Safe Work Australia has identified remote and isolated work as a key psycho-social risk in Australian workplaces. For those who are new to working remotely, and especially those who do not have a choice, staying connected to the workplace is more than just receiving and completing work tasks.
Being used to working in an office environment with the occasional stint from home, the past week has really brought home to me, how much extra effort is required to stay connected to the workplace when we are not all physically together. This effort is worth it, to maintain a sense of organisational culture and sense of collegiality – we are not in this alone.
Rapid Context has always been a fully-flexible workforce, with staff working from the Canberra office, their own homes, and coworking spaces. Current conditions mean however that this is the first time that our entire workforce has intentionally worked with ‘social distance’. While our staff have extensive expertise in flexible work and can provide tips on implementing a remote workforce, or protecting your productivity, we have taken some time to reflect more consciously on our own practice to ensure we mitigate potential risks of social isolation.
In what is now commonly known as ‘unprecedented’ times, anxiety levels are likely higher than normal, and so actions that reduce the stress of isolation are key. We have to think and respond practically to the need to ensure staff stay connected – not only to get work done, but to also meet social and emotional needs that are presently unable to be met elsewhere.
At Rapid Context, we are doing three things:
We are now using a social communication tool as a good way to keep the peripheral office chats from clogging up the email (e.g. Slack, Jabber, and Instant Messaging). We can share the pictures of our experiences, our co-worker pets, the random thoughts we have, and overall interact more informally through this channel.
As part of our regular BAU, we already host a Zoom-based morning tea. This helps maintain a sense collegiality and social connection, even though we are now eating our own snacks. At morning tea, we discuss non-work things like the latest information on COVID-19, the cauliflower that resists attempts to be cooked, and deferred holiday plans. The opportunity to connect and have a sense of ‘normalcy’ by doing ‘normal’ work activities is invaluable.
We have also implemented an ‘open door’/‘open Zoom’ daily check-in and office hours where people can just pop in for a quick hello, or catch-up on projects and daily life. There’s no pressure to send an email or pick up the phone to organise a time to talk, the meeting window is just open for people to click into as they see fit.
Undoubtedly, remote working is going to become more common as organisations respond to the requirement to keep people physically apart. But physical distance doesn’t have to mean social distance.
What ideas are your workplaces implementing to assist with social connection?
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Emma Wensing is the Managing Director of Research and Operations at Rapid Context. Her expertise is in Women in sport, gender and the military, media analysis, research program development and delivery within the Department of Defence, qualitative methods, quantitative analysis.