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Collaborative force: Why it pays to keep workers connected

October 5, 2023

There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of today’s digital workplace: despite technology enabling us to be more connected than we have ever been before, large swathes of the workforce don’t feel connected at all.

Indeed, a recent survey suggests that as many as two-thirds of UK employees do not feel a sense of connection and belonging at work, and almost a quarter (24%) admit to experiencing loneliness.

While shifting workplace dynamics in the wake of the pandemic are undoubtedly an influence, this sense of isolation is not exclusive to home and hybrid workers. Separate research has underlined that loneliness is experienced equally by employees across a wide variety of industries and work settings, with the finding that around half (47%) of construction workers feel lonely at work only underlining that the problem goes beyond office-based roles.

The cost of disconnection

From an employer’s perspective, these figures carry important implications. Employees who feel lonely are more likely to struggle with their wellbeing and health, leading to absence due to sickness and lost productivity. Furthermore, a lack of social connection can be a trigger for employees to change jobs, contributing to higher levels of staff turnover.

These factors all add up, with the cost of loneliness at work previously estimated to cost UK employers £2.5 billion a year.

An effective strategy for tackling this issue can be to bring colleagues together through collaboration and teamwork. At a fundamental level, people are sociable animals, and supporting each other in working towards collective goals, embracing a shared culture, or adopting a unifying philosophy can all help establish common ground for positive connections to be made.

For the individual employees who might otherwise feel a sense of detachment, this spirit of togetherness can help increase engagement, job satisfaction and overall wellbeing. At the same time, research suggests there are tangible rewards for organisations that can master effective collaboration among their teams.

Collaboration brings multiple benefits

In its latest annual Anatomy of Work Global Index, work-management technology provider Asana found that 92% of workers at highly collaborative organisations say their work has value. This compares with a figure of 50% for those organisations where collaboration is weak.

In addition, the research found a correlation between collaboration and resilience. As many as 79% of workers at highly collaborative organisation said they felt well-prepared to respond to challenges – four times the level observed for less collaborative organisations.

Beyond the empowerment and motivation of employees, there are further tangible benefits for the organisation from improved collaboration. This can be seen in terms of productivity gains from task-sharing and greater diversity of thought, which can translate into more effective problem-solving and a more cohesive culture.

Collaboration can take different forms, however, with behavioural analysis uncovering two primary styles. ‘Open door’ is where teams frequently communicate with colleagues at all levels across the organisation, while ‘closed door’ is where communication is mainly within siloed groups who are disconnected from the broader company culture. Retention was found to be higher among employees in open-door environments.

Tools for togetherness

If the goal, therefore, is to bring employees together in the right way, the next logical question is ‘how?’. In today’s digital workplace there are plenty of software platforms to provide an answer. This includes enterprise collaboration tools such as Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 as well as Asana, Slack and Trello, all of which can help encourage communication and information sharing with a view to moving tasks and projects forward.

In the world of hybrid working, these platforms can complement, or integrate with, valuable face-to-face engagement, providing co-workers with dual routes to develop their understanding of each other and build healthy, productive relationships. And whether in virtual or real-world environments, interactions should be defined by empathy, inclusion, transparency and positivity in order for collaboration to flourish.

It is also important to remember that opportunities for employees to come together and connect exist beyond the boundaries of day-to-day business. This could take the form of fundraising for a charitable cause, for example, or a team activity enjoyed as part of a company-wide employee benefits offering.

Admittedly, such measures are unlikely to resolve the problem of loneliness in one fell swoop, and efforts to enhance collaboration should also be complemented by more personal, individual approaches. Praise and rewards, for example, have been found to help reinforce an employee’s sense of value and purpose in their role.

However, it can be seen that a more collaborative culture can play a valuable role in improving the sense of connection, belonging and engagement among employees, wherever they might be based.


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