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How can businesses maintain human connections in an increasingly virtual world?

Of the many business challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the mechanics of human interaction is one of the toughest. Businesses have always been built on people, whether in times of peace, war or international pandemic. Historically, business has been conducted face to face (think handshakes, networking events, business dinners and so on) and businesses have been run collectively, in offices. It is hard to imagine a time when the office wasn’t central to our cities and to our lives.

What a difference five months make. Home is the new office and digital tools are the new way to communicate and collaborate, giving way to a brand-new lexicon of words and expressions. Who would have thought that ‘videofurbishing’ would be a thing – the challenge of choosing the perfect backdrop for video calls – or that we would find ourselves ‘Coronalusional’ – suffering from disordered thinking as a result of the Covid-19 crisis?

In this new ‘normal’ of virtual business, the challenge organisations face is how to maintain cohesion and spirit, and how to nurture employees’ creativity and boost morale. Some will argue that in the digital age it has never been easier – the tools to conduct business as usual are almost unlimited.

But the question is whether these tools are enough to allow us to carry on as before or whether we need to change the way we do business altogether. Perhaps the challenge is not to learn how to coordinate a large team of workers remotely via daily video calls but to reimagine the very concept of ‘team’.

One of the likely effects of the pandemic is more widespread adoption of remote working – leaving those who are not made redundant to work from home in isolated silos. For the first time this applies to white-collar professions such as bank clerks and insurance underwriters.

So, how do businesses go about protecting company culture and motivating and guiding an increasingly remote workforce? And how do they foster the flexible collaboration on which the knowledge economy depends?

In a virtual organisation, where people are more connected digitally than personally, there needs to be clarity of purpose. In order to operate with agility, people need to know what is important – the aims of the business must be clearly stated and understood by everyone.

It is also important to promote authentic relationships. Humanity matters and cannot be automated. People have an innate desire to connect with other people, to feel valued and understood. Companies are doing all they can to foster these human connections. This includes arranging virtual ‘Friday Happy Hours’ for their employees to engage socially or hosting online quizzes and team challenges, both great tools to break the ice created by the sometimes-stilted nature of video calls. This encourages employees to demonstrate (and experience) the same camaraderie they used to when they were gossiping at the water cooler, queuing for the microwave or sharing a few post-work pints. The relationships colleagues build away from the pressures of work are vital.

Most businesses will never return to how they used to be, so they need to be equipped to find new ways to build and bind teams. The key, as with everything in life, is to find the right balance – play is an important part of work, and technology is there to enhance human interactions, not replace them.

This is not the end of life (and business) as we know it, this is simply the next phase. Now, how about some ‘Blue Skype thinking’ to try and solve the rest of society’s problems?

Looking to get your business ready for new ways of working? Find out how Step5 can help you rise to the challenge.