Work and Wellbeing: New Research Addresses Impact of Social Disconnection on Hybrid and Remote Workers

14 February 2022

After two years of working through a pandemic and embracing new ways of working many industries’ approach to work has changed forever.  But how is employee wellbeing being addressed as hybrid working policies are developed?  New research from the SFI ADAPT Centre for AI-Driven Digital Content Technology and the SFI Centre for Research Training in Digitally-Enhanced Reality (D-REAL) has proposed recommendations to develop a more connected online workplace that can support employees in fully remote or hybrid working situations.  The study published recently in the Human Computer Interaction journal examines social talk practices among remote colleagues and outlines best practices to facilitate social connectedness in the workplace.

Social talk and workplace communication are associated with increased workplace wellbeing. Although video conferencing tools have transformed how colleagues do collegiality, social interactions are not as instinctive online. 

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. 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 side 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.”

Remote working and the absence of in-person meetings and events has left some workers less engaged with their team and disconnected.  It is widely accepted that better communication leads to better working relationships and work culture.  Overcoming the challenges of co-worker communication could help with not just the wellbeing of employees but also workplace satisfaction.

Lead author of the work and researcher at D-REAL, Anna Bleakley, 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.”

Work provides people with a wide range of benefits including opportunities to interact with others outside the family and a means of establishing an identity outside of the home.  With many employees now beginning to embrace hybrid working, insights from the study can be used to inform future work to ensure employee wellbeing, social connectedness and motivation are considered by employers.