The Key to Keeping Remote Employees: Personal Connection

March 13, 2023 9:00 am Published by

We are in a weird stage in our culture. On the one hand, the levels of disconnectedness and loneliness are at record high levels for recent history. Although they may be surrounded by other people, individuals feel lonely.

On the other hand, the advances in technology over the past one hundred years have allowed us to communicate with one another at a level unprecedented throughout all of human history. An event can occur on the other side of the globe, and we can learn about it (and actually become engaged in the interaction) within minutes. But we can easily feel overwhelmed with the amount of information we receive. Unfortunately, information . . . and even communication, doesn’t necessarily lead to feeling connected.

And this is one of the main challenges for remote and hybrid workers. In spite of communicating via email, texts, videos, and talking on the phone, remote employees often feel distant from their colleagues.

Several factors contribute to this sense of disconnectedness. Obviously, for many, the COVID-19 pandemic and the societal shifts which occurred as result disrupted our daily lives in multiple ways. At a very basic level, our normal patterns of work-life and work-based relationships have been disrupted. Our ways of relating and communicating with one another have been affected. For example, changes have occurred in when we see our colleagues, where we see them, how often we interact, the mode of communication, and the purpose of our interactions – all have changed. It is no wonder we often feel stressed and unsettled.

At Appreciation at Work, we conducted research throughout the pandemic, tracking various behavior patterns and reactions to the changes we all experienced. In one study, we identified behaviors that differentiated those remote employees who were coping adequately with the stress they were experiencing in comparison to those remote workers who were struggling significantly more with anxiety and depression. A key factor was the level of connectedness maintained between an employee and their colleagues. And when I say connectedness, I don’t mean communication. These were individuals who interacted with others at a personal level – how they were doing, and what was going on with their families. And the interaction wasn’t just with their supervisor but included their colleagues as well.

In a research study conducted by the Sloan School of Business at MIT in the midst of the Great Resignation, they found that by far the issues cited by those employees who quit their job were relational in nature and they were not leaving for more money.

So what can you do? How do you develop and keep connected to your team members?

The most important factor is to understand, affirm, and relate to your colleagues as people. We all are people first and employees second. We have lives outside of work, and what is going on outside of work significantly impacts our days at work. We have families, kids, parents. There can be health issues, financial difficulties, practical challenges (like your basement flooding) – all kinds of things that happen in life that influence our days at work. Be aware of these – ask about them, find out how things are going for your coworker or your supervisor.

Then begin to utilize some of the following simple single-steps with your colleagues. None of them, by themselves, are momentous. But when used together, over time, they will definitely create a greater sense of togetherness between team members – both between two individuals and among a small group.

Build connection by:

  • telling stories – about the weekend, someone in your family, or a recent experience you had
  • using humor – share a funny meme, video or social media post you saw
  • sharing something about yourself – a recent movie you saw, a restaurant that you really enjoyed, some fact about your past
  • asking others to share something about themselves (what they did this weekend, where they grew up)
  • getting to know one another’s interests and the things they enjoy (favorite meal or dessert, shows they enjoy watching, hobbies they are involved in)
  • celebrating life successes and experiences (birthdays, accomplishments of their children, special trips or vacations).

Remember that relationships are built over time – through a combination of structured and spontaneous activities. Life has both rhythm and repetition, as well as unplanned, serendipitous events. Taking the time to get to know your colleagues (whether remote or on-site) will pay huge dividends in many ways – but will especially impact how long they remain a member of your team.

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Published by
March 13, 2023 9:00 am


  • Diane H. Browne, PsyD says:

    One of the best self-care efforts we can make is to develop a best friend at work. Having a work best friend is a key factor in employee retention, job satisfaction, handling stress, and just making the time go faster. But making a best friend is not the employer’s responsibility. A best friend cannot be “issued” along with a computer or other work essentials. We have to make the effort. Our work best friend does not need to be a life-long friend, although they could become one. It’s often just another person who is looking for a friend. But connections develop and sometimes we find we have a genuine treasure, or we become one for someone else.

    • Paul White says:

      Thank you for this good suggestion, Diane. We appreciate you sharing your insight and agree that positive work relationships are important in creating healthy workplace cultures.

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