Human Connection in the Virtual Workspace Has Suffered Since Start of Pandemic, According to New Research
Yet Employees Who Rated Managers High on Moral Leadership Scale Were 150 Percent More Likely to Feel Meaningfully Connected to their Organization During the Crisis
NEW YORK (March 3, 2021) – Today, The HOW Institute for Society, a global organization dedicated to building and nurturing a culture of moral leadership, principled decision-making and values-based behavior, released their latest report, “Human Connection in the Virtual Workplace.” The report found human connection was strained for all employees but for some more than others, particularly women and younger workers.
In fact, 30 percent of U.S. workers reported feeling less deeply and meaningfully connected to their organizations, and 44 percent reported feeling less connected to coworkers since the start of the pandemic, according to the report. Yet, the findings also showed workers felt more meaningfully connected when their supervisors exhibited and embodied behaviors and attributes associated with moral leadership. Sixty percent reported feeling more meaningfully connected to their organization, 80 percent more connected to coworkers and 90 percent more connected to their direct manager when their leaders demonstrated practices such as creating collaborative environments, providing emotional support, inspiring others, demonstrating a commitment to doing what’s right and extending trust to employees to navigate and manage new tensions between work and life.
As we near the one-year mark of the first COVID-19 shut-down orders in March 2020, nearly 70 percent of Americans have shifted to full-time remote work, creating unfamiliar workplace dynamics and unique challenges. The HOW Institute sought to examine the pandemic’s impact on workplace connection, previously built around proximity and in-person interaction, as employees have been scattered to their homes, meeting colleagues only through video chat and tele-conferencing.
This data shows that feeling deeply and meaningfully connected at work – to one’s organization as a whole, coworkers and direct managers – is an important predictor of being not only engaged but also inspired at work. Employees who reported feeling part of a community at the workplace were 60 percent more likely to report feeling even more meaningfully engaged since the start of the pandemic and 120 percent more likely to report feeling more inspired since the start of the pandemic.
“We had an instinctive sense that given our physical distance from one another due to the pandemic, it was imperative that leaders work harder – and differently – to bridge that physical space to create a sense of connection and community,” said Dov Seidman, Founder and Chairman of The HOW Institute for Society. “Even prior to the pandemic, people experienced loneliness in spite of being more technologically connected than ever, and the ties that allow humans to work together effectively – an animating ethos, shared mission and values, the trust needed to collaborate and innovate and the levels of empathy and understanding to forge deep human connection – were fraying. The pandemic, as this data demonstrates, has profoundly amplified the challenges we were already experiencing with respect to human connection.”
This is an initial report on human connection in the virtual workplace that builds on a growing body of research from The HOW Institute for Society, based on its Framework for Moral Leadership. The HOW Institute reports explore the nature of connection – particularly how meaningfully and deeply workers are connected to their organization, their leaders and to each other.
“Fostering and spreading this sense of communal belonging is a key priority for The HOW Institute, which is rooted in the belief that trust and shared truth are critical for uniting people in purpose-driven, human-centered organizations,” said Angela Ahrendts, Member of The HOW Institute’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Board, Save the Children International.“The pandemic has profoundly amplified the challenges we were already experiencing with respect to human connection. As we’ve become more hyper-connected and globally interdependent, we’ve lost what it means to connect to each other based on our common humanity. If there’s one overarching takeaway from this report, it’s that the pandemic is giving us an opportunity to pause – as we often teach at The HOW Institute – so that we can reflect on where we are, reconnect to our values, rethink our assumptions and reimagine a better way of working and a better world.”
Key findings include:
- The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by women, junior employees and younger individuals – those traditionally in positions of less power.
- Women specifically were 100 percent more likely to experience a decrease in connection to their direct manager, 48 percent more likely to feel less connected to their coworkers and 74 percent more likely to feel less connected to their organization
- Individual contributors were 200 percent more likely than senior leaders to experience a decline in connection to their direct supervisor
- The feeling of being part of a community at one’s organization is strongly linked to feeling inspired and more engaged.
