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Overcoming the loneliness of the long-distance worker with a good UC strategy

< 12 November 2019 >

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Not long ago, home working for employees was broadly regarded as a concession or perk, a privilege to be granted to those who could be trusted with a certain degree of autonomy, or had complex commitments to address. Nowadays though with increasing pressures on real estate costs, worsening problems of commuting, technological advances combined with better connectivity – not to mention legislative enshrinement normalising the whole idea – a shift to remote working is as likely to be a top-down move driven by the organisation, not the individual.

One consequence of this is that people who would never have chosen a remote working life are increasingly having to deal with all that that entails, whether that means carving out a suitable workspace in an expensive city rental, or simply missing the buzz and the human connection that being in an office can bring. For those high on the extroversion scale in particular, homeworking can be incredibly lonely – so the transition to an office optional approach should always consider alternatives to help suit everyone’s needs, from satellite office hire to local co-working, even to budget for coffeeshop working if that’s where some people really do their best work.

Setting up the communications technology to support connection and interaction can really help though, in getting over any sense that remote working means being cut off and isolated.

When tools for workplace communications are in any way complicated, difficult or high-stakes to use, or even too formal, then there’s always going to be a tendency to keep them ‘just for the work’ – which can have a really negative impact on both team culture and individual motivation.

So in designing the digital workspace and UC matrix for your team, consider:

  • Dedicating some channels specifically to the kind of personal, fun and ephemeral chitchat that typically happens in non-formal spaces in the collocated workspace. Slack’s default channel for this is called ‘watercooler’, but you can choose something more meaningful, or encourage people to evolve their own
  • Signposting and role-modelling the degree to which spontaneous informality is welcome in your digital workspace, especially when onboarding or forming a new team. This could be as simple as asking everyone how their weekend went, to instigate a quick check-in and sharing moment at the start of the week
  • Making sure everyone knows how to use their full set of tools and is comfortable hopping on and off calls, including video… Which should be as casual as popping into someone’s office for a quick chat about something. A decade ago a ‘videoconference’ felt like something grand and worth putting a suit on for, now we can just fire up a quick and casual call to anyone in moments
  • Using your UC tools to catch and celebrate successes, not just the big wins but the little things which are easy to overlook when you can’t see a physical air-punch or grin. Don’t forget the non-work wins either.
  • Enabling deliberate and planned facilitation of spontaneity such as non-work meetings and “virtual coffees”
  • Encouraging everyone to upload a profile picture, in every tool that you use. It’s such a small thing, but really deepens the connection and sense of collaboration, the feeling that the person is really right there working with you.

By choosing and using the right behaviours, in combination with the right set of UC services, remote team leaders can go a long way towards overcoming the isolation and loneliness which distributed team members can feel, and as cognitive layers in our comms tools continue to proliferate, this should become increasingly easier and more natural as time goes by.

The UC Summit will showcase the latest smart touches that platforms are introducing to facilitate deeper connections within our teams, and support happier and more satisfying workplace interactions for all of us.

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