Work relationships: why making time for connection while WFH is so important

Posted by for Mental Health

Making time for our work relationships while working from home isn’t just a great way to relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation – it could boost our resilience and work happiness, too. 

Almost one year since many of us started working from home, it’s clear that what began as a ‘temporary’ arrangement hasn’t come without its challenges. Whether you’ve had to make do without a desk, fallen victim to the perils of Zoom fatigue or struggled with screen exhaustion, working from home hasn’t always been easy.

One of the biggest issues many of us have been facing is the loneliness and isolation of working outside the office. On top of the isolation of lockdown measures, WFH has left many people without the support system they relied on in the office: a study from job board Totaljobs published last year found that almost half (46%) of UK workers had experienced loneliness while working remotely, with young workers (those aged 18-38) most likely to be affected.  

Not only does the lack of a physical community have the power to leave you feeling isolated, but without the impromptu conversations and watercooler chats that arise organically when you’re in the office, it’s hard to establish that same sense of connection.

In the era of working from home, connecting with our colleagues requires a lot more thought and intention – and when so many of us are struggling to make time for our friends and family right now, it’s hardly surprising that our work relationships have taken a back seat.

With the current arrangement set to go on for a little while longer (at least), finding ways to address this lack of connection could be more important than you think. Not only could prioritising your work relationships help to relieve feelings of WFH loneliness, but it could also benefit us in other surprising ways. 

“Having connection at work can help if you’re facing challenges, for example, because you have people you can talk to or who can support you,” explains Gemma Leigh Roberts, an organisational psychologist and founder of The Resilience Edge. “It also helps if you’ve got people you feel you can trust, because they can give you honest feedback or guide you through the challenges or obstacles that you might come across.”

Roberts continues: “Connection plays a really, really massive role in building resilience. When people think about how to become more resilient, they tend to focus on what they need to do to themselves, but actually a huge part of it is creating an environment of support and connection. And the more resilient you are the more likely you are to be happy, the more likely you are to be able to cope with challenges, you’ll be less stressed, less anxious.” 

A woman sat on her bed typing on her laptop
Making time for connection isn't always easy, but it's hugely beneficial.

In this way, making time for connection at work can not only be beneficial for your career, but it can also contribute to your happiness at work and help you to perform better under pressure.

With the ongoing challenges of loneliness and the benefits highlighted by Roberts, it’s clear that making time for our work relationships – especially while WFH – is a pretty good idea. Of course, it’s not always down to the individual – the onus is also on companies to introduce healthy working practices and opportunities for employees to connect. But if you want to make some personal changes, how can you go about doing that? 

First of all, Roberts recommends making a commitment to put connection higher on your priority list – and forcing yourself to take action, even when you don’t feel like it.

“We can fall into the trap of sitting behind our laptop and not really taking part in any social things, so I think part of it is just forcing yourself to attend events and take part in activities introduced by your organisation,” Roberts says. “I know it feels strange, because it does for all of us, but it’s actually really important.”

On top of saying yes to any opportunities that might head your way, Roberts also recommends being proactive and asking people to chat – even if it feels like a bit of an effort to organise. 

“Putting virtual coffees and lunches in your diary is a great idea,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed having lunches – it’s just me sitting there eating my lunch at the same time as someone else, which is odd, but at least I’m able to have that chat.

“It’s about making time for catch ups that might happen if you bumped into someone in the office, for example. Sometimes making time to chat feels like a bit of a luxury or a waste of time, especially when you’ve got a big workload, but it’s really important, even if it’s just half an hour once every other week, just to have a quick check in and stop doing things for a little bit.” 

A woman writing in her diary
Scheduling regular catch-ups will help you to make it part of your routine.

Finally, if you’re finding it hard to schedule in those one-to-one chats, Roberts suggests creating or joining a network – whether that’s among your own team, colleagues from other areas of the business or people in the same industry as you.

“Use that network to have a check in with people, check how everyone is and what everyone’s working on and what their priorities are,” she suggests. 

“We’re so focused on formal feedback, learning and relationship building, that we forget how much we learn from just chatting and reaching out. So, make yourself do it – you could have a schedule for catch ups once a week or once a month, just to keep the conversations going.” 

While making time for connection – and actually going through with the things you’ve organised – isn’t always easy, it’s clear that making time for your work relationships is more important than you might think.

There’s been so much emphasis placed on connecting with our friends and family during this time that we’ve forgotten how important our relationships with our colleagues can be too. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone on your team, but making time for a few extra conversations could be one way to boost your work happiness during this uncertain period. 

If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Images: Pexels, courtesy of Anthony Shkraba, Ivan Samkov, Vlada Karpovich

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.