Two years of remote working have taken their toll on work relationships and company culture, giving rise to ‘ghost colleagues’. These are employees who, because they don’t directly work with many others, end up being ‘forgotten’. They tend to feel isolated from others and from the overall direction of the company. Pre-pandemic, when most people were working at the office, these colleagues would bump into other employees at the water cooler, coffee room or for communal birthday cake, and casual relationships would ensue. Hybrid working has since fragmented working communities and this lack of connection is causing stress in many employees.
Why is it important?
For employees, casual conversations and relationships in the office promote a sense of connectedness to one another and to the organisation itself. A 2021 survey by job-search site Indeed found that 73% of people missed socialising in person and 46% missed work-related side conversations that take place in the office. Successful interactions with colleagues and feeling part of the organisation improves overall wellbeing. If absent, this can lead to anxiety and depression and a less-connected workforce. This could result in lost productivity, higher employee turnover, stifled innovation and a ‘two speed organisation’: a disjointed workforce which fails to collaborate.
What can businesses do about it?
In remote or hybrid structures, relationship-building moments must now be planned and prioritised. Leadership teams should have a deliberate strategy in place to restore post-pandemic work communities and to establish a hybrid team culture. They can organise regular ‘team building’ type gatherings or meetings so that employees, especially those working remotely, can have face-to-face time with colleagues. They could also find ways to translate in-person culture to the virtual realm – creating a newsletter to share information with remote workers who feel they are left out of conversations that happen at the office is one way to do this. It’s important to resist favouring those who are visible. Instead, the focus should be on the business results each team member creates.
By Faeeza Khan
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