When COVID-19 began spreading in the United States in late winter, employers and employees alike watched closely, wondering whether the virus would require their office to shift to remote work for a week or 2. Managers and their staff members considered how much of a hassle it would be to work on projects from home. Many even looked forward to the more relaxing change of pace working from home could potentially offer.
Fast-forward several months, and millions of Americans are still working from home. There are numerous challenges and benefits to remote work. But when companies look at hard numbers around changes in productivity or reduced overhead from office expenses, it’s easy to overlook some of the more subtle impacts of remote work—for instance, the impact on staff of the relative increase in isolation for those who have suddenly shifted from seeing coworkers on a daily basis to not seeing them at all.
In this post, we discuss the value of socially distanced, in-person meetings or social gatherings for work teams to help reduce feelings of isolation.
Long-term isolation can have significant emotional and mental impacts on employees. It’s not necessarily the case that they are completely alone, but regular human interaction being suddenly and unexpectedly removed is a big change that most staff were almost completely unprepared for. And it’s not clear when the situation will change back to anything resembling normal. One or more in-person get-togethers can help break up that feeling of isolation, especially if these are recurring events staff can expect and look forward to.
Don’t get us wrong: Videoconferencing is a wonderful tool that has really found value in the current business climate. But it just isn’t a perfect one-to-one replacement for in-person contact. Still, it’s important to exercise caution.
Remember, We Are Still in a Pandemic
As a final note, it’s important not to push too hard for in-person meetings. While we feel strongly about their benefits, not all staff are going to be comfortable with them. Managers should definitely take health, safety, and employee comfort into account when considering if, how, and when to hold in-person meetings and whether they should be mandatory or optional.
While many employees would readily profess their appreciation for working remotely, it’s easy to overlook the impact the relative isolation of remote work can have on staff.
With no immediate end in sight to the pandemic, one way to address this isolation is through periodic or even one-off, socially distanced, in-person meetings to provide staff with some much-needed face time.