By Paul Rhodes, founder and creator of health, wellbeing and fundraising platform, WellGiving.
Over the past few years, we have been plunged into a working life of makeshift desks, online meetings and working predominantly alone, often from home. Managers and their teams have adapted quickly to conducting the majority of business remotely, becoming rather adept at doing so.
While this achievement has showcased the ability of businesses to pivot during rapidly changing circumstances, it has also left many workers feeling alone and isolated from their colleagues.
Remote work has become a permanent fixture within the working landscape, especially in the case of global teams. Though they perhaps have certain advantages in terms of working together over greater distances, there are still important issues to consider when it comes to engaging workers and ensuring the wellbeing of global and geographically disparate workforces.
It is the role of employers, employees and businesses to create positive working environments as they build their communities across global sites. Indeed, recent statistics from the Mental Health Foundation found that maintaining the mental wellbeing of employees does not only improve work culture, but can increase productivity by 12%.
So, what are some of the challenges businesses face, and what steps can they take to connect and engage their global teams?
Though technology offers more ways than ever to communicate, it is often not properly utilised to promote effective communication throughout an entire organisation. The result is staff working from home, especially those across multiple countries, can feel sequestered within their own bubble, leading to further reductions in communication levels and increased feelings of isolation from their team.
Fostering positive forms of interconnectivity, whether through shared virtual spaces, regular check-ins, or a business-wide communications platform, will not only help employees connect with each other, but also encourage the sharing of updates and information from within the team, and not simply from the top-down.
Create a virtual water-cooler
Employees are happier when they feel comfortable and able to open up to their teammates. This process, however, is not automatic, and comes from building trust with ones’ colleagues. In local teams, this is usually achieved through informal chat or “water-cooler moments” – small conversations that help people feel connected to their co-workers.
In geographically dispersed teams, this can be a huge challenge, as face-to-face time is naturally limited. Therefore, it is important to factor in creating space for unstructured communication that can replace these physical water-cooler moments with virtual ones. This might be something as simple as allowing five minutes for light conversation during video conferences before getting to the business objectives of the day. These small changes can go a long way in fostering a greater sense of trust and organic communication between global team members.
Organise company-wide activities
The challenges of remote work are manifested both mentally and physically. Many suffer feelings of loneliness due to a lack of social interaction with their teammates, and this is compounded in teams that work across several countries and time zones. Working predominantly from home can also result in a more sedentary lifestyle, with a decrease in activity levels further contributing to poor employee wellbeing.
Leaders and wellbeing managers can go some way in addressing both issues by organising group events that connect people across global sites through a common activity and purpose. Virtual challenges and initiatives, such as enterprise-wide yoga in the morning, or walks during lunchtime in which minutes of activity are logged, can encourage staff to compete in a friendly manner, get to know their co-workers and boost their mental and physical health.
Organisations undoubtedly recognise the need for initiatives that address wellbeing, with the CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work 2021 report finding that 75% of respondents believed senior leaders had employee wellbeing on their agendas. However, it can be difficult to implement these policies, however well-meaning, across global teams.
Logistical considerations, such as different time zones, language barriers or various societal and cultural norms can raise unexpected considerations when implementing policies and practices to improve both communication and wellbeing. It is particularly important for wellbeing managers and leaders to make themselves aware of these potential issues, and take them on board when developing new initiatives so they can adopt a consistent, effective approach across all of their global sites.
Living in a global economy, more organisations naturally reply on employees spread across multiple locations worldwide, and benefit from this diversity of expertise and knowledge of local markets. This also means that businesses have a responsibility to address the wellbeing of geographically disparate teams in the same manner as they would local ones.
Understanding the unique challenges faced by dispersed employees, and finding flexible solutions that can be adapted to both the needs of the business and its staff is key, not only boosting the wellbeing of employees, but the bottom line of the company, too.