Stronger than ever 2000 x 750

More and more, it’s looking like remote and hybrid work environments will be a lasting outcome of the pandemic. For many workers, flexible hours, a better work-life balance and the freedom to work from any location have been some of the most noteworthy benefits of remote work. 

Employees clearly favor their new work environments: 45 percent say the ability to work remotely is the most positive workplace change that occurred in the past year, according to a recent survey conducted by 451 Research. At the same time, 77 percent of employees want to continue to work remotely at least part of the time. 

Unified communications (UC) technology made the shift to remote work relatively painless for most companies. By now, we’re all familiar with how to make video calls and use screen sharing to get our work done and collaborate with colleagues. While these tools will make it easy for businesses to keep remote and hybrid work going, there’s another piece of the daily work environment that’s screaming for attention – the social aspect of work.

Fortunately, the same unified communications tools keeping co-workers productive can be just as beneficial when it comes to fostering socialization and community-building within and across teams. Forward-looking companies are making the most of communications technology to create a modern company culture that can be actually more inclusive than before, despite the lack of people coming back to the physical office.

Social Connections: It’s a Basic Human Need

We’ve all seen how well organizations of all sizes and across all industries can keep operations running smoothly with a predominantly remote workforce. But we’re still human beings, and, as such, we crave social interactions.

This social element of work is often underestimated by companies. The sudden increase in mental health issues including anxiety and depression that resulted from  the isolation many experienced during remote work is a testament to just how important social connections are to our well-being.

Employees won’t be able to work at optimal levels and maintain desired productivity for the long term if they’re overcome with feelings of loneliness. A few minutes of chit-chat at the beginning of a conference call simply can’t replace the happy hours, team dinners and office parties of the past.

As employees around the world re-evaluate the purpose and value they get from work, many are joining the “Great Resignation.” A sense of community is imperative if organizations want their employees to form personal bonds and enjoy collaborating with co-workers. Strong, interpersonal relationships and social connections are an excellent defense against this mass exodus.

More Connected Than Ever, Courtesy of UC

Let’s take a step back in time, to the good ole’ pre-pandemic days. Social interactions could happen anywhere – in the parking lot, on the elevator or walking down the hall. The most lasting social connections, however – the ones that really shape the company culture – spring from the planned events.

For example, a lot of team building happens over drinks after work. But an activity like this can exclude many individuals, according to Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen, co-authors of Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home. Attendance at such events is often out of the question for primary caretakers that need to get home to children or elderly relatives, those with long commutes, people who don’t drink and those that feel uncomfortable socializing in bars.

As organizations create a new, post-pandemic culture, communications tech provides an opportunity to forge a more inclusive environment. Groups that might have previously been excluded or avoided certain outings now have more chances to engage and form stronger bonds with colleagues via virtual happy hours where drinks are optional and other virtual team-building activities.

Collaboration tools like those from Mitel have all of the features and functionality needed to create a modern company culture built on lasting relationships that cross borders and time zones. Here’s a sampling of just some of the ways companies can reinvent the social side of work through virtual means:

  • Maintain a video chatroom for “morning coffee” where employees can log in first thing and say hello to colleagues before they dig into work. It’s a great way to maintain a beloved ritual of the pre-pandemic days, while expanding the reach to every employee, regardless of location.
  • Create a shared “no work” workspace or group chat where co-workers can share thoughts and tips on hobbies and interests. From recipes to gardening tips, co-workers can learn from each other and get to know people they may have never met in the physical office.
  • Establish a schedule of classes to help employees connect and strike a better work-life balance. A 15-minute, guided meditation or a short yoga class done via videoconferencing can help people stay balanced. As employees start to see the same people in class each week, imagine the bond that can form.
  • Trivia games are a great way to inspire a little healthy competition and forge new friendships. Employees can pair up with colleagues in different locations and put their knowledge to the test. Features like screen sharing, whiteboarding and group chat make it easy for teams to work together in a new and fun way.

Company culture is more than a collection of intangible behaviors and values. It’s a community. UC technology enables companies to finally bring everyone into the social network, regardless of where they’re located.

Those who long for the days of happy hour can still schedule a video chat with colleagues from the office (and invite new ones). Meanwhile, people who used to miss out on social events due to childcare issues or other personal commitments now have more opportunities than ever to join in on the virtual fun.

No matter where or how employees are working, powerful unified communications technology can unite co-workers and create some seriously strong social connections. 

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