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Reinventing Workplace Connections

Reinventing Workplace Connections

Reinventing Workplace Connections

How to nurture friendships in the remote contact center era.

In today’s workforce, as remote work becomes increasingly common in contact centers, we are confronted with the absence of once-familiar workplace relationships and the spontaneous connections formed in breakrooms or at the water coolers.

However, this shift to a work-from-home (WFH) or hybrid environment does not signify the end of these interactions. Instead, it introduces unique challenges and opportunities to find and harness the power of workplace friendships.

This article covers the crucial role these relationships play in boosting employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity in remote settings. It outlines strategic approaches for management to foster these bonds, crafting a vibrant and connected virtual workplace.

Maximizing Employee Hours By Relationship Building

The average employee spends a substantial part of their life at work, amounting to tens of thousands of hours over a career. This time can be merely transactional or have purpose through meaningful workplace friendships.

Research has consistently shown that fostering connections among team members can transform these hours into a more productive and engaging experience. For instance, the ADP Research Institute highlights that employees who rank their coworkers highly are nearly twice as likely to be highly engaged in their work.

For contact center leadership, encouraging team camaraderie is not just about creating a pleasant work environment but is a strategic move to maximize the investment in each employee hour.

Combatting Loneliness as a Strategic Advantage

In today’s increasingly remote work environment, contact centers have a unique role in addressing the isolation felt by many remote employees.

Gallup’s research indicates that the move to home offices has significantly heightened feelings of loneliness for those working away from traditional office spaces. This presents a critical opportunity for contact centers to bridge the gap, creating a community and fostering connections despite geographical separations.

Management must recognize and nurture positive relationship dynamics while mitigating potential drawbacks.

As natural social interactions decline, companies that cultivate workplace friendships become more appealing. Offering such environments is not just ethically sound but also a strategic edge.

By tackling loneliness, businesses can enhance mental wellbeing and boost productivity among their teams. Research from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota supports this. They show that workplace friendships lead to improved communication, commitment, and mutual support, which in turn elevates productivity.

Navigating Complex Workplace Relationships

While the benefits of workplace friendships are clear, navigating these relationships requires finesse and understanding. Relationships in the workplace can lead to enhanced performance and morale: but they can also introduce complexities such as distraction or emotional exhaustion.

Workplace relationships, while beneficial, can risk inappropriate behavior, harassment, and favoritism, undermining morale, and trust. These challenges differ across environments. Remote work may obscure harassment but foster misunderstandings, whereas office settings can intensify perceptions of favoritism due to closer interactions.

Management must recognize and nurture positive relationship dynamics while mitigating potential drawbacks. Avoiding those distractions involves promoting a balanced approach where employees are encouraged to form connections, but also are reminded to maintain a focus on their professional responsibilities.

Encouraging open dialog about the dynamics of workplace relationships can lead to more balance between professional and personal interactions within the team.

Leveraging Informal Networks for Insights

In every organization, informal networks operate within the workplace. These networks, often built through friendships and shared experiences, are a gold mine of insights for those in leadership positions.

By understanding and tapping into these informal networks, contact center leaders can gain a deeper understanding of the team’s pulse, uncover hidden challenges, and identify opportunities for improvement.

These networks are channels for feedback, innovation, and cross-departmental collaboration that, when leveraged correctly, can significantly enhance organizational performance and employee satisfaction.

Friendships: The Unseen Pillars of Remote Work

The transition to a WFH setting can unintentionally lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection due to the lack of physical proximity.

Yet the core of workplace relationships isn’t lost; it just needs to be reimagined and nurtured through innovative channels. Workplace friendships are crucial yet often overlooked pillars of organizational success, impacting employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity.

It is very common for colleagues who have never met in person to build career-long and even lifelong friendships, supporting each other through creating and building on those bonds of shared interests and experiences.

Employee Satisfaction

Workplace friends serve as anchors, providing a sense of belonging and shared purpose. Research from the Gallup organization studied the value of these relationships, revealing that employees with strong workplace friendships experience 37% higher job satisfaction and feel more deeply connected to their company’s mission and values.

Retention

The significance of workplace friendships in retaining employees is extremely important. According to a study by Gallup, people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage at work fully. The comfort and support provided by friends at work can elevate a job from being merely a source of income to an indispensable and fulfilling part of one’s life, leading to reduced turnover rates.

