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The importance of affinity groups in times of crisis

The rapid spread of the coronavirus around the globe has highlighted a key feature of life today: we are all deeply and inextricably linked. As social creatures, almost everything we do in industrialized societies relies on a long chain of other people to make it possible. Across cities, states, countries, and continents, we are all interconnected in ways that we rarely acknowledge. Unfortunately, one of our most effective pandemic responses, social distancing, has forced us to reckon with almost total isolation.

While the economic impacts of this virus will be both wide and deep, even those who are lucky enough to be able to work remotely are experiencing interpersonal effects. In 2019, 16% of companies operated with a fully remote workforce. For those in the other 84%, the social distancing measures of late have required a whole new approach to the work day. The one-off interactions with people at their desks, before and after meetings, in the kitchen/lunchroom, etc. that we used to take for granted are now nonexistent. Our new coworkers for the foreseeable future are the people we live with and our pets. As people struggle to adapt to video calls and to navigate shifting priorities on projects facing uncertain futures, we need the support of our colleagues now more than ever.

We’ve written before about the importance of culture and employee communities, but it is in times like these that those elements really come to the fore. As life as we know it slips away and the weight of this new reality sets in, employees who were dissatisfied before the crisis will only disengage further. Without the daily context of the workplace to keep them tuned in, and no motivation to support a company they feel doesn’t support them, their performance will suffer even further. Those companies that have been resistant to allowing remote work up until this point because they were concerned employees would ‘slack off’ at home were likely right. It wasn’t an issue with the employee however, but an issue with the company and its approach to talent management. If the company doesn’t trust their employees and recognize them as more than just cogs in the wheel, they can’t expect their employees to go above and beyond for them, particularly at such a distracting and distressing time.

One of the key reasons employees cite for giving their all day after day for a company is getting to work with great people. When employees have deep connections with their coworkers, they have a built-in support system that makes the bad times manageable, and the good times even better. In a situation like the one we’re currently facing, having a strong network of colleagues to commiserate, share tips, and just chat with to stay sane can make or break an employee’s success. Amidst fear and uncertainty, it’s your team that keeps you going and helps you muddle through in the face of the unknown.

In order to help employees build such connections, it’s critical to provide forums for them to interact substantively with others outside their department or project teams. The easiest way to do this is to set up the infrastructure for employees to self-select into groups that resonate with them. Start a group for parents of young children to share tips and trials related to trying to homeschool kids while also working full-time out of the house. Start a group for the mass of new pet parents that the coronavirus has created so they can bond over animal antics. Start a group for those caring for older relatives who may be especially frightened at this time. Give your employees the ability to share what they’re going through with colleagues, rather than expecting them to turn off 70% of themselves and plow through their work like machines. We promise it will pay significant dividends when we can all return to the office and your team is reinvigorated by seeing their support system in person rather than returning to a group of strangers with whom they share no connection.

If you’re interested in providing more social infrastructure to keep your employees healthy, sane, and engaged throughout this trying time, we’re now offering free trials of our software as a way to support. It can be difficult to launch new employee initiatives from behind a screen, but with Workrowd’s flexible engagement solution, you can set up employee communities in a few quick clicks. With everyone newly geographically distributed, our tools also provide you with critical insight into what’s happening, from what initiatives are being scheduled and who’s engaging, to which programs and sessions employees like the most.

If you think we can help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to hear how you’re doing, what you’re struggling with, and what you need to make things better. Stay safe, everyone!