The COVID-19 pandemic situation has significantly impacted most professional areas globally. As a result, new challenges and concerns have appeared on companies` ``to do list``, challenges that are closely related to the transfer of workplace activities from the real plan of a traditional office to a digital plan of a home one.
Therefore, in addition to the concrete changes related to the way that employees were supposed to fulfill their tasks at work in this new situation, their ability to adapt, their work engagement and social skills are just some of the psychological aspects that were challenged too.
According to statistics, an individual spends most of his time in his workplace, which is why the needs of belonging, socializing and having genuine social relationships in this environment are strongly correlated with his well-being, engagement and long-term job performance (Jung et al., 2021).
Starting from these needs, the problem of "loneliness" felt by an employee who is working from home is currently the focus of many studies. For example, research indicates that an increased state of workplace loneliness can reduce an employee`s work performance and can even drive him to quit his own job. Furthermore, loneliness represents an important risk factor that can affect his physical (heart disease; diabetes) or mental (anxiety; depression; substance abuse) health.
The loneliness dimension is strongly associated with ”high-quality connections” within the work environment and although remote employees seem to be connected all the time, what they really need are genuine relationships. According to Jane Dutton, high-quality connections are based on reciprocity, trust and active engagement on both sides.
There are some strategies that can be very useful to develop high-quality connections in a company as a manager or as a member of a leadership team:
- Create collaborative projects/tasks – the purpose is to build a shared meaning within a team so that a lonely employee can be guided towards a common goal with his colleagues;
- Create a safe place for employees – supportive communicators express views and opinions while minimizing defensiveness and maximizing clarity. So that a lonely employee can gain trust to talk about his real issues;
- Organize informal online meetings to discuss new and exciting topics with colleagues – choose challenging subjects to enhance creativity and to improve social relationships. Thus, lonely employees can discover new perspectives so they can get to know each other in a more authentic way (India et al., 2021);
- Develop a mentor/mentee system for voluntary exchange of information between employees – in addition, it is important to encourage lonely employees to participate so that they can form meaningful relationships in the workplace (Jung et al., 2021).