Remote working is damaging workplace relationships, how to tackle it

Remote working is damaging workplace relationships

The pandemic has created a seismic shift in the way in which people work. Both employers and staff are in a difficult period of fear and uncertainty.  

For employers there is lack of clarity on whether to embrace remote working or to stand firm and call people back to their expensive offices. They are also experiencing huge problems in recruitment and retention.  In the USA it has been called the great resignation with 4 million employees a month on average putting their jobs.  The availability of staff is significantly reduced as is their desire to return to commuting and to their previous 9 to 5 existence.  Employers are now realising that they can no longer buy the presence of office staff with swivel chairs, fruit bowls and a coffee machine.

For staff they have experienced, throughout Covid, overwork, overwhelm and overcommitment. They have had to cope with a barrage of communications and online meetings at home, with little opportunity to switch off.  They have also had an opportunity to reflect on what is important to them and decide on a different rhythm of working in the future.

Remote working has kept the world ticking over but Zoom and telephone are a poor substitute for raw, messy human interaction where we can touch, smell and feel. We are social animals, and we need healthy interaction with others outside of our immediate family.

Work is often the epicentre of people’s worlds outside of home and gives them money, purpose, status, fulfilment, and social contact. It gets them out of the house and allows them to experience a bigger picture.  It allows people to expand their comfort zone rather than it shrinking when they are stuck in one safe space.

Remote working may be efficient but there are many things that people miss out on:

  • Social interaction with their colleagues
  • A relief from home and preventing work and home coalescing into one long day
  • Closer supervision and support
  • Engagement with the organisation
  • The emotional engagement with work, rather than a purely transactional one
  • Those random face to face conversations that can brighten the day
  • Feeling part of a team
  • Opportunities to learn and develop
  • The energy that is created when people are working together to a shared purpose

Relationships at work create culture and culture creates success.  To nourish relationships across the organisation, where there are a mix of remote, hybrid and face to face workers, employers need to be very creative and take the following steps in each of the six elements of The Relationship Paradigm:


  • Have regular, at least, weekly 121’s between staff and manager to explore what is working well and what could be even better.
  • Ask the feeling question; ‘How are you feeling right now’ and pause.  This could unlock a lot of hidden truths.
  • Be open and vulnerable about how you are feeling
  • Give regular updates on how the organisation is doing
  • Encourage informal communication within and across teams by WhatsApp or some other sharing platform


  • Have multiple points of contact with each member of staff, in different ways and with different people in the organisation
  • Do what you can to make them feel part of an organisation with a big purpose, even when their office is the dining room and their window on the world is Zoom
  • Hand written letters or cards of appreciation can create a relationship resonance for months


  • Clarify the ‘Why’ of the organisation, what their purpose is and ensure that employees understand this and are emotionally aligned with it.
  • Show that you are investing in the development of employees 
  • Design a compelling hybrid employee experience 
  • Give flexibility to choose the days worked remotely
  • Have clear expectations for availability when working remotely


It is all too easy for remote working to become transactional.  Fun is hugely important so find creative ways of unleashing the inner child and laughing together.  Ways of doing this could include:

  • Giving someone the role, for one week of being ‘Minister of Fun’
  • Dressing up days
  • Sharing, on Zoom etc funny memories from childhood
  • Setting each other weird and wonderful tasks to complete
  • Competitions


Each individual needs to feel that they are being nurtured and developed. They also need to feel part of an organisation that is growing.

This can include:

  • A compelling career development programme
  • Giving employees support in developing their own ideas, such as a monthly ‘FedEx day’ where they develop their innovative ideas and share them with the group.
  • Sabbaticals
  • Opportunity to work in different functions and regions
  • Being part of cross functional teams to develop the organisation


Trust is hugely important. If an employee feels out of the loop or is fearful of what is happening in the organisation, their commitment and productivity will fall, and they will either leave or become an internal terrorist.

To prevent this and organisation needs to:

  • Be very open and honest in its communications
  • Ensure staff are told what they need to know and more
  • Have the opportunity to ask any questions and erase doubts through an MD drop-in day or an anonymised Q&A portal
  • Deal with any concerns quickly and openly
  • All management to live the stated values.

Post pandemic remote working is a huge challenge for employers. It is also a wonderful opportunity for organisations to be creative, throw out old habits and stand out from the crowd. If they put relationships at the centre of what they do, a great culture and success will follow.

Neil Wilkie
Neil Wilkie

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