- Loneliness, unwanted distractions and a lack of motivation are some of the main issues facing people who continue to work remotely.
- An online buddy system could be one solution to these challenges, but the onus is on company leaders to ensure that they support these systems by integrating them into the work culture.
- Based on an online survey conducted by the virtual coworking service Focusmate, 93% of their remote coworking software users reported an increase in productivity. Other online buddy systems are reporting similarly positive results.
Working remotely should not mean working in isolation. Loneliness, a lack of self-motivation and constant distractions are not only problematic for productivity; they can also adversely impact an individual’s mental health.
According to the 2022 The State of Remote Work report by the social media firm Buffer, 24% of remote workers admitted to feeling lonely and socially isolated from colleagues. Last year, Allwork.Space highlighted the troubling link between loneliness and young remote workers.
It’s undoubtedly a growing issue — but what can be done to combat this new pandemic? It’s surprisingly simple: find a friend.
What is a remote coworking system and how do you find these buddies online?
Most offices have programs for onboarding new employees and integrating them into the work culture. An online coworking system (buddy system sounds friendlier) is similar, but it all happens remotely. An online buddy provides a cost-effective means of ensuring that remote workers maintain a degree of professional accountability to someone else.
“Buddying” is about talking and motivating each other to complete daily tasks and possibly longer-term goals. A buddy can be an existing friend, acquaintance or virtual stranger who agrees to a level of commitment that works for both parties.
The system is highly flexible, enabling workers to decide when and how they wish to provide and receive accountability using online communication platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or FaceTime. There is also the option to sign up for a virtual coworking service such as Focusmate or Life At Spaces, where you can choose packages that are free or ones that charge a monthly premium.
An online buddy system involves an initial degree of effort — for instance, establishing compatibility, stating individual requirements, setting a reasonable schedule and sharing discrete, achievable goals.
Once the system is in place, it should require less effort and start to deliver benefits for everyone involved. Regular check-ins and reminders are beneficial, as is maintaining a level of professionalism that ensures the relationship does not develop into an additional distraction.
What are the personal benefits of having a remote work buddy?
“Relationships matter because they help us feel connected, making us more motivated and productive,” according to Catherine Fisher, career expert and Vice President of Integrated Data and Consumer Communications at LinkedIn.
Remote work does not have to be a solitary endeavor; however, many remote workers do feel as if they are flying solo. A Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) survey discovered that 67% of employees who work from home now feel less connected.
This finding is unsurprising, and troubling given that numerous social and cognitive psychologists have cited “being socially connected” as a basic human need. Not everyone craves friendship and human interaction; however, research indicates that constant solitude can harm our long-term mental and physical well-being.
Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, University of California, has studied the impact human connection and happiness within the workplace can have on individual employees. Their findings include benefits such as an increased sense of belonging, more resilience (in the face of adversity at work), a greater sense of purpose and increased job satisfaction.
In addition to personal and social benefits, individuals within a buddy system often find that it keeps them on track with their work (helpful because there are plenty of distractions when working from home), helps maintain focus, and ensures accountability. An online coworker can also provide guidance and mentoring support — often in short supply for remote workers. The right buddy can also inspire creativity, innovative thinking and a more positive attitude towards work.
Why employers should recognize the benefits of buddying
In addition to the negative impact that a lack of human connection can have on physical and mental well-being, it can also lead to lower job performance and productivity. A recent Forbes article argues that remote work, per se, should not be blamed for loneliness. Loneliness was already a growing problem across many workplaces. The meteoric rise of remote and hybrid work merely exacerbated an existing issue that employers had failed to tackle.
This year’s Betterup report explores the importance of meaningful connections between remote workers as well as highlights why interactions need to go deeper than informal group chats. According to the report, 52% of remote workers want more meaningful connections with colleagues.
The report also highlights an important point for employers — a successful online buddy system can be a competitive advantage. This is becoming increasingly apparent in the labor market, where competition is often based on what a company can offer prospective employees (beyond the advertised role).
A culture that enables people to feel valued can increase job satisfaction and generate professional growth for the individual — resulting in greater productivity for an organization. Online businesses will succeed when they embody a community of remote workers who feel as valued and supported as their office-based counterparts.
Before the pandemic, our professional interactions were already starting to take place increasingly online, but recent changes have been swift and considerable. The proliferation of new online communication tools and platforms is a testament to this change.
Some social media platforms, such as Meetup, are purported to have grown in popularity among people who want to become part of an online social community. Meetup is more of a social events platform, but its rise in demand signifies that remote workers are looking to make connections.
Employees are not the only benefactors of a successful buddy system — businesses can also thrive when there is a positive work culture in place. In the absence of a physical workplace, a buddy system can help to foster a community where collaboration is paramount. According to Built In, an online community for start-ups and tech companies, when there is a strong, connected corporate culture, employee engagement increases by as much as 72%. The positive impact that this can have on recruitment, retention, innovation and creativity within an organization, cannot be underestimated. It has even been suggested that a connected workplace culture means that a company is 14 times more likely to appear on lists naming the best places to work.
How can employers establish a buddy system to support company culture?
Any company must adapt to the changes brought about by the proliferation of remote work and the impact this type of work can have on an employee’s ability to understand a company’s core values. Employers should prioritize a company culture that can thrive online. The onboarding process should be offered as a complete virtual experience with a suite of online management tools designed for this purpose.
Remote buddies can play a significant role in onboarding new employees online. These specific buddies could be existing team members or appropriately experienced employees from different departments. The primary role of the onboarding buddy should be to guide and provide mentorship for the new employee, potentially with a view to a longer-term online relationship.
Onboarding through the online buddy system indicates to remote workers that they are valued. Employers who provide the space for remote workers to succeed within a new culture are positioning the business for long-term success.
The availability of opportunities for increased employee engagement could ultimately inspire a greater sense of affiliation to the company — a benefit that no organization would wish to miss out on.