Recent studies of workplaces make sad reading – they show a growing number of employees say they are being made to feel lonely and isolated by the nature of the work they do.
This seems strange in some ways: our ‘gig economy’ is geared up to promote connected technologies and workspace design. Technically speaking, it’s never been so easy to communicate and collaborate with our colleagues.
But the staff are just not finding the link – socially.
Being part of the gig economy means many people have flexible working arrangements that go way beyond traditional employment models.
Many people decide to work freelance on short-term contracts or work full-time for a set employer without all the benefits of permanent employment.
Technology is a huge enabler of agile and freelance working – with a smartphone and unlimited data (or coffee shop wifi) – you can work nearly anywhere.
But working remotely or separate from other people sometimes makes us feel lonely and depressed. That’s not just unhealthy, it also has an effect on your productivity.
The rise of the coworkers
This is partly why we’ve seen the phenomenal rise of “coworking” where independent workers “work alone together” in an office space they share. While the average varies for this kind of space, the Harvard Business Review, says workers are quite satisfied and think the price is worth it.
Chatting with people in a coworking environment is one way to reduce loneliness. Gig workers say coworking spaces help them expand their social network and state that they feel happier and less lonely.
But what about the lonely employees who work within companies?
Not surprisingly, even though loneliness is a subjective and personal experience, the emotions can get in the way of objective workplace outcomes.
Workers who feel disengaged and cut off are considerably less productive – and they’ve been found to make more mistakes.
A new study found that 37% of all workers feel lonely at work, with a leading reason being the technological advances that are supposed to make jobs easier or more flexible.
The survey of around 1,000 employees by HR think tank Reventure found 38% of lonely workers say they make more mistakes, with 40% feeling less productive.
Should we change the way we focus?
“There’s no doubt the current way that we work is essentially driven by our demands around being transactional,” says Reventure managing director Lindsay McMillan.
“Transactional means looking at screens a great deal of our time, more time now than ever before and continuing to rise. So our focus on the screen means we’re not focusing on people beside us, on the floor above us or below us.”
Correct focus is highly effective. But when the workplace demands we multi-task…
It’s hard to do one thing well if you’re bombarded myriad external demands on your attention. These can range from pinging message alerts and urgent emails, to intrusions allowed by open-plan workplace design.
The past two decades have seen enormous changes in the way we work. Walls have been torn down and replaced with an open plan – but the new ‘walls’ are our computer screens, mobile devices and smartphones.
The constant onslaught of emails, texts and other electronic intrusions have taken time away from face-to-face interaction. Who has time to recognise a lonely worker?
The modern workplace can sometimes seem like a constant push and pull, with challenges and realities that appear contradictory and hard to resolve.
We find conflicting demands all around us:
- We want more open collaborative spaces design – but we also need quiet spaces for concentration
- We need to be aware of the social value of companionship but also need not to intrude on colleagues
- There’s an unprecedented range of generations and diversity in the workplace, creating apparent cultural barriers.
- Maybe it’s time to pause and say “hello” to the person working beside you. Why not break the ice and chat with the person sitting alone in the office or a local coffee hangout?
As employers, we need to realise that just acting on what we think will satisfy the needs of most employees won’t necessarily create the best outcomes for the company or its people.
One size does not always fit
Adopting the “one size fits all” approach to workspace management technology and workplace design really doesn’t cut it any more.
By developing a deeper understanding of our employees’ behaviours and emotions, and by being more sensitive to socially disconnected employees, we can find innovative ways to involve all members of our workforce.
Adapting your workplace to satisfy a wider range of employee needs might seem expensive, but it does pay off in improved productivity and talent retention.
Effective and thoughtful workplace design provides the variety of workspaces required to support the diverse range of tasks staff need to carry out every day: from activity-based workstations to team rooms, and from collaboration areas to quiet spaces.
Choosing the right workspace management technology to support this flexible space and make sure it is utilized effectively is as important as effective workplace design.
The solutions you deploy must be as fit-for-purpose and flexible as the workspaces themselves – and just as simple to use.
When it comes to booking workspaces and scheduling supporting services such as catering and AV, we need to give our worker’s workspace management technology that is intuitive to use.
It should integrate seamlessly with the existing technologies (such as Outlook) that they are already using every day.
This familiarity and ease encourage them to find and book the workspace that best suits their specific needs even when they are on the go, via an app on their mobile device.
When used effectively, workspace management technology can turn the office into a meeting venue, helping reduce stress and bring colleagues together for perfect meetings and happy, easy and effective collaborations.
Really, there’s no better solution for loneliness at work than that.