The connection is so obvious that we almost missed it. In today’s online world of emails, slacks, tweets, Snapchat and WhatsApp, online invective has never been more present in our daily lives. All these methods of communication are a window into the unrelenting connectivity between individuals, whether they’re a few feet from one another or on opposite sides of the world. What if this kind of communication were somehow to blame for our increasing isolation?

What is agility? No, it’s not a subject in this year’s philosophy exam, but an issue that all company managers have to consider before creating work plans appropriate for their staff.

What they are trying to achieve, and this is laudable, is to make work fit around people’s lives rather than the other way round. This is a major paradigm shift after centuries of people thinking the exact opposite. The time is now ripe for a role reversal.

There is now a plethora of paperless communication methods available. With communication entirely digital and online, physical presence is no longer required. The line has been crossed, opening the door to teleworking and all its promises of a better life.

Flexibility, organising your own work schedule, commuting time reduced to the distance between bedroom and office, zero risk of travel sickness and, as an added bonus, the possibility of making all your calls in PJs. If artists were to portray heaven in 2019, they would surely paint a teleworker.

Virtual distance, real isolation

But hidden behind this shiny, glittering facade is the problem of isolation, a growing, insidious malaise that affects home workers in particular, but also those who work in open spaces.

It’s ironic in a way because figures suggest that 7 out of 10 employees talk to more than ten people a day, and 82% of employees in the service sector work in open spaces. * But, when asked how they feel about team spirit in their company, 59% of respondents said they felt alone. 3 out of 5 people. Great atmosphere.

And this is even more regrettable when you realise that in 7 out of 10 cases, a person who feels isolated at work generally resigns within five years, and that in the top five reasons for going to work, you’ve guessed it, socialising with colleagues comes first. In other words, the feeling of belonging to a group is important.  The exact opposite of isolation.

Further proof if needed, out of the 5 main reasons for going to work identified in the Ifop survey, 4 relate to social aspects – 40% of respondents cited “working more efficiently”, while 39% referred to “working together on projects” and “being an integral part of a team.

 

Fear of isolation, a good reason for getting together

The question that needs to be asked at this stage is what to make of the findings that appear to contradict what we usually think about flexibility.

Identify, understand and progress.

Identify first of all. If we assume that 3 out of 5 people feel isolated (according to the aforementioned results) it’s highly likely that you know some of them.

Certain signs may help spot the problem in yourself or a colleague. These include a tendency to be distant with colleagues, working most of the time with headphones on, not participating in open-space discussions, not signing up for group projects, and only ever talking about work with colleagues. Taken as a whole, these signs point to someone being side-lined, either by choice or force, and this is something that needs to be tackled.

So we understand that human contact is the best defence against isolation and that in 77% of cases (according to the Ifop study), people prefer face-to-face over online communication.

We also understand that human relationships are not measured on the same scale as online/digital relations. Although for some people personal fulfilment is measured in the number of friends or followers on social media, in our working lives, people are happy with less. Much less in fact – around 15 people.

More than this and the feeling of being buried in an avalanche of requests and information becomes counter-productive.

Obviously, there’s the theory, and then there’s the practice. In practice, your co-workers like the idea of working from home one day a week and being alone with their headsets, but they don’t like missing out on chatting to their team in the staff canteen at lunchtime.

As prevention is better than cure, here are two best-practice rules to ensure that your team members maintain that fundamental connection.

Organise communication sessions with your team

This doesn’t mean meetings on a particular issue or a relaxing break to talk about last night’s match or the final episode of the latest series.  It just means finding a moment for everyone to share what they’re working on at the moment, ask the others for advice and generally talk about their projects. It’s also an opportunity to discuss human resources, new and departing staff and what’s going on in the company as a whole, etc.

Training, an indispensable tool

Training for staff support. How to separate your work life from your home life, how to set up your home office.

The challenge is being able to switch from face-to-face management to results-based management and achieve productivity gains. Success depends on being able to implement new processes, new work monitoring procedures and develop mutual trust, something that doesn’t come naturally to everyone!

*Ifop survey carried out by ParisWorkplace