Three in four Brits have said they want the flexibility of being able to work hybrid (CityAM).

49% of people go as far as saying they would rule out a job if it didn’t offer this (HRNews). Which is sort of good and sort of bad.

The benefits of flexible working have been widely reported for some time and the arm’s length list often includes improved work-life balance, greater productivity, more efficient use of time and freedom to choose what works best. But what else are we seeing in our flexible working world?

One common side-effect that’s emerging is loneliness. 67% of people feel less connected to their colleagues (Standout-CV). They’re having less social contact, which is leaving people feeling isolated and having a negative impact on someone’s mental, physical and emotional health. Especially if these feelings have lasted a long time.

To attract top talent, it’s clear that flexible working needs to be part of an organisation’s offering. The question is, how can we maintain connections, build relationships, and make the remote working experience, more social?

Start things off with a bit of employee listening…

Designing an experience which allows your people to flourish, needs to be driven by them. Aim to speak to around 10% of your organisation from all business units, locations and levels. Involve flexible workers and people from any Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and you’ll be listening to a lovely representative sample.

Surveys are ideal for gathering quick, quantitative data, whereas interviews and focus groups can offer more personal insights and context. Whichever route you opt for (or maybe you go for a mix of the two) the key point is, don’t avoid the difficult questions. Does technology enable collaboration? What do people want from the office space today, is it set up to bring people together or isolate them in cubicles? Is the cost of living influencing how and where people work?

With the rich insight you hear, you’ll be able to design the right employee experience for your people. One that matches what matters most to them.

Create opportunities for people to connect

Whichever direction your insight takes you, creating opportunities for people to connect is the only way they’ll build relationships, find human interaction and feel a sense of belonging. Shaking off that sense of loneliness.

Virtually or in-person, there are so many ways you can bring people together…

1. ERGs

ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that aim to help create a diverse, inclusive workplace. Building a series of ERGs, led and participated in by people who share a characteristic (and are open to allies too), can create space for connections and a strong sense of belonging. Better still, ERGs can be powerful drivers of action, inspiring conversation, collaboration and teamwork along the way.

2. Planned face-to-face ‘events’

We hear it often, and I’m sure you feel it too. No one wants to be in the office just to sit on Zoom calls all day. This is where the human touch comes in. With planned, organised ‘events’ such as Townhalls, dedicated collaboration time or team meetings, and one-to-ones, people have a genuine social reason to be in the office, that they can benefit from personally and professionally.

The emphasis has to be on planning. Meaning, give people reasonable notice to make any life adjustments they need; (ie. Childcare or even time to commute) that will make their experience smoother and more positive.

3. Networking opportunities

Remember when you were new to the organisation – daunting was it! Well, a big part of finding your feet through the onboarding stage is getting to know people. But for those working remotely or struggling to find people in the office, it can feel slightly trickier to integrate. Networking opportunities like digital coffee catch-ups, mentoring, charitable groups or even sports clubs can bring people together around common interests, building relationships that can open the doors to better collaboration and productivity.

Help leaders spot the signs

It may be 2023 but there is still a stigma around loneliness (and many other topics) that make it difficult or embarrassing for people to talk about.

Educating leaders on the causes and signs as well as equipping them with the conversation tools can empower them to tackle loneliness among the people they manage.

Because managers and leaders are often the most important relationship a person has within the workplace, so hearing them talk about the subject – and the support available – is a positive way to raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding loneliness.

Reality check… leaders are not immune from loneliness so be sure to check on them too.

Communicate the support available

As well as communicating the opportunities for people to connect, and talk about the support that is available to people, should they need it.

You possibly already have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that offers free, confidential advice. You may also have Mental Health First Aiders available to talk to. Make this known, so people can seek the guidance they need. And don’t lock it away in a dusty part of your intranet. Making it prominent and accessible.

And keep evolving

The future of work has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. This presents exciting opportunities and new challenges we don’t yet know about.

Regular touchpoints, through temperature check surveys or employee champions, can help keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on within your organisation and how you can continue evolving a positive employee experience.

If you’re ever looking for inspiration, at Home, we have plenty of case studies to spark some bright ideas. And through HomeEX, we have a range of tools, templates, strategies and sessions available to you so you can shape the very best experience.