If there is one aspect of homeworking we do not talk about a lot, it is the impact it has on people’s sense of friendship in the world of work. There are tonnes of articles out there that discuss working from home, the need for people to adapt to this new way of working and the importance of introducing greater flexibility in the way we spend our (working) time. But what about the social aspect? The difficulty of maintaining people’s sense of involvement, engagement and team cohesion in working whilst being physically separated?
This article looks at homeworking from a different angle: from the perspective of human relations and human contacts.
The working environment as a place of friendship and social relations
Far removed from notions that work is an impersonal place, where no real friendships can be forged, a study conducted in France in 2019 showed that 87.2% of employees consider their colleagues to be friends. Which means the office takes on a whole new meaning: it is a place where people meet, where they exchange views and build and maintain social contacts.
But what about homeworking? The new normal of working from home prevents us from catching up with each other over a coffee or to sit down together to enjoy lunch while discussing the progress status of ongoing projects. Or even simply from running into colleagues down the corridor.
Isolation, the real frustration in working from home?
A respondent in the French study, Amélie Mauroux points out that the biggest problem with working from home is not so much the working conditions as such but much rather the feeling of isolation it causes among a large number of employees.
Maintaining good relations with colleagues is vital in order to reduce the psychosocial risks of the world of work (burn-out, mental exhaustion, etc.). So, what can we do when homeworking is sometimes seen to badly aggravate friendly relations between people?
Second wave experienced as a severe blow
Although it is true to say that, generally speaking, the return to working from home was fairly positive during the first wave, we are now seeing a change in mood. The second wave has altered people’s attitudes. Being forced to take up homeworking again for a lot of employees came with mental exhaustion, which went hand in hand with a certain sense of isolation.
Having to re-adapt, to get into a new pace, to juggle between video conferences, etc., is a major challenge. Many of us are experiencing this situation as much more detrimental than during the first wave. For now, it is no longer the actual homeworking that is a source of anxiety (we are familiar with the routine of it all, it is just a case of getting used to things again). It is much rather the anxiety-inducing climate that prevails in society at large and the impact this is having on our morale.
This is all the more true as the second wave is unfolding at a colder, less sunny time of year and because autumn and winter already have an important effect on people’s morale in general, quite apart from any feelings of confinement.
A new vision of friendship at work
This mental fatigue, the sense of isolation caused by the need to work from home and our diminished social contacts as a result thereof have combined to spark a new vision of friendship among colleagues. Even people who previously showed little interest in developing friendly relations with their fellow workers, gradually started to realise the importance of keeping up good relations with colleagues.
The Protime survey
Which makes sense, given the amount of time we spend at work: some 40 hours a week! This being the case, we spend a fair amount of our time with and among our colleagues on a daily basis. With the arrival of the need to work from home, a large portion of our social contacts has vaporised. A survey we conducted a few weeks ago among one thousand French-speaking Belgian employees yielded results similar to those encountered in the French survey. No fewer than 72% of the employees queried consider their colleagues to be friends, with 22% of them even going so far as to qualify their fellow workers as good friends.
The importance of maintaining people’s sense of involvement
Those are clear figures that demonstrate the importance of implementing various solutions to maintain friendship and team cohesion within companies. Lunch or online breaks to discuss all kinds of things, WhatsApp team groups, frequent meetings to follow up on targets and objectives and to make sure everybody is doing well. There are many ways for people to stay in touch. Certainly, video calls have come to be the new standard nowadays. Yet, no amount of video conferencing is ever going to replace face-to-face talks. For now, however, video conferencing is the most efficient way we have to stay in contact and to continue to reach out to and maintain the connection with our teams. Which is why it is important that video conferencing as a tool is used the right way.
Cohesion between the various teams as the key to involvement and productivity
Alongside the relational aspect, friendship and team cohesion are formidable wellsprings of involvement and engagement, and consequently of productivity. Given the rising importance of flexibility, productivity is no longer a question of hours, but of diligence and commitment. Spending your day working from 08:00 hours to 17:00 hours does not make you productive. You are productive because you love what you do and it is important to you that you do it well, for yourself and for your company. To achieve this, relations within teams are an important factor.
Camaraderie, Protime’s core value
What is the situation like at Protime? Well, to start off with, it is important that we get back to camaraderie, one of our company’s 4 key values. We have been a Great Place To Work for the past 8 consecutive years. In its own way, this time of crisis has been a good opportunity for us to question and reappraise ourselves and it has enabled us to evolve. Now more than ever.
We do not rest on the laurels of past performance. We are constantly taking on new challenges to make sure this value, which we consider to be crucial, becomes an integral part of our DNA. The challenge we faced in 2020 was considerable. It prompted us to re-examine our vision of our corporate culture to make sure it befits the distance that is imposed on us on a day-to-day basis.