When COVID-19 hit us, companies considered a permanent shift to hybrid model – combining office work and flexible work from home arrangements (WFH).
Human beings are social animals, and we seek to connect emotionally. When isolated for extended periods of time, we miss connecting with colleagues and start to feel lonely.
But is loneliness the only consequence of hybrid working model?
Research has established a relationship between healthy relationships at work, productivity, performance and resilience.
Employees at the office and remote workers both have access to job resources that can help them learn and grow. According to the Job Demands-Resources Model (JD-R), when job resources are high (including personal development opportunities, constructive feedback, social support, and mentorship), employees are better equipped to deal with job demands. Staff of a company, whether in an office or at home, also need access to personal resources (including resilience, optimism, and self-efficacy).
Two Organizational psychologists (Arnold B. Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti) summarize the concept in a positive feedback spiral – where access to these resources promote engagement and build up profitability, creativity, and productivity over time.
Imagine a fresh graduate joining your sales team. Because he shows resilience in his personality, he’s able to cope with rejections. He dedicates himself and engages with his clients. When he sees success, he’s more motivated. He stays optimistic about future deals and actively seeks out feedback from older co-workers and mentors. If he stays successful, he’ll probably stay at the organization for longer.
If this graduate stays in the office, he’s more likely to bump into co-workers for this feedback and get empowered and inspired. Engagement grows, loyalty expands and turnover drops. A creative conversation at the coffee machine suddenly turns into the next big idea for the company.
All this happens spontaneously in office spaces. Organizations have yet to recreate informal channels of communication that spark conversations in the world of remote work.
A greater sense of belonging to your team boosts retention and reduces turnover for an organization as well.
Depending on the nature of the job, one person’s commitment goes a long way in the output of the team and affects their sense of belonging.
Organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant discusses the topic on his podcast “WorkLife”.
"In my world of organizational psychology, there are three kinds of interdependence, and they map perfectly onto individual sport, relay sport, and team sport," Grant says.
“If your workplace is full of people playing an individual sport like gymnastics, you can be remote first. Think call center reps and accountants, for example. Let everyone divide and conquer their own beam, vault, and floor routines whenever they want, and the whole will be roughly the sum of the parts.
If your projects are more like a relay race, though, you need more time together. Like on an assembly line at a carpentry shop, or in a media company where drafts are handed off from a writer to an editor to a designer. The person passing the baton needs to be in sync with the person receiving it. Where you need the most time together is when you’re playing a true team sport, like soccer. Think of a research & design lab or a consulting team. When excellence depends on repeatedly passing the ball back and forth, you really want to spend several days a week together,” he says.
We are the product of the five people we spend the most time with. Spending time with less people doesn’t mean your social wellbeing takes a turn for the worse. For example, when surrounded by an environment of negative colleagues that you don’t need to work closely with, remote work could actually be a move in the right direction.
As the Metaverse recreates virtual workspaces that systematically promote both verbal and non-verbal communication and exchange, it’ll be a long time before office work completely get swiped out.
Loneliness and social isolation are linked to a host of physical and mental health problems including heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and suicide. Lonely workers feel less engaged. According to a European study, 71.2% of participants reported feeling less productive while working from home away from their colleagues. Feeling lonely exacerbates the risk of burnout.
Loneliness is an inevitable outcome of the long-term shift to hybrid work, but there are interventions on an individual and organizational level. From team building activities, the right leadership style, all the way to simple mindfulness and positive rituals that promote emotional wellbeing. Human Resources managers that invest in Positive Relationships Training are creating a pathway for the company to sustain growth.
One of the key insights that Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, mentioned during a podcast was that "to create a first-class experience across space and time, we need to come together in-person to regain the social capital that was lost while we were working remotely. And we also need to learn to connect and collaborate in hybrid and remote scenarios."
Since 2020, a shift to remote-hybrid work has started to challenge long-standing norms at traditional workspaces.
What happens to office politics when there’s no office?
What’s the right balance of days spent at the office VS at home that doesn’t sacrifice engagement but still promotes deep work?
One of the positive outcomes of remote work is the fact that less face-to-face interactions has resulted in less workplace discrimination.
It’s a lengthy debate and there’s no single answer. But there is one thing for sure.
Human Resources and People Management teams to need to stay on top of hybrid operations and invest in sustainable Positive Relationships through workshops and training.