The Village Effect: How Social Interactions Keep Remote Employees Healthy

by Matt Warnock
The Village Effect: How Social Interactions Keep Remote Employees Healthy home office image

Your company is more than a group of people working together to achieve productivity goals. When people come together every day, they develop friendships and a familiarity that makes the company stronger. In a lot of ways, your company becomes its own village.

When employees transition to working from home, they lose those healthy, day-to-day human interactions. For many people, remote work can be a lonely experience. In the long-term, this loneliness can have negative effects on both people’s physical and mental well being.

In her book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier and Happier, author and psychologist Susan Pinker concludes that human interactions are critical for our well being. They boost our immune systems, lower cortisol (the “stress hormone”) while increasing dopamine (the “happy hormone”), and can even lengthen our lifespans.

“We need close social bonds and uninterrupted face-time with our friends and families in order to thrive – even to survive. Creating our own ‘village effect’ can make us happier.” 

Susan Pinker

While Zoom meetings and constant yet purposeful chatting on Slack are critical to conducting business, these interactions are mainly focused on work items. What about those spontaneous conversations employees have in the office, the impromptu lunches and meeting up after work for drinks? These social moments energize and bond your team. 

To ensure your company maintains its ‘village’, you have to think of new ways to keep human connections thriving for those who work from home. Here are some fresh ideas to help your team stay healthy and happy, together.

Staying Social When Working Remotely

In Pinker’s book, she references studies showing the mood-boosting benefits of social contact, which also has a positive effect on productivity at work. In one study, 25,000 employees at a call center were divided into two groups. One took staggered breaks solo while the other group took breaks with coworkers. Can you guess who displayed a 20% increase in performance? Yep. The ones who chatted and socialized with colleagues. 

Now more than ever is the time to be intentional about socializing. Whether you’ve been a remote team for ages or you have all just made the transition, it’s important to carve out social time during the workday. Employers should establish guidelines so that the team knows it’s not only okay, but highly encouraged to do this at various times throughout the day.  

Group chats on Slack focused on non-work things like funny memes, books, podcasts, movies or shows should be the norm. Connection platforms like Donut can bring colleagues together for coffee or lunch and facilitate much-needed organic conversations.   

It’s important to have fun too. Customer relationship management firm HubSpot does a virtual happy hour every night at 6 pm and also participates in team games like Pictionary to keep things light and help the team remain tight. If you enjoy games, you might try the app Houseparty for after-work rounds of trivia, Heads Up!, a new game called Chips and Guac or Quick Draw.

Staying in touch with co-workers and having fun together will help you get refreshed and reenergized, keep you connected and position you to do your best work.   

Experiencing Group Health & Fitness

There is nothing wrong with exercising in front of a recorded video, but there are way more benefits when you exercise in a group, including increased commitment, motivation, performance and enjoyment. 

Family Sport

In a study from the University of Southern California’s Department of Preventive Medicine Studies, those doing physical activity were happier and enjoyed it more when they were with their friends or co-workers compared with when they were alone.   

Certified exercise physiologist John Ford of JKF Fitness & Health in New York City shares this insight: “Group workouts can have a couple of mental advantages over solo workouts. While it’s true that working out releases endorphins (think of all of that talk of a runner’s high), a group setting can lead to the release of endorphins outside of just physical exertion. One way is through smiling. Smiling has been shown to increase endorphin levels in studies.”

“So when you’re in a great class or with a great bunch of people working out, that kind of conviviality can really make you feel great outside of just your runner’s high.”

John Ford – JKF Fitness & Health

It is so important to maintain routines and find stability and support in healthy activities with co-workers and friends. If you can’t meet in person, you have to get creative.

Horangi, a cybersecurity firm, offers online group workout sessions every morning, with the company’s chief executive leading the team in a series of push-ups, squats and jumping jacks. And Google live-streams yoga classes hosted by employees as part of their Googler 2 Googler program.   

Urban Sports Club offers tons of live online classes (think yoga, pilates, HIIT, dance and barre), which take place in real time and enable you, your trainer and your classmates stay in touch and stay healthy. 

In addition to caring for your body, you can also nurture the mind in a group setting. Tap In is a live group meditation app designed to reduce stress. Grab a few team members, make a date and get ready to breathe.  

Keeping it Positive  

Just as important as the ways you stay in touch is what you share with your team. While it may be tempting to discuss the news of the day, keep in mind that this can put undue stress on your co-workers. It doesn’t make sense to completely ignore the issues that affect your community, but consider treading lightly in that area and focusing more on the communication and outreach that makes work a more positive and uplifting environment. 

5 easy ways to support employee mental health

Share appreciation when someone has helped you out and don’t be afraid to call someone out when they’re doing a good job. The Slack app HeyTaco! is a fun way to share praise, as is giving virtual high fives via 15Five.  

To stay connected and let everyone know what is happening at “the home office”, Google employees share personal photos in a group photo album. You may want to create other albums with themes like landscapes, nature, pets, favorite vacation moments, etc. for positive mental breaks.   

You can also share things like poetry, uplifting quotes, and recipes via email or create Slack channels dedicated to these things. If anyone is feeling ambitious, they can make a “how to” video for the team, covering anything from cooking to crocheting to candle making and participants can share feedback and photos of their results afterwards. 

Finally, you can consider how to donate your time or resources to a specific cause as a team. Maybe you volunteer for an SOS Helpline, sew medical masks for the elderly or donate funds to help marginalized communities. Volunteering and/or donating can counteract the effects of stress and anxiety, provide a sense of purpose and, of course, it plays a vital role in helping others in need. 

It Takes a Village…

In order for remote work to be a pleasurable and fruitful experience, teams need to come together and support one another. Thankfully there are several digital tools available to help us communicate and share experiences together. 

It’s important to choose these experiences wisely – remembering to get as much of that coveted “face time” as possible, to share smiles, ideas, encouragement and resources, and to move towards your goals together.  

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