Diminishing Connectedness: Strategies to Rekindle Remote Workers’ Sense of Belonging

Published by Leenette Joseph

September 23rd, 2023

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned the advantages of workplace flexibility and the benefits of having remote workers. Employees began to embrace this new work model and found the work-life balance they desired for years. This new working approach reduced overhead costs, eliminated long commutes, and increased the organization’s talent pool, among other benefits. When the effects of the pandemic started fading away, companies realized this new employment model was here to stay. Many of them opted to make remote work the new norm. Leaders like Davis Smith, CEO of an outdoor gear and apparel company in Utah, who opposed remote work prior to the pandemic, quickly supported this approach. He realized his team was not only happier but also functioning more effectively. Other companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Ancentry.com implemented fully remote work policies allowing employees to work remotely from any location.

While I agree with the incredible benefits of remote work, it seems that employees’ “sense of belonging” is quickly dissipating. This could be very dangerous for the organization because belonging is the most important metric consistently and universally tied to the employee’s commitment, motivation, and pride. I was curious about employees’ perceptions on this topic, so I contacted twelve remote workers to examine their perspectives on their remote working experience, and the responses were comparable. While most of them enjoy the gains and freedoms of working remotely, they have felt disconnected from their organizations. Some expressed being impacted by the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome, and communication with teammates and organizational leaders had rapidly declined. A few identified they have contemplated leaving their organization due to this lack of belonging. This does not mean that remote or hybrid work is ineffective; on the contrary, it has revolutionized how we think about work flexibility, employees' well-being, and productivity. However, leaders, managers, and supervisors must engage more intentionally with their remote teams.

Staying connected with your team helps maintain productivity and a sense of belonging while strengthening relationships. The following are some strategies in which organizations can sustain a sense of belonging with their remote workers:

1. Consistent Communication

Schedule team virtual meetings and one-on-one video calls. Video conferencing and consistent communication patterns help strengthen the relationship between managers and employees. It facilitates an open dialogue about performance, challenges, deliverables, and process improvement. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss performance standards and share meaningful feedback.

2. Team Building Events

Virtual team-building activities, social events, and online games with your team go a long way. Various resources via YouTube videos and websites provide creative ideas on staying engaged with your remote workers, conducting virtual teambuilding events, and building social cohesion.

3. Professional Development

Pay attention to professional growth and development. Be deliberate about creating and developing training opportunities, rotate training assignments, invite a virtual guest speaker, or attend an online training course as a team. When you demonstrate commitment to your employee's training and skill development, you communicate that you are invested in their careers. This enhances their trust in leadership and connection to the organization.

4. Resources and Support

Working from home can be challenging for some of your employees. A “one size fits all” approach can be a dangerous strategy. Find out what those challenges are, and the type of support employees need from the organization. Support and resources can come in the form of coaching, office equipment, supplies, software that facilitates productivity, and project management platforms.

5. Inclusion

Be inclusive in your work practices, communication, and policies. Inclusion must be present in the entire work cycle, from onboarding to decision-making processes. Inclusion enables employees to reach their full potential and produces a sense of acceptance.

It is important to acknowledge that while remote work offers many benefits, it also comes with its challenges, one of them being the potential feelings of isolation and lack of connection. Leaders and managers must implement strategies to maximize the advantages of remote work while addressing its potential drawbacks. We have the opportunity to maximize the power of the remote work model without compromising employees' commitment and motivation, but most importantly, without corroding their organizational sense of belonging.

While working remotely offers substantial flexibility, it introduces new challenges. Remote employees often yearn for human interaction and a feeling of inclusion, which can impact their overall work experience. This article offers insights into enhancing employee engagement and fostering a stronger sense of belonging.

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