Previous Wellness in the Workplace blogs covered the physical dimension1 of wellness. Today’s blog covers the social dimension in a virtual environment.
Social wellness refers to cultivating relationships and connecting with others. In a distributed company like Lantana, this can be challenging since we are physically separated from our coworkers. As the map shows, our staff are located in many states across the country, Canada, and Australia.
So just how do Lantana staff foster relationships with their colleagues and manage to stay connected?
Our number one way to connect is our annual retreat where we get together face-to-face for work sessions and strategic planning. There’s also plenty of time built into the week-long schedule for social activities. In addition to the Annual Retreat, Lantana promotes connectivity and social wellness through:
- Annual management retreats
- Internal communication platforms – in addition to the usual phone, email, and text channels, we use Slack to communicate work and non-work-related items. Our non-work-related channels provide an opportunity to have “water cooler” conversations, post pictures of our lives, discuss our pets, and all kinds of other fun things.
- Co-working days
- Coworkers connect when attending industry-related events for work
- Staff share pictures during monthly company meetings
- Buddying new staff with seasoned staff to establish a social contact while learning about the company and procedures
- Flexible scheduling that allows staff to attend school conferences, coach sports/attend kids sporting events, meet with contractors for home repairs, etc.
Everyone was genuinely kind and welcoming as I started with Lantana. Having a buddy checking in on me and helping me through my concerns was so helpful. I struggled a little bit with virtual etiquette and knowing chain of command, but my buddy talked me through these issues which helped me integrate into the overall team. Having a buddy and mentor helped me feel supported and prepared me to succeed.
—Marla Throckmorton, Senior Clinical Analyst
Onboarding as a new employee in a virtual environment was challenging. I was surprised to find that I missed the background office chatter. I had to find alternatives to “mimic” an office-like environment in my home, so I audio stream voices in the background. Even though I don’t pay attention to them, it transforms my quiet home space into a different work space with background sounds, like a library or a slow day at a café.
—April Compingbutra, Program Analyst
There are numerous business-related ways distributed companies like Lantana can support social wellness:
- Using apps and in-line services like Meet-up to find local in-person events for business-related and personal growth
- Going to social café’s that provide Wi-Fi and a chance to engage with others in our communities during the workday
- Attending industry events and networking
When we are working in a virtual company system, I find it is even more important to build connections with our co-workers, staff, managers and clients, not just as business partners but as human beings. To help bolster these relationships, I try to make use of the beginning of meetings while we are waiting for attendees to join. Instead of waiting in silence, I promote check-ins with the team. This allows the team to share events or stories of our lives outside of work and find similarities with one another to strengthen our social and working relationships.
—Kit Cooper, Project Manager
But what about that work/life balance? According to the Brain and Spine team at the Cleveland Clinic2, many of the signs of work/life imbalance could signal any number of situations including mental, physical, or social stress. Things like loneliness, feelings of incompetence, or no clear boundaries between work and home. Working remotely does make it harder for co-workers to pick up on a building crisis or to find a positive way to support a co-worker at risk.
If any of this describes you, consider trying one of the ways we unplug from work and engage in their personal lives:
- Volunteering – school, church, animal shelters/rescue organizations, food and clothing drives, and health-related events are some of the more popular volunteering events Lantana staff engage in
- Hiking with other work-from-home friends
- Getting together with other work-from-home friends for co-working days
- Coffee dates
- Religious/spiritual practices
- Going to the gym and/or joining group training sessions
- Game nights with friends
Shortly after I started working at Lantana, my manager Zabrina, advised me to plan after work activities as I would if I was working in a traditional brick and mortar office setting. I thought it was nice that a boss would provide work-life balance advice to support me in being successful overall, not just in work. Having something to do after work helps me transition from “work mode” to “home mode” even though my work and home are in the same place. It’s easy to just keep on working and neglect your social life when you don’t have the physical transition from work to home.
—Laura Blum, Public Health Analyst
While these activities really are no different for those of us who work from home than those in traditional work settings, it’s important to remember that we should not give up the things and activities we would normally do if we were working outside the home. In fact, working from home often makes social activities more accessible.
The Productive Superdad website3 has an excellent article on finding ways to create work-life balance when working from home. Things like defining what work is, sticking to defined office hours, not multi-tasking work and home activities, and clearly communicating demands for your time to both co-workers and family.
Social wellness is an important contributor to one’s overall wellness. Working from home should never cause anyone to choose between their professional and personal lives. Telework may mean being more intentional in finding ways to connect with others throughout the day and clearly establishing work/life boundaries, but it can be done and done well, as Lantana clearly demonstrates.