University of Bedfordshire researcher, Dr Banita Lal, explains how technology and mobile phones ‘provide promise and opportunity’ for colleagues to stay connected and motivated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The present situation with Covid-19 has resulted in a radical change for many employees for whom the traditional office space as a place of work has been replaced by personal living spaces in their home. Working on the kitchen table or in the living room has become the norm and, subsequently, the concepts of ‘organisation’, ‘teamworking’ and ‘colleagues’ has changed. Thus, their whole experience of ‘work’ and what it means has changed.
This can have numerous implications for individuals. One such implication which is gaining increasing attention as the lockdown continues is an increase in feelings of social isolation.
The need to associate and identify with others through long-term, positive relationships is recognised as a fundamental motivation in all humans: our workplaces provide us with the ability to fulfil this need. Face-to-face interaction with colleagues is regarded as being critical for enabling communication and creating camaraderie between employees.
When separated from their work environment, colleagues and social environment, individuals can increasingly feel disconnected from both their jobs and co-workers. This can result in: (i) a reduction in their commitment towards their job, (ii) feelings of anxiety and depression, (iii) feelings of being left out from decision-making processes, (iv) a decline in team synergy and trust and (v) their productivity.
These impacts are exemplified given that during the Covid-19 pandemic individuals are not only separated from colleagues, but also their social circle outside of the workplace. The potential negative implications of loneliness on individuals are profound.
When face-to-face social interaction with colleagues is no longer possible, technology provides promise and opportunity. Mobile technology, particularly mobile phones, can change the relationship between the homeworker and their colleagues, allowing individuals to interact socially ‘anytime, anywhere’.
Video chat applications enable individuals to have a greater feeling of being ‘socially present’ because you can potentially see and hear those you are interacting with as you would in the traditional workspace.
Our research has identified that on the whole, homeworkers are happy to exchange their personal mobile phones details with a close network of colleagues for social interaction purposes. Our respondents highlighted that changes had to be made in their patterns of communication as personal devices were now being used for interaction with colleagues.
Mobile phones allow individuals to have a catch-up with colleagues whilst doing the washing, going shopping, or having a glass of wine, which highlights that social interaction can be incorporated into their daily lives in a way that suits them.
Some individuals liked being contactable ‘anytime, anywhere’ because it felt more like the spontaneous interaction that occurred in the traditional office; for example, when a colleague unexpectedly comes to your desk to tell you about their weekend or recent holiday.
In terms of what homeworkers discuss when interacting in this way, our research found that three main types of information is exchanged/discussed: general gossip about colleagues, information about the developments and changes within the company and advice on how to complete work tasks. Such information would normally be discussed over a coffee in the traditional workplace but where a close network of colleagues exists, the information exchange continues.
The emphasis is on who homeworkers wish to communicate with – in the workplace, many individuals build up a small network of colleagues they regard as friends. When working from home, this network of colleagues becomes the homeworker’s ‘go to’ people when they need information.
There is clearly no substitute for face-to-face interaction, hence why many people are struggling whilst working from home during the lockdown. However, mobile phones can be useful. This is an important consideration for managers of any homeworkers: it is important that organisations do not ‘forget’ their less visible workforce.
Support from management needs to be there so that homeworkers are not left to self-manage themselves and develop their own coping strategies, especially where people are new to the organisation.
We are all in a challenging situation and many things are learnt through trial and error. However, considering the technology available today, we need to consider not just how the technology can be used to serve an organisation’s purpose, but also how it can be used to ensure employees enjoy healthy social interactions with one another in order to support their wellbeing.
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