Research Outlines Best Practice to Improve Social Connectedness In Work Setting

30 September 2021

Social talk and workplace communication is associated with increased workplace well-being but during the COVID-19 pandemic these interactions were moved online.   Video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have transformed how colleagues do collegiality but social interactions are not as instinctive online.  New SFI ADAPT Centre and d-real (Centre for Research Training in Digitally-Enhanced Reality) research recently published in the Human Computer Interaction Journal examines social talk practices among remote colleagues and outlines best practices to facilitate social connectedness in the workplace.  This research provides an important foundation for future research on video conferencing social talk systems.  

Communication over video conferencing channels is more formal than in-person interactions.  Research highlights that video conferencing tends to lead to speakers interrupting each other less, while also leading to a reduction in back channel conversations.  The post-pandemic workplace will likely see a more hybrid approach to working and remote teams will be more commonplace.  In order to ensure that important interactions are not lost and motivation is maintained due to socialising, this new research highlights a number of guidelines for teams.

Speaking about the research, Dr Benjamin Cowan from the ADAPT Centre at UCD said: “This research is an important first step in understanding how colleagues maintain collegial ties and tries to understand the factors that influence social talk in a video conferencing environment.” 

Anna Bleakley, lead author of the work and researcher at D-REAL emphasises that the work lays out some key guidelines on how to encourage social talk between colleagues when working remotely. “Firstly we should try and follow in person trends and make time to chat at the start and end of more formal meetings either in the form of a breakout session or in the virtual meeting room itself.  Secondly, individuals need to accept that multitasking takes place.  Thirdly, due to the online nature of video conferencing tools like Zoom, people can socially engage with others outside of their immediate team. Managers should support this by creating shared social opportunities or activities for individuals to engage with each other right across an organisation.  Finally, group size matters and can affect levels of social talk and the conversational experience.  With large numbers of people on Zoom it is harder to support the natural side-conversations we see in large in-person group chats as well as becoming much more difficult for people to find common ground on which to contribute to a conversation.”

Insights from the study can be used to inform future work as companies look to support fully remote or hybrid working.  A future area for exploration will look at comparing more directly the experiences of in-person and partially remote workers to those of the fully remote participants in this study in order to draw further insights into aspects of collegiality that are exclusive to fully remote working from home environments.

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