America has a loneliness epidemic. And it’s about to get a lot worse.
In 2018, a Cigna study raised the alarm bells. Loneliness in America had grown to epidemic proportions. The prophecy of Bowling Alone had been fulfilled with a full 46% of Americans self identifying as lonely. 43% feel their relationships are not meaningful. The same number 43% feel isolated. Only half of all Americans 53% have a meaningful in person interactions on a daily basis. An AARP study the same year found that 1 in 3 Americans over age 45 are lonely. But more surprising is that the self-reported loneliest demographic is age 18 to 22.
What’s wrong with people feeling a little lonely? The problem is that loneliness has the same impact on physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even worse for mortality than obesity. And as shelter at home orders become the norm, the problem is set to get worse.
The good news is that we are together in our isolation. Yes, we are all social distancing from each other, but we are collectively experiencing the situation and that gives us a point of understanding and empathy for each other. Your organization has an opportunity to step up and increase your contact with your employees, and their communication with each other in order to help keep us all afloat during this difficult time. So here’s four creative ideas for how to adapt your company culture to provide a different kind of support and connection during a global pandemic.
1. A Water Cooler (but way cooler): As we all self-isolate the longing for simple human connections — the kind you get just chatting for a few seconds in the hall way or at the water cooler, will increase. Virtual water coolers are a must in organizations that have a large work from home workforce, and you may already have something in place. But we recommend creating a channel for fun stuff and simple chats directly related to Covid-19 on whatever workspace app is most dominant. Are you all on Slack? Workplace by Facebook? Have an inhouse app? Set up a page that not for news and not for official communication where people can share their thoughts, feelings, helpful tips, and pictures of their pets.
Hidden Opportunity: Getting to Know You
The downside of the real water cooler is that it only connects employees in proximity. Your new virtual water cooler will connect employees who’ve never spoken face to face and let them see that we’re all in this together.
2.Systematic Check-ins: Develop a system of checking in with your employees. Don’t leave it up to chance or you’ll chance missing people. Creating at least a weekly touchpoint with your employees is key, and make sure managers are following up with one-on-one check-ins. Hearing that someone cares enough to check-in during this difficult time can make a world of difference, and if they really need your help and didn’t know where to turn, it’ll make two worlds of difference.
Hidden Opportunity: Busting Silos
Does your company have an issue with silos? Create a system of check-ins that’s aimed at cross-silo conversation. Silos are often formed by location. Now that most of your workforce will be online, it’s the perfect opportunity to bust through the physical barriers and create lasting connections.
3.Virtual Happy Hour: You can’t stop celebrating team successes just because a crisis has happened. Keep up the landmark moment gatherings, the birthday wishes, and yes, the happy hour. Set a time to drink together online. Get the best DJ (or at least the person with the best Audio) to spin some tunes, and get your chat on. Of course, this only works in smaller groups – so if you have a big happy hour, consider breaking up people into happy hour teams and creating a rotation. You might be surprised how much fun it is to drink with your coworkers in their living room. And don’t forget to share your best Quarantini recipe.
Hidden Opportunity: Virtual Rapport
When workers aren’t used to working virtually, it’s hard for them to feel comfortable and their rapport with each other and with clients just isn’t as good. We all know that some people who present well in face to face meetings just tank in virtual ones. And since virtual is the new norm, they need low stakes situations to practice with the medium and feel more at ease. Online happy hours are the perfect place to settle in, grab a drink and start to feel more comfortable.
4.Gamify Chats: Long before the Covid crisis, BrightHouse had a smaller crisis that we’d doubled our workforce, opened two new offices, and hired a number of remote workers. We needed something that would help people meet each other so we invented the Face Race. Face Race was a contest to see who could have the most non-business related chats across the team. Bonus points for multiple offices or inviting work from home coworkers. Just take a screenshot of your smiling faces and send it to the Face Race moderators. A weekly scoreboard and fabulous prizes (airpods) motivated participants.
Hidden Opportunity: Cross-office Collaboration
Teams tend to work on the same projects with the same people for a number of reasons, but there’s a tremendous growth potential that’s lost when knowledge doesn’t travel between your offices. Really, whatever your inclusion issues are, you can tweak the rules of the Face Race to give extra points to the type of interactions you’re trying to facilitate. Plus it’s fun, and you can never underestimate the value of fun in times like these.
So those are 4 simple, easy ways to reduce the feeling of isolation among your teams, along with bonus hidden opportunities so you have an easy business case to argue. Try implementing some of these strategies today, and for goodness sake, check in on your extroverts. They are not ok.