Work From Home: A Dent On Social Capital

Alquamah Nasir
Jul 13 · 3 min read
Loss of Social Capital when working from Home

The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to switch to Work from home (WFH) overnight, and what seemed like a contingent plan is here to stay longer than what companies would have envisaged. Buffering online presentations, meetings with lost internet connections, failed emails are irritating and have congested the working environment in various places. However, this is indeed a small issue, a more longer-term concern is its effect on collaboration and innovation inside the organization.

Researchers such as Beunza, Orr, and Ensworth have proven in their work that humans tend to work efficiently in groups where they get to interact with a lot of people and receive a lot of signals that affect their decision-making process. Moreover, in an office environment, the water cooler conversations and tea breaks catalyze collaboration and innovation and also help employees better understand the protocols and solve their issues at work.

Many anthropologists believe that workplaces should organize get-togethers. Moreover, group rituals and group dinners build bonds and expand one’s social capital, which in turn helps employees in understanding workplace jargon. The basic kind of interactions and collaboration a person has at their workplace is defined by three principles.

  1. The proximity principle says that people tend to associate with individuals who work near them. This relationship is accelerated by the proximity of any individual.
  2. The similarity principle states that people tend to join groups where they can find people with common interests, values, and beliefs.
  3. The elaboration principle describes the workplace interaction which results in functional groups which aid a company to run effectively.

The brainwaves that enable individuals to understand their colleagues’ state of mind were indeed a result of this collaboration which is certainly impossible in work from home.

What we find in all these examples is that companies need to bring employees together for such interactions to happen in the first place. Sociologists have explained the key factor behind collaboration innovation being Social Capital

A renowned French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu defined it as

The aggregates of resources linked to a network of institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition.

While Robert Putnam sees it as

Those features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.

Needless to say, water cooler conversations, serendipitous chat, and incidental information exchange are only likely through in-person communication, not in WFH environments.

analyzing work from home with ONA
analyzing work from home with ONA

An Organization Network Analysis (ONA) can assist companies in the identification of key people inside the organization’s network. Organizations can then funnel information through these key nodes/people and ensure that employees remain connected in this online model.

Our intuitive faculties, which are also largely guided by in-person meetings, can only help us to some extent in identifying such ‘key’ nodes/people, but a real-time, data-driven exercise can be quite fruitful to help drive these decisions in a targeted manner!

Connect with us at OrgLens to help understand how to better plan your return-to-work or hybrid-working strategies with targeted precision.

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