Cultivating workplace relations that matter

Last Updated : 13 October 2020, 02:32 IST
Last Updated : 13 October 2020, 02:32 IST

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The terms “work” and “job” typically allude to a source of income, a career path, or even our identity. As the pandemic forced companies to shift to remote working, most of them focused on the nitty-gritties of equipping their employees to remain efficient from home.

From Wi-fi connectivity, video conferencing to employee engagement, companies tried to ensure that the transition to remote work was smooth and seamless. In many instances, companies find that people are as effectual in homes as boardrooms. In fact, some have reported an increase in productivity — the main benchmark of corporate performance —from living rooms as opposed to office cubicles.

One fallout of the pandemic that has probably not received as much attention as it merits is the disruption of workplace relationships, which were a succour for many employees before Covid-19 confined them to their homes. In an article in The Harvard Gazette, Alvin Powell cites a recent study conducted by the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health that surveyed workplace well-being across a spectrum of industries.

Besides job insecurity, decreased incomes, greater workloads and screen-fatigue, 60% reported that social relations were compromised, while 45% felt lonelier. For many, the camaraderie and support of officemates was abruptly curtailed, which then exacerbates other stressors evoked by the pandemic.

In a blog post on PositivePscyhology.com, Elaine Houston spells out the benefits of positive social ties at work. Besides boosting immunity of workers in and out of the workplace, conducive relationships also lead to greater employee engagement, which then engenders a ripple effect of enhanced productivity, reduced business costs and increased attendance.

The transfer of knowledge and skills within the company is also more seamless when workers get along. Cohesive groups of colleagues also promote innovative thinking and trust between members. Positive relationships energise people at all levels of the corporate ladder, while suboptimal ties can be draining, leading to individual and collective depletion. Additionally, when people are under duress, as they are now, prosocial connections at work can mitigate stress by providing an empathetic ear and reducing a sense of alienation.

Chris Dornfeld argues in a blog on bonfyreapp.com that work relationships depend primarily on two factors — interaction and relatedness. Interaction refers to the frequency of communications and connections whereas relatedness entails finding commonalities between people.

Thus, it’s not possible to unearth relatedness without informal interactions where people reveal their passions, pursuits, preferences and preoccupations.

While casual interactions happen more naturally and spontaneously with face-to-face office interactions, companies need to make a concerted effort to ensure that people continue to connect with each other online, not just professionally but also to establish ties that bind.

Informal interactions

As remote work is likely to persist in some form even after the pandemic abates, companies may try to foster workplace kinship by providing opportunities for informal interactions online.

Though colleagues may be Zoom-fatigued, it might be worthwhile to invest in about thirty to forty-five minutes of downtime interactions every week, where workers get a chance to mimic lunchroom chats and casual corridor exchanges.

As online communication is a bit stilted, companies may encourage workers to communicate with each other on multiple platforms including messaging, calls and video.

When possible, in-person meetings of small groups of people can be arranged. To nurture relatedness, companies may also create focus groups based on people’s interests and concerns.

So, a music group may choose to connect remotely, twice a week, to belt out numbers together, a parents-of-toddlers group may exchange tips for calming colicky infants and managing mercurial meltdowns, while the cooking enthusiasts may share recipes and post delectable images of their food for everyone to drool over.

Dornfeld advocates making relationships a focal concern of workplace culture, as companies vie for top-notch talent. When professional relationships morph into more meaningful bonds, where people who work together really care for each other, both the individual and the company reap the rewards of such rich and robust partnerships.

Published 12 October 2020, 07:40 IST

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