5 ways to bring the social side of work to life online

If you suddenly had to switch to working from your home office – or dining table – this year, you’re among a huge cohort of the workforce that’s trying to stay connected and get things done remotely.

While most of us in this situation have our ‘work from home’ technology sorted and know how to structure our day, we’re in a new world of work where we could be moving between the physical and virtual worlds for some time yet. And with that shift comes the need to ensure we build and maintain healthy working relationships.

What we miss when we’re not face-to-face

“Relationships are one of the key pillars of life,” says SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read. “If we don’t pay attention to relationships, we are missing a fundamental building block of wellbeing.”

Through sharing a workspace, we cultivate relationships in various ways. “Pre-coronavirus, you’d shake hands with people, you might carry something for a colleague or you might grab a bite to eat together,” Read says. “Those are often small, incidental and informal actions, but they help build relationships.”

Now that many of us are working remotely, it can be more challenging to maintain those relationships. “If you’re talking via a video conferencing platform, you can miss subtle tone cues, people are often looking at themselves or the camera, and we aren’t able to read all their body language,” Read says. “These have the potential to create hurdles in the relationship-building process.”

The top 5 ways to strengthen virtual relationships

With these points of contact disappearing, Read says we need to interact outside of the structured, work-focused exchanges we share with our boss, colleagues and team. “Even though people complain about small talk, it really does help us to get to know each other,” she says. “It builds trust, likeability and relatability.”

Here are five simple tips Read suggests for strengthening relationships when you’re working remotely:

1.Develop a ‘new normal’ quiz
“When we work closely with someone, we usually know their preferred way of working,” Read says. “It’s worth setting up an informal quiz or questionnaire to understand how people like to work virtually. Do they prefer the phone, video conferencing, text or email? You can set it up quickly and then everyone can see how everyone else likes to work.”

2.Ask questions
To get an insight into what your workmates think about working remotely, Read suggests starting a conversation about their experiences. “Ask your colleagues or your boss, ‘What are you finding most challenging at this time?’,” she says. “And be prepared to let people know where you’re at too. This is not group therapy, but these kinds of conversations tend to get lost when we’re working remotely.”

3.Take a simple personality test
Working virtually means we have to be more purposeful about opportunities that would usually be spontaneous. Taking a short, free personality test can help spark interesting conversations amongst colleagues. “You can use simple tests as a catalyst for conversation,” Read says. “It’s a way to find a common language and talk about the joys and challenges of working virtually with colleagues.”

4.Set up a space for personal sharing
“I know some organisations that have set up a separate channel for people to share things about their life outside work,” Read says. “It might be a picture of you with your dog or a new recipe you’ve tried. Obviously, you don’t want to over-share, but this is another way to help you feel connected to your colleagues.

5.Think of it like exercise
We know how important incidental exercise is for our wellbeing, and Read says incidental connection is the same. “For physical wellbeing we can take the stairs or get off the train a stop early,” she says. “We need to think about virtual relationships in the same way. Incidental conversations help create a strong sense of wellbeing and connection. And that’s vital to feeling satisfied at work.”

Building and maintaining relationships while working remotely can be a challenge. But by opening up options for social connection and prioritising incidental opportunities for conversation, you’ll strengthen your relationships – and that’s likely to help you feel more fulfilled in this new world of work.