27 July 2018

beach meeting - tips to beat workplace loneliness.

A meeting on the beach is far more fun than a meeting within four plain walls!

I was shocked to read an article in the Independent lately that laid out how workplace loneliness is on the rise. Looking further into it, earlier this year the Office for National Statistics announced that 2.4 million adult British residents, of all ages, suffer from chronic loneliness.

Chronic loneliness. There are illnesses triggered by being lonely and, it seems, they are on the rise.

In a world where we are more connected than ever, this is heart-breaking. Yet, it makes sense. How often do you send an email or message in work when you could pop over to chat instead? It seems like the more efficient way but actually, it’s all part of the problem.

It’s something that I am incredibly conscious of at UKFast. As a technology brand, we’re well placed to push new technologies to help boost fast and efficient communication – from instant messaging to intranets and new apps. However, I would much rather invest our time and energy in creating a space where people can really get to know each other, build true friendships and really feel like a part of the team pushing in the same direction.

A business doesn’t have to feel like a corporate, stuffy workshop. We spend so much time together at work, we’re a family. To me it’s that simple.

The article describes an epidemic of workplace loneliness and shares six ways to beat loneliness, but could businesses be doing more to help? Of course they could!

Here are my five tips for creating a happier, healthier, sociable workplace:

Create social opportunities

As employers, there are so many ways in which we can create opportunities for team members to interact with one another. This could be anything from a BBQ at the end of the week, to a weekend-long event for the team, their friends and family. Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You could launch a running club, it costs nothing but it gets people out of the office for half an hour, get the blood pumping and spend some time getting to know people from other departments.

We have small initiatives like new teammates wearing a different coloured lanyard to team members – this means they’re easily recognisable as new to the business. This simple change ensures that teammates say hello and get to know their new colleagues, and to offer a helping hand in getting to know the ropes if needs be.

Creating opportunities for the team to get to know each other can be as simple as enjoying a drink together after work on a Friday.

Balance the tech

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of jumping on the bandwagon with the latest technology, however is that really what’s best for your team? We’ve never had an intranet at UKFast – we have only recently launched an app to help the team get to know who’s who and message one another. As a tech brand, not being an early adopter of this tech may seem a little odd. However, when you really consider it, it makes sense. We were always in the same office, so why wouldn’t we encourage people to go over to speak with one another or to pick up the phone?

Whilst tools like Slack have huge value, it’s incredibly important not to become too reliant on these to communicate with one another. If you’re in the same building, go over and say hi. More often than not you’ll find that communicating this way is far more effective in the long run.

Take care

We have a responsibility for our teams. Why would you not want to get to know the people who work in your business?

We have a rule at UKFast that I call Honeycomb Management. It means that no one team leader or manager has more than six direct reports. Keeping teams at a manageable size ensures that no one slips through the cracks. Managers and team leaders can get to know their teams well enough to recognise if something isn’t quite right, if people are feeling the strain or having challenges in their personal lives. If someone is feeling lonely, it’s easier to recognise and to offer them support.

Leadership

On the topic of leadership, your management style has a huge impact on those around you. What shadow do you cast? Are people anxious in your presence, are they comfortable to chat and have fun whilst delivering their role outcomes?

Whilst we don’t have all the answers, we’ve learned that people are far more productive when they are happy. We started out as a family business, and that has continued throughout our growth. Sometimes I feel like the Dad of 400 adults! I would hope that anyone in the team feels comfortable to come to myself or Gail or our Enterprise MD Jonathan to seek help or support if they are feeling lonely. Ultimately, not only are you creating better health and wellbeing balance you’re creating a happier, more productive workplace.

Boxing class at UKFast - health and wellbeing

Fitness classes are a great way to break down walls and build relationships within the team.

Culture is everything

At the end of the day it all comes down to company culture. If you have a culture of working every hour of the day, competitive and aggressive targets with little or no let-up, a space where people can’t enjoy themselves because the workload is so high, no wonder people feel lonely.

With technology increasing options for working from home or hot-desking it becomes harder to get to know your teammates, to build relationships and to recognise if someone is struggling. If you’re introducing this technology, it’s essential to create a balance. Have more opportunities to get together as a team, set up a weekly meeting at the office for example.

Ultimately it is up to us as business leaders to create workplaces that support our teams’ health and wellbeing rather than piling on so much pressure that our teams can no longer interact with one another.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever felt lonely at work?

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