How Can You Restore Social Capital While Working from Home?
The world is almost a year into the largest scale work from home experiment ever conducted thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has completely altered the way we work. With remote work having repeatedly shown massive potential for improving productivity and increasing employee satisfaction, businesses are undoubtedly beginning to experience the multitude of benefits that can come with allowing employees to work remotely.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Working from home can lead to diminished social capital in the workplace, especially when ineffective leaders are at the helm. When leaders can’t continue creating new and unique ways for their team members to connect with each other, workplace culture begins to suffer and employees can feel less connected with their colleagues, leading to a diminished sense of belonging, and ultimately, lessened productivity. In order to experience long term remote work success, your business needs managers who can restore and maintain social capital among your workforce.
What is social capital and why is it important?
Social capital is a set of shared values that make it possible for people to effectively work together as part of a group to achieve common goals. Basically, it’s how members of a team are able to work and live together in harmony, building mutual respect and shared values that make it easy to generate new information and innovative ideas that often lead to a business’s success. Without social capital in a workplace, it’s nearly impossible for meaningful relationships to blossom, leading to a lack of trust and respect, and affecting the overall performance of an organization or team.
While it may seem surprising, some remote workforces have actually reported feeling closer to their colleagues and more productive as a result - this is largely due to having functioning social capital, bringing teams together in a way which produces results. Social capital is a critical concept for sustained work from home arrangements, requiring little effort to actually maintain but having tremendous effects on how your team members interact and work with each other. Failure to uphold social capital will inevitably lead to alienation, distrust, and dissatisfaction, as well as all the negative effects that come with these traits.
The biggest failure is doing nothing at all
Maintaining a healthy workplace social system isn’t hard - in fact, the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. Social capital requires effective leadership willing to do whatever it takes to keep employees connected, no matter where they’re working from. Failure to act means being willing to completely abandon the fundamentals of a functional social system, which can destroy even the strongest organization.
In order to experience long term remote work success, employers, managers, and supervisors need to be willing to build social capital through creative exercises, open communication, consistent action, and constant learning that brings teams together, builds trust, and maintains a sense of community at all times. You need to look beyond simply holding more conference calls and be willing to experiment with new ideas. Not everything will work to improve social capital, but chances need to be taken in order to avoid the alienation that can come with working from home.
Get creative and don’t lose sight of the small things
Improving social capital won’t happen overnight, especially if you’ve neglected it for some time. Thankfully, bringing your team members together in a meaningful way isn’t difficult, but it’ll take some persistence and creativity. When looking to restore the social system in your organization, think outside the box for ways to help your teams connect. Not everything has to be related to work, either - especially if it won’t eat up a large amount of time. Activities that aren’t necessarily work-related shouldn’t be avoided, as they’ll often do more to promote genuine connections amongst colleagues.
Get experimental and allow your team members to connect over hobbies and interests in addition to what they do in the workplace. Doing things like promoting fun virtual events like contests, dance parties, online games, challenges, music listening (or playing) sessions, movie nights, and even book clubs can go a long way in bringing your employees together in meaningful ways that can increase trust, enhance team work, and establish long term relationships that can benefit the workplace.
Another way to bring your teams together is to hold regular meetings. They don’t have to be long, but it can be extremely beneficial to allow team members to catch up with each other, discussing major achievements, milestones, and where they hope to be with projects, campaigns, and ideas in the future. Meetings can help employees feel less isolated, and go a long way in generating new and exciting ideas that can be fleshed out and worked on by other members of the team.
It’s important for leaders to remember the small things when looking to improve social capital. Check in on your employees and ask how they’re doing in a professional and personal capacity - ask about their families, what they’ve been up to when they’re not at their desks, and what they’re looking forward to in the coming days, weeks, and months.
These small interactions go a long way in creating trust between you and your employees, and improving workplace satisfaction. After all, it’s reassuring to work in an environment where leaders genuinely care about how you’re doing. Be thoughtful, kind, and understanding. Offer opportunities for growth wherever possible, and work with employees who may be struggling with remote work or who may need a helping hand. Your efforts will be noticed, and will do a great deal to improve social capital in your virtual workplace.
Restoring social capital is critical to the continued success of your business’s distributed teams, and your business as a whole. All it requires is a dedicated leader willing to take chances, get creative in their approach, and be willing to engage employees even when things don’t seem to be working. Focusing on improving social capital means workers don’t feel isolated, and your workforce can feel connected despite the physical distances between them. The results are a more satisfied workforce, increased productivity, enhanced collaboration, and happier and healthier people.