Productivity

Colleagues who are friends often evolve into each other’s supporters, challengers, and collaborators. This synergy enhances the quality of work and creates a proactive and dynamic work environment.

The ADP Research Institute ran a study that found that employees who rate their coworkers as “excellent” are nearly twice as likely also to be highly engaged at work. This insight suggests that positive peer relationships contribute to better productivity.

Cultivating Digital Camaraderie

Creating a virtual environment that fosters real connections and reflects the warmth of in-person teamwork is both a challenge and opportunity for managers.

This goal can be achieved by organizing frequent video calls for both work discussions and casual chats, which help in building bonds within the team. Hosting online team-building activities, such as games or virtual happy hours, promotes a sense of fun and inclusion.

Recognizing team and individual accomplishments online, ensuring open and honest communication, and providing flexible work options and support, are key to developing a supportive and cohesive virtual workplace.

Create Virtual Spaces for Casual Interactions

Employees and agents see comfort and common ground within a physical break room, so creating virtual spaces where team members can engage in casual, non-work-related conversations is essential.

These spaces, such as a Slack channel or Teams message thread dedicated to hobbies and personal interests or a regular virtual coffee meetup, serve as the foundation for building friendships. They facilitate sharing experiences and interests that bind team members.

Encouraging agents to join peer forums or social pages also allows employees to have a resource to not only build relationships and friendships, but also get support from peers to increase their success in your organization.

Encourage Collaboration and Peer Learning

They are leveraging digital tools for project management, learning, and mentorship. Motivate and sponsor seasoned employees to organize virtual “lunch and learn” sessions or informal Q&A forums.

These platforms facilitate knowledge sharing and foster bonding and collaborative learning opportunities. As an added bonus, your top tier employees feel empowered to share their experience and enjoy the opportunity to increase their responsibility, further increasing their promotability.

Celebrate Together, Even If Apart

In the virtual space, acknowledge and celebrate personal milestones like birthdays, work anniversaries, and professional accomplishments.

Organizing online gatherings, sending digital tokens of appreciation, or making group announcements helps instill a sense of belonging. They ensure that employees feel valued and are an integral part of a cohesive community. Many CCaaS (contact center-as-a-service) systems provide dashboards, communication channels, and/or gamification boards to recognize and reward agents.

Have Regular Check-ins and Feedback

Promote a culture of transparent communication with consistent virtual check-ins. These interactions should extend beyond work-related discussions to encompass each employee’s wellbeing, challenges, and aspirations, reinforcing friendships’ supportive network.

Navigating the Fine Line

Carefully navigating the fine line between employee satisfaction and workplace professionalism - while striving to emulate the office’s camaraderie in a virtual setting - can be a challenge. But it’s imperative to approach this workplace improvement with empathy and sensitivity.

Avoiding forced interactions or compulsory social events is crucial, as these can feel insincere and potentially lead to employee disengagement. The key lies in striking a delicate balance, offering avenues for interaction that respect individual preferences and boundaries.

...management can leverage these relationships to forge a thriving, engaged, and cohesive virtual workforce.

Set an expectation that every remote agent is communicated with at least daily by their leaders. Remote workers already run the risk of alienation, but having leadership that never talks to them further alienates.

Frontline supervisors should call, chat, or email every agent every shift to see if they need anything and show interest in the agent and their life outside of work. The medium used for communication should be based on the preference of each agent and their preferred communication channel.

Key Takeaways

The evolution to a WFH model in contact centers represents more than a mere alteration of the physical workspace; it signifies a fundamental shift in redefining team dynamics and connections.

By acknowledging the profound influence of workplace friendships on employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity, management can leverage these relationships to forge a thriving, engaged, and cohesive virtual workforce.

The digital domain is ripe with possibilities, and with deliberate and thoughtful strategies, we can transform these challenges, like WFH/hybrid working, into opportunities, ensuring the essence of workplace camaraderie continues to thrive, resonating as strongly as ever, even from afar.

Eric Berg & Shane Devitt

Eric Berg

 

Eric Berg has spent 30 years in the contact center industry, currently serving as CEO of ContactCenterPRO Consulting. Eric is also the co-founder of the Midwest Contact Center Association, held various roles leading remote teams, and was the Lead Operations Consultant for Work From Home for J.D. Power.

 

Shane Devitt

Shane Devitt is a partner and Lead Consultant for ContactCenterPRO Consulting and an industry leader in Contact Center Technology and AI strategies.

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