Lack of face-to-face contact with others gradually accepted

Employees are adapting to the new work situation despite missing their colleagues

18 June 2020

The corona crisis has given rise to exceptional working conditions and everyone is dealing differently with the lack of face-to-face contact now that everything is done digitally wherever possible. Of the five stages of grief that occur after a sudden change, acceptance is the most common. Of those surveyed, 77% indicated that they are making the best of the new work situation without face-to-face contact with colleagues. The new balance requires an approach that takes the needs of the employees into account. These were the findings of HR and Payroll Provider SD Worx after a survey among local 2,500 white-collar workers.
SD Worx wanted to find out how employees deal with working without face-to-face contact in the current corona crisis. In collaboration with Cass Business School in London and the IESE Business School in Barcelona, the HR specialist conducted a survey among 2,500 white-collar workers in Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom to find out how they are coping with the new form of working one and a half months after the lockdown. The survey focused on the lack of face-to-face interactions with colleagues by identifying which forms of grief white-collar workers are experiencing now that they generally have to work from home.

Grief is a process that arises when a person loses someone or something, in this case contact with colleagues on the workfloor. Each individual responds differently to such a loss, but the associated emotions can be divided into five stages: denial, anger, depression, testing and acceptance. Denial, anger and depression are the stages that are perceived as pessimistic, while testing and acceptance are classified as the optimistic stages of grief. Usually, people experience several of these emotions at the same time. 

1 in 3 people struggle with feelings of depression or sadness

Acceptance (83%) and testing (74%) are the stages the employees surveyed in Europe experience the most. This means that most of them are able to put the lack of face-to-face contact into context. Even so, almost 1 in 4 employees are struggling with feelings of sadness while 35% say they are reluctant to work without direct contact with colleagues; it makes them angry. Just over 4 out of 10 white-collar workers experience feelings of denial. 

"People seek continuity," says Professor Annelore Huyghe of Cass Business School in London. “Lockdown interferes with that process. Although full-time teleworking allows for role continuity, it disturbs relationship continuity. This survey shows that we are social beings who need face-to-face contact. For many, spontaneous meetings in the corridor or a chat at the coffee machine are an important social ritual.” Jeroen Neckebrouck, professor at the IESE Business School, adds: “They strengthen the group feeling – the feeling of being connected to others – and hence have a positive impact on employees' well-being. And this is precisely why office environments will continue to play an important role in the future of work."

Age and routine play a role

Age plays a role in the differences found, especially when it comes to pessimistic grief. In the six European countries where the survey was conducted, young people experience more pessimistic feelings of grief than those over the age of 40. Among white-collar workers under the age of 30, 38% experience denial, anger or depression. Between the ages of 30 and 40, this figure is 36%, but above 40 it falls to 29% and among the over-65s it is only 25% of the respondents. 


What is the best way to deal with these feelings of grief? Introducing a structured daily routine when teleworking appears to be beneficial. Of those employees who have introduced a well-structured routine for teleworking, 81% experience optimistic grief feelings and only 23% experience pessimistic grief feelings. White-collar workers without a structured routine, on the other hand, experience more pessimistic grief feelings (38%) and fewer optimistic grief feelings (74%).

"Over the past few months, teleworking has more than proved its worth," says SD Worx. "It will undoubtedly be a much bigger part of how we work in the future. However, the corona crisis has taken away all face-to-face contact with colleagues from one day to the next, and for many this has proven to be a loss that employers certainly need to take into account. After an extreme situation of 100% teleworking or forced temporary closure, organizations rightly ask themselves where the new balance will lie. Those that take the needs and preferences of employees into account are already one step ahead in 'employee engagement'. This ‘new normal’ will differ from company to company. In any event, it is best to provide solutions that are safe, productive and legally sound. In this way, all employees will be able to return to the office or workshop with peace of mind."