The past seven months have seen the UK undergo a mass home-working experiment. During lockdown, some 20 million workers were estimated to be working from home (for comparison only about 1.7 million people classed themselves as home-workers pre-COVID).
We have been forcibly stripped of human contact, in our social and work lives. For many of us, it’s shown us just how important social connection is. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 24% of adults said they had felt lonely in the past two weeks, when asked at the height of lockdown. This compares to 10% before lockdown. The need for cohesion has never been higher, as many of us continue to work in relative isolation. The question is how to achieve it in a remote-first world.
Having platforms for cohesion is a critical component of the alignment that enables teams to create and experience ‘flow’ together. Flow is the optimum state of intrinsic motivation, in which people experience peak performance and greater wellbeing.
Why cohesion matters
In the ‘before times’, when a pandemic wasn’t even on many organisations’ risk registers, leaders might have tried to create platforms for cohesion via team ‘bonding’ events, like away days.
Recent challenges have proven that true connection doesn’t necessarily come via enforced fun or team-building activities. Instead, cohesion is about enabling people to work well together. It’s those systems and platforms that allow and encourage human conversations, which then help to build meaningful relationships and connection.
Even before the pandemic, loneliness in the workplace was an issue. A 2019 survey from CV Library found that more than half (54%) of Brits admitted to sometimes feeling lonely at work. Working from home risks exacerbating that if people feel they are unable to have good conversations or communicate openly. Or if people feel they are only able to talk about work and lose some of the social ‘glue’ they previously had with colleagues – or are never able to develop it in the first place if they start a new role remotely.
It’s a risk that needs to be on leaders’ radars. There is evidence that lacking positive relationships at work negatively impacts performance. A study from Sacramento State’s College of Business Administration found employees who feel isolated or lonely are less engaged and less committed to their organisations.
We also know that feeling a sense of cohesion is vital to team alignment and flow, as it helps build a sense of unity and collective effort and ambition. Cohesion and connection helps team members work together seamlessly, rather than as a disparate collection of individuals.
Making the most of platforms for cohesion
Recent challenges have shown many of us how technology can enable amazing work to happen under the most challenging of circumstances. Many leaders reflect that lockdown forced several years’ worth of digital transformation to happen in a number of days.
But it’s important to remember that technology is just a tool – it’s how we use it that counts. Do it right and people can feel more connected than ever. Get it wrong and you risk dehumanising work.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of platforms for cohesion:
1. Systems are great for making work happen, and storing and sharing information, but remember that they can and should be used for more than the transactional.
2. Don’t just broadcast; encourage conversation. The worst types of intranets are those where leaders post blogs, but no one else responds or interacts. Create opportunities for conversation, ask questions and encourage comments – make sure people feel psychologically safe enough to do so.
3. Leaders must role model. While you want to avoid simply broadcasting messages, leaders should take part in conversation and discussions on the platform to demonstrate the legitimacy of doing so.
4. Allow space for connection. Many of us are busier than ever, but leaders need to create space for teams to bond in a human way. This should be expected and valued within the working day, rather than being seen as ‘time wasting’.
5. With many suffering ‘Zoom fatigue’ or feeling overwhelmed by the number of messages they are receiving, remember that other forms of communication exist. Why not encourage teams to do 121s as a walking phone meeting? And when it’s safe to do so, there is value in coming together face-to-face – work cannot and should not be 100% virtual.
Download our information sheet on Flow: Getting in the Zone to gain a high level overview of what Flow is and to receive tips on how to get into flow.