After such a long time away from the office, we’ve become accustomed to our home-working routines and some of us would be happy to continue with this way of working, but is this isolation from our colleagues helping our wellbeing?
Some employers are offering hybrid working options, but most businesses want their staff back in the office for the majority of the working week. While there may be those among us who are resistant to this, a return to the office offers some significant benefits to employees – not just employers.
The main benefit is community and reuniting with colleagues. Difficult to quantify but of critical importance, this is all about the connections we make with our workmates and the need we have to be united in purpose. It’s about the sharing of expertise, building relationships and having a positive obligation to contribute to company culture.
We take a look at what we gain from working with others, and indeed what we can give back to them.
Identity and belonging
Community is about belonging – being united, connected and accepted by your colleagues. The fulfilment we get from this isn’t measurable but it comes out of a shared sense of social identity, something we are most likely to feel with our colleagues rather than any other group we come in to contact with according to research.
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the movement of people from the countryside into cities, the majority of our shared sense of purpose has been experienced with our co-workers. As social beings we crave connections and typically these are the most rewarding when achieved with our colleagues, working together to win new business or complete a project. Fulfilment and happiness comes from exploiting our talents and problem solving.
Even the most introvert among us has a need for connection with others. Depending on our preference we will require varying amounts of time with other people, but recent experience, backed up by research, has demonstrated that a lack of face-to-face contact leads to a decline in wellbeing, an increased risk of disease and even a reduced life-expectancy.
We have numerous technological means of connection but this is inadequate as it inhibits our ability to read the nonverbal cues we can only pick up in person. We are also limited by the reliability of our Wi-Fi connection, not to mention the dreaded mute button. In addition, being on camera has a tendency to make us hyper-vigilant (no one wants to watch themselves on camera) and this add a layer of intensity to the working day which can be draining. Tech fatigue can be reduced by being present with your team in the office and this is critical to our physical as well as our emotional health.
Our brains also benefit from face-to-face contact releasing the feel-good hormone oxytocin when we are in social situations. Not only does this give us a sense of contentment, it also suppresses damaging chemicals such as adrenocorticotropin and cortisol which in large quantities can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and weight gain.
Socialising makes us smarter. Researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) have found that the more time we spend interacting with others – connecting, talking and socialising – the more improved our cognitive performance is. It is thought this is down to the mental processes involved in listening, thinking, empathising and responding, all elements of conversation.
Our performance, and that of our colleagues, is also likely to be impacted positively by the community experience. The social process through which we absorb group energy and experience positive emotional connection through shared interests is known as the bandwagon effect.
Additional UM research found that productivity doubles when teams work alongside each other in dedicated workspace and further research from MIT discovered that people are three times more collaborative when working in close physical proximity with each other with a greater academic output of patents and papers. Finally, according to research published in the Journal of Labor Economics improved performance in one team member has a domino effect on others.
Personal and career development
Whilst the best organisations respect and value their staff no matter where they are working, it is natural, and indeed human nature, to pay the closest attention to what we encounter on a personal level. What we hear, see and experience most directly is where our focus lies and this has ramifications where our visibility and careers are concerned.
Being present in the office offers the opportunity for us to build our social capital and be on the radar and in the recent memory of senior management who may be thinking about rewarding or promoting key talent. This is important for personal development and has a positive impact on our colleagues in relation to the contributions we make.
Naturally, being together is critical for relationship building. Regular contact and familiarity builds acceptance and trust mainly because we are likely to know more about our colleagues – what they have going on in their lives, how they operate and what motivates them. This makes us more likely to understand them, empathise with them and in turn open up to them.
We might also have much to teach our teammates regardless of our seniority within the company. Being in the office enables relationship building and for us to learn from each other, adding to our fulfilment. Crucially, being together also allows us to support one another, being more aware when someone is down or struggling.
Sociologically, people learn the most from watching other people, even unconsciously, we are always watching and modelling our behaviour on that of others. Our teammates will feed off our professionalism, our humour, our energy and our unique talents, and as we contribute to community spirit so we will feel fulfilled because we will be reminded of our value to the team.
As we return to the office we shouldn’t underestimate what we will gain by coming back and contributing once again to our business community, elements of our former every day that we didn’t even know we have been missing this past year.
Image courtesy of Drazan Zigic