Lone wolf in the wild.
It takes more than technology to help remote workers avoid lone-wolf syndrome. PHOTO: Levi Saunders on Unsplash

Digital workplaces give employees the freedom to roam and work freely, which can, in turn, strengthen the company. 

A study published by the Digital Workplace Group, for example, indicates that the increased mobility afforded by digital workplaces aids the efficiency, innovation and engagement levels of front-line workers.

While the benefits are clear, a common problem also lurks beneath the surface of many digital workplaces which can be easy to miss under the veneer of engaged, empowered workers. 

Lone Wolf Syndrome

Digital workplace workers, particularly those who aren’t able to visit their employer’s physical workplace, are susceptible to feeling — and therefore acting — like lone wolves.

“Lone workers often feel like second-class citizens compared to people who are physically present — just think about times you've dialed into a call others are physically at,” digital strategy consultant Sharon O'Dea told CMSWire.

Brad Grissom, senior manager of communication and collaboration at Southwest Airlines, concurred:

“Now, more so than ever before, workers want to have a purpose in their professional lives. Part of that connection and purpose is rooted in being a part of something bigger than oneself … to be a part of a team,” Grissom told CMSWire.

“You can’t really establish a meaningful, lasting connection without knowing your teammates beyond a professional level,” he said.

The Importance of Human Touch in a Digital World

With push notifications and calendar-integrated tools, it’s easy to assume that every employee is engaged with the rest of the group. In fact, you may even be working hard to limit the amount of information reaching your digital workplace workers. But even if you’re relying on artificial intelligence (AI) to manage the problem of digital workplace information overload and to nurture employee engagement, nothing beats the authenticity of human interaction.

While it’s true that a well-oiled digital workplace requires the participation of everybody involved, the job of molding a friendly and united digital workplace culture rests with the designated digital workplace manager.

“The human touch is vital to building engagement via digital means,” O'Dea said. “Digital workplace managers need to think about how they can support relationships and bring the employer's brand to life so that people don't feel disconnected. Organizations that do this well invest in training for managers of remote workers and virtual teams, so that regardless of location everyone can contribute and no one is cut out of conversations.” 

One of the best strategies for digital workplace managers to adopt in this regard was “a culture of working out loud by collaborating and sharing online,” she told CMSWire.

When executed well, O’Dea said, this practice keeps people in the loop and feeling valued, even when they aren’t in the room physically.

Off-Topic Conversations Are On-Point

Another way to combat nomadism in the digital workplace is to discuss things other than work.

“With the human touch still bring vastly important, off-topic banter is essential to creating the bonds and camaraderie necessary for the digital workplace,” Grissom told CMSWire.

O'Dea agreed, claiming, “it's a mistake [for digital workplace managers] to assume non-work conversations don't have value." According to O'Dea, people connecting on any topic helps to build relationships and trust between people so they are better able to work together at distance.

“When I rolled out an enterprise social network at a global bank the data showed people who joined conversations on non-work topics were far more likely to go on to engage online on other topics — and to answer questions from others,” O'Dea said. “Ostensibly non-work status updates and conversations can help everyone — and leaders in particular — to show their human side, and by sharing themselves they encourage others to feel comfortable being open and sharing on digital channels.” 

Community, Not Conscription

It’s not about shortening leashes. An aggressive or forceful approach to keeping a digital workplace tightly knit would only curtail the benefits brought about by digital workplaces in the first place. On the contrary, the answer is to make digital workplaces welcoming, efficient, seamless and fun enough to unite a disbanded pack of colleagues on a regular basis.

As previously mentioned, it’s the job of the digital workplace manager to make each digital workplace worker feel part of the community, rather than a mere conscript.

Grissom summarized this concept well when he told CMSWire that, “the modern [digital workplace] manager has to find the right balance, which is going to be different for each individual. It comes down to knowing your employees.”