- Respondents who felt part of a community were 60 percent more likely to report feeling engaged at work since the start of the pandemic
- Respondents who felt part of a community were 120 percent more likely to feel more inspired at work since the start of the pandemic
- The degree to which managers demonstrate moral leadership is the largest predictor of connection in the workplace. Compared to those with low-scoring managers, workers with high-scoring managers were:
- 150 percent more likely to feel connected to their organization since the start of the pandemic
- 160 percent more likely to feel connected to their coworkers
- 300 percent more likely to feel connected to their direct manager
- Individuals with managers who exhibited moral leadership behaviors such as flexibility with scheduling and openness to sharing personal updates and emotions were:
- 60 percent more likely to feel more connected to their organization
- 80 percent more likely to feel more connected to coworkers
- 90 percent more likely to feel more connected to their direct manager
With businesses re-thinking the need for physical office space and more employees remaining remote in 2021, building meaningful connections will be an imperative for leaders around the globe. The success of a business or organization will rely more and more on the work of effective moral leaders. The HOW Institute has created resources to help managers of all backgrounds grow as moral leaders. The organization’s website features an interactive PAUSE tool to help teams collectively reflect on purpose, reconnect to core values, rethink entrenched assumptions and reimagine a better course for the future. Leaders can also watch HOW Conversations with prominent, moral leaders from all sectors to learn best practices. Additionally, the Institute’s NXT-GEN Fellowship works with leading organizations to develop moral leaders and build moral muscle. Finally, leaders can stay connected to The HOW Institute by subscribing to their e-news for regular updates and announcements of new ways to develop moral leadership.
“Aristotle argued long ago that humans are social animals. And as social animals, our human instinct is to come together in times of crisis. But instead, in this crisis we were told to self-isolate and distance ourselves from our communities. Our interactions with the world were suddenly and dramatically disrupted. Society’s rhythms were disrupted on a scale unseen in living memory, instigating the most significant societal pause in modern history,” said Seidman. “This data demonstrates that in a world where we are always connected but physically separated, HOW we connect matters more than ever.”
The survey was conducted by Mercury Analytics for The HOW Institute, September 27, 2020 through November 17, 2020, among a sample of more than 1,000 U.S.-based working professionals who transitioned partially or fully to remote work since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey respondents were asked to rate their own managers on moral leadership qualities, such as building trust, creating collaborative environments, providing emotional support, inspiring others, showing patience and flexibility with their colleagues and demonstrating a commitment to doing what’s right, even when it’s unprofitable or unpopular. Each manager was then assigned an average score based on respondent ratings and divided into quartiles based on their moral leadership score.
About The HOW Institute for Society
The HOW Institute for Society seeks to build and nurture a culture of moral leadership, principled decision-making and values-based behavior that enables individuals and institutions to meet the profound social, economic and technological changes of the 21st Century to elevate humanity.
The world is being reshaped faster than we have yet been able to reshape our institutions, our leadership and ourselves. A future that includes dynamic capitalism, vibrant democracy, healthy communities and free societies depends on the rise of moral leadership and values-inspired behavior.
The HOW Institute for Society is committed to building a world that is rooted in deep human values and noble ideals. The Institute is animated by an in-depth knowledge of moral philosophy, experience applying philosophical reasoning to modern problems and a belief in the urgent imperative of HOW. Today, HOW we do what we do matters more than ever and in ways it never has before.
Our Board of Directors
Dov Seidman, Founder & Chairman, The HOW Institute for Society
Angela Ahrendts DBE, Chair of the Board, Save the Children International
Former SVP Apple, Retail and CEO, Burberry
Ajay Banga, Executive Chairman, Mastercard
Chip Bergh, President & CEO, Levi Strauss & Co.
Nancy Gibbs, Lombard Director of the Shorenstein Center, Harvard Kennedy School
Dennis Nally, Retired Chairman, PwC
Paul Polman, Co-Founder and Co-Chair, IMAGINE
Admiral James Stavridis USN (ret.), Operating Executive, The Carlyle Group
Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation