Why fostering connectedness should be a top priority for managers of distributed teams.

Recent research tells us that employers need to offer far higher levels of support to remote or hybrid workers, which means profound changes for many organisations in a post-pandemic world. In order to get this right, employers need to focus far more on establishing a healthy distributed working culture than on technological solutions.

A Culture of Connectedness

Around 90% of CEOs (PWC CEO Survey) and 80% of HR Directors (Ipsos Mori) expect remote working to increase because of Covid-19. In the UK, any employee with more than 26 weeks of employment has a statutory right to request flexible working arrangements, and their employer has the same Health and Safety responsibilities to remote workers as to those in the company offices.

Our own research suggests that by focusing on developing a culture of connectedness and building a “virtual office” to reinforce cultural norms, employers can foster togetherness and improve collective wellbeing. The positive commercial effects of doing so are far reaching, covering everything from increased productivity to employee retention.

These outcomes are achieved by designing and implementing interventions to improve the various dimensions of connectedness. However, this requires an understanding of the construct itself, and how it differs to the other measures of engagement, commitment, and morale.

Interventions in organisational connectedness are therefore aimed at achieving alignment between the values of the organisation and its employees, leading to increased mutual respect and a culture of inclusion along with reinforcing support mechanisms and structures.

To do this well requires a review of the supporting and enabling policies, procedures and technology that underpin remote working.

Remote on the Rise

According to YouGov research 38% of the UK workforce were working from home in May 2020, which is a significant increase from the 7% that were doing so pre-Covid-19. This initially brought many reported benefits for workers, including; greater flexibility, no daily commute and more family time.

However, there were many negative consequences reported. In May 2020, The Institute of Leadership and Management asked over 1200 leaders and managers how working from home was affecting them, and 2 out of every 5 workers reported that they felt isolated in the “new normal.”

This rose dramatically in some groups, particularly younger workers and those who live alone. With 4 out of every 5 men, over half of 18 to 30-year olds and over half of women living alone reporting feeling isolated.

In a parallel Ipsos Mori study, 1 in 3 employees felt their motivation was decreasing, and reported a rise in negative feelings such as worry, depression and anger.

Over half of those surveyed thought their relationship to work would profoundly change, and although most employees felt their employer had performed well in dealing with the immediate crisis of Covid-19, the aforementioned figures show that the reality of longer term remote working puts an emphasis on organisations to support this transition more sensitively.

The fact is that many workers are simply not used to working remotely and have not yet learned and developed the required communication strategies, processes, and management of work-life balance to suit this style of working.

Four Key Areas of Connectedness

By undertaking a regular assessment of their remote workers’ feelings of connectedness, together with their views of their available energy, employers are able to provide the relevant support, encouragement and guidance that their remote teams need to flourish in an effective remote working culture.

We see connectedness as being something we can measure, and affect positively with interventions, in four major areas:

  • Connected to the Organisation – This refers to a sense of correspondence between my organisation’s values and my personal values, and a sense of connectedness to the mission of the organisation. There is also a sense of how much the organisation’s values align with global democratic values, and of the degree of alignment between my goals and those of the organisation.
  • Connected to my Manager – This refers to a belief that my Manager understands work life balance and work-home boundaries, and actively supports me in achieving balance. I feel that my Manager is interested in me as a person and as a professional, and that we can place trust in each other.
  • Connected to my Co-workers – I feel that my co-workers can be depended on, and that I am safe to share personal and family information. I also feel that I am encouraged to have social as well as work related interaction. My co-workers respond to me quickly, and I can trust them.
  • Connected to my Tasks – My work gives me a feeling of intellectual satisfaction, stimulation and challenge. I feel cheerful and full of life at work. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working remotely.

In each of these areas we are able to draw on research to show that, for example, high levels of reported Organisational Connectedness, which include positive perceptions of being accepted, respected, included and supported in the organisational social environment, are linked to increases in wellbeing, resilience and ultimately productivity.