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Relationships matter. As humans hardwired to connect, we flourish in the company of others. Which is why the impact of lockdown is far greater than the inconvenience of not being able to go about your daily life, it’s the amount of social restriction that is the issue.

When living alone or working from home in less than ideal circumstances, the challenge becomes how do you maintain that sense of connection with those who mean the most to you and your work colleagues new and old?

With work interviews often being held online in front of zoom panels, it’s harder to get a sense of the person on the other side of the screen. And if you’re fortunate enough to score the job, how can you successfully integrate into your new team when you haven’t physically met your manager or the other team members and vice versa.

As we edge towards 2021, this is a great time to imagine what our working life might be like for the next 12 months and beyond, and how to stay connected.

And if the request from head office has already arrived, requesting everyone to return to the office, are you happy, indifferent or unsure? Working from home has been a boon and a blessing for some, a nightmare for others. While in some instances the undercurrent of “is it really safe to leave our home bunkers?” can temper the desire to be back to face-to face-contact and it somehow ‘feels” different.

The flipside being that burnout from working from home a new reality meaning it’s even more important than ever for leaders, business owners and managers to know how to make virtual workplace relationships work well.

The challenges to address include:

  1. Providing adequate supervision so the employee is not left floundering, wondering if what they’re doing is expected. Doing this without coming across as a micromanager or intrusive busybody is tricky to get right.
  2. Accessing the resources required without having to jump through a whole series of hoops to obtain what would have previously been available in moments. The catch cry of blaming all delays on Covid-19 doesn’t ring true. In many instances the reality is that processes have been disrupted, individuals can’t be contacted as quickly, and everything gets snarled up like a giant traffic jam leading to increased tensions, frustration and excuses.
  3. Feeling disconnected. You may have previously enjoyed fabulous working-relationships when working in the office, but it feels different now. The risk being you become disengaged from your work, losing your motivation and momentum to deliver your best. Without the social banter and interactions work can be less interesting or fun. You start to question whether longer this company is going to be the right fit for you in the future, and you’ve already started putting out feelers for alternative employment.
  4. Exhaustion. Working from home can increase productivity and efficiency but can also lead to overwork. Because what else are you going to do to fill in the time if you don’t want to watch yet another series on Netflix? A lack of boundaries around working time and downtime, not taking sufficient breaks or proper lunch break or engaging in better self-care leads to a loss of physical and mental wellbeing.
  5. Disrupted work routines where your working hours have to fit around the family, not the workplace. This might entail having to work very early in the morning or late in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. This is an additional strain on how to deliver your best work and also adds to the difficulty of being available to jump online for yet another meeting during “normal” work hours.

What can help:

  1. Treat everybody as a grownup showing trust and respect. Even a whiff of mistrust or lack of fairness can cause significant damage to the existing relationship and a shorter tenure by the employee. Be flexible and adaptive to changes in circumstance for individuals.
  2. Schedule a daily structured call to create a ritual of checking in. This doesn’t need to be formal, just a conversation where everyone can jump on and ask questions, talk through challenges or just have a chat in a safe and supportive environment.
  3. Zoom fatigue is real. Providing options of connection format whether SMS, WhatsApp or teleconferencing using audio-only can lessen the burden of back-to-back zoom calls.
  4. Let others know when and how you will be available during the day and then ensure you are.
  5. Ask more questions. Rather than only focusing on work issues try asking about the experience of working home to discover how things are working out, especially if it’s obvious you’re keen to help make the process work more smoothly. This can provide the confidence for everyone to share their reality rather than what they think the boss wants to hear.
  6. Encourage self-care and be a fabulous role model. Place a high value on physical and mental wellbeing and show you truly care.

As 2020 draws to a close, this is the opportunity to reflect on what you’ve learnt about yourself, your goals and desires for the future. Getting prepared for 2021, focusing on how to nurture your all-important relationships, will help you stay more confident, hopeful and optimistic for your future and will allow you to handle whatever curveball comes your way.

What will you be doing differently to stay better connected with others?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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