Jon Abbott, Director of Global Clients, Cardinus examines how hybrid working impacts social isolation and physical activity, offering strategies to maintain a supportive and productive environment.

I love nothing more than taking a few moments between meetings to hang out my washing. For many of us, the proverbial rat race seems to be a thing of the past. Commuting to an office, working all day, and spending weekends tirelessly catching up on chores, only to repeat the process, now feels outdated.

To be clear, hanging my washing out during working hours is not new for me. I’ve worked from home for over 30 years and have greatly benefited from using the time I would normally spend commuting to catch up on chores, allowing me to enjoy my weekends and time off.

In 2020, when the UK government (and others) insisted non-essential workers stay home, I assumed everyone would love the freedom as much as I did. How wrong I was. It quickly became clear that while some of my colleagues relished working from home, others struggled with the isolation that comes with a hybrid or homeworking role.

The Importance of Social Interaction

I believe my role at Cardinus gives me an advantage. I’m involved in several projects and have various stakeholders who need my support, constantly pushing me into social interactions through video calls, phone calls, instant messages, and other methods. This suits me well. Having not worked in an office for so long, I think I would struggle with the informality of impromptu conversations. But that’s just me.

The traditional office environment suits others better. As social beings, we need interaction for our mental health and team cohesion. Daily face-to-face interactions, unplanned conversations, and collaborative work sessions help build relationships and foster a sense of belonging among employees. However, hybrid working often reduces these opportunities, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection.

Mental Health Implications of Social Isolation

Our challenge lies in addressing the profound mental health implications of social isolation. Loneliness and isolation can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. According to a study by Buffer, 19% of remote workers identified loneliness as their biggest struggle. The lack of social interaction can also exacerbate stress levels, as employees may feel they have fewer outlets for sharing concerns and seeking support.

Observations on Colleague Behavior

I’ve observed this firsthand, with colleagues working from home becoming increasingly withdrawn. Upon investigation, we found that this often stemmed from constantly hearing about others’ successes and comparing them to their own performance. The lack of casual interaction means we often don’t hear about failures, making it easy to feel we are underperforming compared to others. Additionally, when colleagues work in isolation, it becomes challenging to maintain the same level of trust and collaboration that an office environment fosters. This can lead to misunderstandings, reduced morale, and lower productivity.

Addressing Psychosocial Issues

Understanding the psychosocial issues a worker experiences is crucial for developing strategies to mitigate their negative effects on employee well-being and productivity.

One of our biggest challenges in solving this issue is that many people want the flexibility of working from home some or all of the time. Moreover, many employers have downsized their office spaces to cut costs, resulting in a lack of desks if all employees were to return to the office.

Strategies to Overcome Social Isolation and Promote Physical Activity

We have worked hard over the past few years to address worker discomfort, whether physical, financial, or related to other aspects of well-being. Now is the time to focus on worker isolation and their sense of belonging. A worker may appear engaged, happy, and valued, but how can we be sure? Here are some tips to help overcome some of these challenges:

Encouraging Social Interaction

  1. Virtual Social Events: Organizing virtual social events, such as online coffee breaks, team-building activities, and informal chat sessions, can help recreate the sense of community found in the office. These events provide opportunities for employees to connect on a personal level, reducing feelings of isolation.
  2. Regular Check-Ins: Managers should schedule regular check-ins with their teams to discuss work progress and provide a platform for employees to share their thoughts and concerns. These check-ins can help maintain strong interpersonal relationships and ensure employees feel supported.
  3. Collaboration Tools: Utilizing collaboration tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom can facilitate communication and collaboration. Encouraging their use for both work-related and casual conversations can help maintain a sense of connection among remote workers.

Promoting Physical Activity

  1. Ergonomic Workstations: Providing guidance on setting up ergonomic home workstations can help prevent musculoskeletal issues. Employers can offer virtual ergonomic assessments and provide equipment such as adjustable chairs and desks.
  2. Encouraging Breaks: Employers should encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day to move around and stretch. Implementing policies that promote short, frequent breaks can help reduce sedentary behavior.
  3. Wellness Programs: Offering wellness programs that include physical activity challenges, virtual fitness classes, and resources on healthy living can motivate employees to stay active. Providing incentives for participation can further encourage engagement.
  4. Flexible Schedules: Allowing flexible work schedules can enable employees to incorporate physical activity into their day. For example, employees could be encouraged to take a mid-day exercise break or start their day with a walk.

Don’t ignore the challenges!

Hybrid working models offer numerous benefits, including flexibility and improved work-life balance. However, they also present challenges related to social isolation and reduced physical activity. By recognizing these issues and implementing strategies to address them, employers can support the well-being of their hybrid workforce. Encouraging social interaction and promoting physical activity are essential steps in ensuring that employees remain healthy, engaged, and productive in a hybrid working environment. Through thoughtful planning and proactive measures, organizations can create a hybrid work model that fosters both professional success and personal well-being.

Cardinus’ Healthy Working Analytics is a tool designed to help you understand how these, and many other, issues are impacting the well-being and productivity of your workforce. Contact us to request a free trial.

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