granted. The fear of not being able to go back to normalcy and the loss of routine can result in disconnection from society and further amplify distance into isolation, as most of us are being ordered to stay home to keep ourselves safe.
It truly has been a while when we could stop by at our colleagues’ workstations, bumping into them in the office hallway, talking about what we have been up to during the weekends, or following up with a colleague about the project that the we have been working on. We may have undervalued the significance of such interactions with our colleagues until we have found ourselves working from home for too long. Humans are born as social creatures; we need connection with a human being to fill the emotional void in us.
These precious interactions are also known as social capital where shared values are evident in individuals, allowing us to work together as a group to achieve a common purpose. Social capital in a person generally stems from kindness and empathy, where one would go above and beyond to support others with mentoring, guidance, and knowledge. These forms of generosity allowed us to build a base of goodwill and familiarity through these informal social interactions.
However, the sudden shift to an indefinite remote work environment has changed the nature of social capital in many industries and it might not necessarily be for the better. Though virtual meetings have increased tremendously to create a sense of connection, it also led to a steep increase in isolation and disconnection.
Since the pandemic has repositioned our ways of working, what could be the fate of employer-employee relationships?
Miscommunication occurs frequently when the intended message is not successfully relayed across the team. Remote teams that rely on chats and emails are more susceptible to miscommunications, as communication is not being exercised appropriately. One thing to take note of is that effective communication relies heavily on non-verbal cues, and most of them cannot be translated correctly and succinctly into words.
One way to solve this is to take full advantage of technology and make use of the various modes of communication that are widely available – instant messaging applications, emails, chats, video meetings, and voice calls. Since a simple punctuation mark can be miscommunicated, it is vital to identify the right channels to use for different purposes.
For instance, teams can utilize video calls when it comes to brainstorming activities when interpersonal interactions are being prioritized, whereas disseminating lengthy instructions can be done via emails. When an employer provides clear guidelines on which communication tools are being used for each specific purpose, employees are able to keep their communications compartmentalized.
Remote working requires both employer and employee to be more digitalized, both parties need to come to an understanding that there would be fewer physical interactions in place, and when it becomes a norm in the workplace, both employers and employees may find it hard to transition to a fully virtual state in such an abrupt timing.
As trust requires time to build, employers may have a sense of distrust among their employees. Though digital tools allow employers to keep a close tab on their employees, micromanaging them and watching their every move at work continuously will unlikely boost productivity, efficiency or motivation. Employees would feel stressed out as they could not perform their work at ease.
What a manager can do is to delegate tasks accordingly, give employees a timeline and practice effective communication which would lead to better employer-employee relationship.
Employers should cultivate more empathy and trust towards their employees by being transparent and readily available to them. This means having the ability to respond to employees’ needs and concerns within a respectable time frame. Employers can also take the initiative to start off an informal conversation with their employees before a meeting as this will allow them to feel more connected, thus creating an inclusive work environment.
Remote working also leads to a lack of collaboration. This happens when employers do not actively engage in conversations and they avoid sharing their ideas with their employees, or dismissing employees’ opinions and voices. This may cause their employees to hold their tongue and not give necessary feedback that is vital to the company’s operations, as employees may feel undervalued for not being included in the decision-making process.
The strategy to tackle this issue is fairly simple and straightforward, employers first have to instill self-awareness in them to realize that they are not empowering their employees to “speak up”. Employers can start to initiate interaction by having team meetings, where everyone shares their interests outside of work, and from there, employers can start to discuss what is on their minds regarding work, then giving their employees a platform to speak on work issues, including them in decision-making processes and this will create a more conducive environment at work.
Employees often require the need to feel “seen” and “heard” to remain productive, hence it is crucial that employees know that their employers are paying attention to them. A strong organization with a clarity of purpose equipped with a well-defined culture will invariably cause a dedication of both employers and employees to strengthen ties and building good rapport in times of crisis.
For a prolonged period of time, we think of connection as a personal interaction, preferably with close proximity. However, we had it wrong big time. Connection is something everyone experiences differently. Connection occurs when one is being seen, heard, thought about, appreciated, and most importantly, acknowledged. For instance, when we produce great results on a project and having our work properly recognized and appreciated, we would have a sense of gratitude towards our managers and the company we are working for.