Two-thirds of UK workers find making work friends remotely challenging, research finds

Employers need to ‘encourage social connection’ to create a feeling of belonging, experts say

Employers have been urged to do more to encourage social connections between remote staff after a survey revealed that nearly two thirds of Brits find it difficult to make work friends while working from home.

A poll of 2,500 UK workers, conducted by OC Tanner as part of its Global Culture Report, found 63 per cent said it was more challenging forming new friendships with colleagues while working remotely.

Over half of those polled (58 per cent) also admitted that the office was where most of their new friendships are formed, while 71 per cent of UK workers said they valued colleague interactions.

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Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said managers of hybrid working teams needed to “encourage social connections to create a sense of belonging” to prevent individuals from feeling isolated.

Having “regular team catch-ups about work and non-work issues is really important in building relationships as well as providing opportunities for people to come together in the physical workspace if they want to,” she said.

But, McCartney added: “Given hybrid working requires even more of a focus on communication, relationship building and collaboration, some workers may feel closer to their colleagues now than when they were all working from the same location.”

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Robert Ordever, MD of OC Tanner Europe, said it was important that the office “doesn’t become redundant” as more employees allow their workforce to operate remotely.

“The office is key for creating and nurturing personal connections and enabling employees to more easily form relationships with people of different backgrounds,” he said.

The research also found that (71 per cent) of employees found it easier to make personal connections with people from other generations when in the office, while the same percentage felt they are more able to make friendships with people of different cultures in an office environment.

The findings come as employers were urged yesterday (14 February) to focus on improving flexible working, employee wellbeing and other areas of workplace culture in order to attract talent in an increasingly competitive market.

Commenting on findings from a CIPD poll that found employers are expecting a record increase in pay awards this year, Ian Moore, managing director of Lodge Court, suggested that showcasing company culture could help firms attract talent and improve retention.

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist for the CIPD, added that increasing the availability of flexible working, boosting development opportunities and focusing on wellbeing would both “broaden the range of candidates employers can attract and may also reduce the need to recruit more staff, which should reduce wage inflation pressure”.