According to research, when employees have close work friendships, it leads to an increase in both productivity and loyalty. On the other hand, loneliness at work can affect both personal and professional wellbeing. 

As the pandemic forced people to work from home and restricted their access to shared office spaces, it has led to the absence of casual conversations and long lunch discussions with coworkers, making employees more isolated than ever. 

Human relationships at work that once thrived on convenience have now started to deteriorate. Therefore, it has now become imperative for organizations to prioritize employee interactions, rebuild the deteriorating relationships and adapt to the now drastically changing workplace with more resiliency.

How has the state of human relationships and communication changed in the post-pandemic world?

When employees worked from the office, they had no choice but to bond with their coworkers as they spent 30-40 hours every week in close proximity. Reaching out to colleagues was just as easy as walking up to their desks. Even with few team-building activities in offices, employees had ample opportunities to get to know their team members face-to-face and establish trusting relationships with them. Working from the office also made it easier for managers to identify any conflicts among team members and resolve them before they got any worse.

But as most organizations were forced to go remote with little to no plans due to the pandemic, almost everyone struggled to find their work-life balance. As work and home boundaries began to blur and meeting deadlines became a herculean task, workplace friendships ended up being simply impossible for most to maintain.

There was no way for employees to have organic and informal conversations with their coworkers to build social interaction virtually. Employees were no longer eating at the same cafeteria or grabbing morning coffee together to kick start their day which made it difficult for them to build or sustain team spirit. 

More than anything, working from home has made people more conscious about taking up too much of their colleagues’ time. There is a constant pressure to make every communication and meeting ‘productive and efficient.’ 

Every written communication has to be checked and rechecked to ensure you are getting your point across and not confusing anyone. Every one-on-one meeting requires blocking the calendar, ensuring everyone’s availability during that time slot, and sharing the meeting agenda in advance. 

As a result, remote conversations have become almost entirely focused on work with little to no space left for casual conversations. There is a constant need to take up as little time as possible for work discussions so that everyone can go back to their actual tasks.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to make meetings and communication more effective, there is a need to create separate communication channels for informal conversations and team building in order to give employees enough opportunities to bond with their coworkers. 

Moreover, prolonged work with little to no human interactions can eventually cause burnouts and even lead to plateaued productivity. Therefore, organizations need to address these obvious cracks in their remote work strategy to ensure employees don’t feel isolated or their productivity does not significantly decline even when they work remotely for long periods of time.

How to restore the human factors and keep the connections strong?

Organizations need to have a process in place to build and nurture the company culture and in turn, restore human relationships. Here are some ways you can do that:

Team-building activities 

Regularly conducting remote team-building activities can build and restore human connections among employees while also making them feel appreciated and included. Team building establishes trust, combats loneliness, and encourages employees to make time for social bonds 

Here are a few ideas to organize team-building activities: 

  • Set up communication channels where employees can bond over their mutual interests like movies, TV shows, cooking, and more
  • Organize virtual games for employees like Pictionary or scavenger hunt
  • Schedule interactive fitness activities like yoga or workouts
  • Encourage employees to connect with colleagues from different departments and have virtual coffee with them in 1:1 meetings, at least once a month

Routine team meetups

There is absolutely no replacement for communicating with your coworker’s face to face. That’s why organizations should routinely organize company-wide or team-specific lunches, training sessions, webinars, and retreats. 

The idea is to regularly hold engaging events where employees can come together, even if it’s virtually. It can help establish trust and give employees a sense of belonging.

Here are a few ways you can do that: 

  • Organize virtual contests like bingo or trivia with prizes for the winners
  • Schedule annual get-togethers for employees, once or twice a year 
  • Start hosting webinars where company leadership can directly answer queries from employees

Digital workplace 

Introduce a digital workplace to make it easier for the employees to always stay connected. With all of the work-related files, processes, and communication accessible through the digital workplace, it can make it easier for employees to track all of the work happening within the team and reach out to their team members seamlessly. 

You can also create shared communication channels in your digital workplace for employees to have non-work related conversations without feeling like they are interrupting anyone’s work. 

Hybrid teams

As we move towards the post-pandemic world, it has now become abundantly clear that while some employees are excited about going back to the office, others still want to continue working remotely. 

With a hybrid work model, employees can come to the office a few days of the week to collaborate with their team members and work remotely on their own tasks for the rest of the week. This gives employees enough time to build organic relationships with their coworkers, and also allows them to work from outside the office when they want to focus on their tasks without being disturbed.

Take conscious efforts to rebuild human relationships at work 

While there are organizations that are now readily implementing solutions to rebuild deteriorating employee relationships post the pandemic, it’s important to note that the right solution will depend on your organization’s needs, your company culture, and your employee requirements. Instead of hoping for a single solution to work like magic for your company and resolve all of your post-pandemic communication issues, experiment with different solutions or a combination of solutions to improve employee communication and engagement.