By Roland MayerIn Leadership01.02.2021

Mobile working has many advantages, both for employees and employers. Work can be better scheduled and there are fewer interruptions, which means more time can be saved. 

Did the home office conditions due to the Covid19 lockdown change anything? How well do teams really collaborate remotely? What roadblocks do we experience in collaboration? What new requirements affect me as a manager? What criteria need to be considered to find a balance between individual autonomy and organizational commitment? 

In addition to known effects of home office such as the degree of job satisfaction, health well-being, better work-life balance, and societal effects such as the reduction of CO2 emissions by curbing commuting, one issue was insufficiently presented: social isolation of employees at the home office.

Social isolation at the home office 

Loneliness is one of the most common complaints when working from home, as employees miss the informal social interaction of an office environment. Most dangerously, isolation can lead to a decrease in the sense of belonging to the company and even contribute to the desire to leave the enterprise. Isolation leads to an increase in stress levels and a decrease in job satisfaction as more time is spent at the home office. Long working hours without social interaction can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.

How can managers support their employees socially at the home office? 

Social interactions in work settings have a positive effect on stress perception and well-being. There are indications that the quality of relationships between colleagues and thus, also the working atmosphere can be negatively influenced by the increasing proportion of working hours at the home office. However, currently available technical features make it possible to maintain work-related and social contacts at a distance. 

7 measures to help avoid social isolation

  1. Stimulating regular electronically supported communication, e.g. through virtual team meetings or team-building measures such as a “virtual coffee break”.
  2. Fostering existing collegial networks and encouraging interaction to maintain a steady flow of information among home office workers, to continue knowledge sharing, to foster work relationships, to keep team spirit up, and to preserve networking and mutual trust.
  3. Giving priority to the use of synchronous, verbal communication channels (e.g. video conferencing, telephone as opposed to email) to convey empathy, build rapport and improve connectedness.
  4. Encouraging collegial support (e.g. by assigning tasks to be worked on together, encouraging team members to support and help each other, scheduling working hours for coworkers to help each other).
  5. Communication – better too much than too little: Appreciative, open communication between managers based on trust helps to prevent misunderstandings and maintain a good climate at a distance. 
  6. Create offers to take advantage of (external) assistance: in-company social counseling, or psychological and social counseling on work-related issues such as social isolation, short-time work, job insecurity, work-family conflict, etc.
  7. Transmitting an honest interest in employees’ well-being by taking time as a manager and really listening.

What other advice can you think of which leaders can implement to help their employees avoid feelings of social isolation?