Designing community while Working From Home

Alice Katter
May 28, 2020 · 5 min read

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a reminder of the importance of taking care of ourselves and developing healthier relationships with ourselves and others.

I’ve spent my career building communities and creating experiences on- and offline. Over the past weeks, I have been focussing on bringing people together, to see how we can virtually support each other and at the same time build a thought platform, conversations and explore ideas for new ways of working, work culture and work/life balance. With this, the ultimate goal is to build something that is part of the conversation on the changing nature of our work life and culture.

With Covid-19, I have been thinking a lot about how this project of mine can be relevant to help us shape this new (work) life.

Throughout the past weeks, there have been 3 areas that have been crystallizing and that I want to explore, build conversations and offer resources around: connectedness, self-care and creative inspiration.

Today, I’m exploring “Connectedness” — being connected to ourselves and to each other.

Last week, I co-hosted two virtual sessions exploring the meaning of community (with Working Not Working) and the shift in what we value most about our office vs. working from home (with strtgst).

What was quite clear in both of the gatherings, was that our sense of connection changed over the past weeks, since we are working from home.

While many of us are enjoying the new flexibility of working from home, we’re also starting to realize that without the office or traditional place of work, many of us are starting to realize that what we miss most about the office or co-working space is the social connection.

This goes hand in hand with research on one of the biggest struggles with remote work: loneliness & the lack of community.

Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting.

This is critical not only to work performance but to emotional and mental wellness. Our daily interactions are shown to reinforce our sense of well-being and belonging in a community; and with cities like New York on lockdown, millions are being forced to not only work from home, but stay at home, as bars, restaurants, and events are closed.

Companies are now starting to experiment with working from home in different ways: Twitter announced that staff can work from home permanently, while other teams are exploring the concept of a rotating 4-day in office/10-day work-from-home schedule to reduce the spread of COVID.

So while it seems like remote work is here to stay, how can we build community and connectivity to fight loneliness in the home office?

To potentially find an answer to this question I had to dig a little deeper.

Humans are social creatures: In this simple and obvious fact lies both the problem and the solution to the current crisis of loneliness.

As Dr. Vivek Murthy writes in his book TOGETHER: At the centre of our loneliness is our innate desire to connect. We have evolved to participate in community, to forge lasting bonds with others, to help one another and to share life experiences. We are, simply, better together. Good relationships are intrinsic to combating loneliness.

To better understand loneliness, Dr. Vivek Murthy describes 3 dimensions of loneliness: Intimate Loneliness — which is the longing for an intimate partner, that we share deep mutual bonds of trust — Relational/Social Loneliness”- the yearning for quality friendship, and Collective Loneliness — the hunger for a network or community of people who share a sense of purpose or common interest. Looking at the workplace, we’re focussing on “Collective Loneliness”.

So how can we solve loneliness collectively?

Managers or community leaders need strategies to create connections for different kinds of people.

  1. Start from a place of understanding: In times like these, our worlds shift. Start with an open space and start listening. Talk to people and listen to how they are doing, what they are struggling with right and where they need help with. Don’t assume anything.
  2. Explore your shared values: Learn what each individual values and explore where your values overlap to identify your purpose as a community.
  3. Build rituals that reinforce your community: To be efficient but also effective, especially when remote, you have to consciously build a groove for your community or team. To do so, start with small habits and rituals that everyone can participate in.

Over the past weeks, many of us have found out that happy hours are not the most helpful way to connect. They’re usually ending up with chats around the topic most people have in common, which is work. Which is not very successful in bonding as conversations stay shallow.

Build high-quality connections & micro-communities

We can defeat loneliness through a deeper connection, which is more likely to come through 1:1 or by actually doing something together. As human beings, we don’t need a lot of people to connect with, we really only need one person that we can connect and share our work struggles with — the important thing is that the interaction needs to make us feel seen and understood.

Help people see the human behind their jobs

Share something about yourself. Personal knowledge about colleagues outside work, humanizes colleagues, it helps us see how we are similar. Ask things like “What was the most meaningful thing that happened to you this week?” or look for uncommon commonalities in order to connect on a deeper level.

Create Collaboration opportunities / Helping Others

There’s evidence that helping others can help usfeel less lonely. It allows us to feel that we matter, that we’re valued and appreciated. In some of my research, I’ve found that on days when we’ve had a positive impact on others at work, we feel more competent and bring more energy home. Even small acts of kindness can be antidotes to isolation.

Create Downtime

We are all professionals and we often work on serious stuff. But we have to find small ways to regularly be off. Being off helps us to be on effectively, and ultimately be more productive. These “Off” moments help remove barriers and hierarchies, create a vibe, and gradually a culture that brings us closer even when we are remote.

Here are some ideas for creating spaces and opportunities for people to spend time together:

  • Problem-solving activities (scavenger hunts) and doing things together, where people can explore their personalities
  • No Sad Desk Lunch: Create a Lunch time buddy system
  • Collaboration & virtual co-working
  • Unwind Team activities such as drawing together
  • Show and Tell: let employees show pictures of something they like, something about them, not related to work.
  • Article, Book Club, Podcast Club
  • Virtual tour of the home office

🗒️You can find a full list of activities here 🗒️

Subscribe to my newsletter: https://www.getoutofoffice.network/

About me: I’m a Brand Strategy & Community Consultant, currently living in Brooklyn, New York, with a background in Social Psychology. I’m also the creator of Out Of Office and co-founder of Neue Freunde, a work & community space in Vienna.

I work with small/mid-sized brands + startups, driving strategies for shaping and engaging communities and tell stories through strategy, positioning, content and communications.

For more on this topic check: https://medium.com/starship-journal/what-covid-19-is-teaching-us-about-the-way-we-work-35a943a59bc8 https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/we-dont-have-to-fight-loneliness-alone/id1346314086 https://brenebrown.com/podcast/dr-vivek-murthy-and-brene-on-loneliness-and-connection/

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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