- Social Capital: The Undervalued Currency of Remote Work
- Building Social Capital in Your Remote Team
- Cultural Capital: More Than Just Degrees
- The Symbiosis of Social and Cultural Capital in Remote Work
- A New Era of Connection Culture
What if remote work isn’t the social drain it’s been made out to be? What if it’s actually a gateway to deeper, more meaningful connections?
Working remotely often gets a bad rap in the media for one thing: social connection. It's supposedly turning Gen Zers into lonely hermits, with no real friends or office banter.
Just screen time, all the time.
But is that really the whole story?
Remote work isn’t just about working from anywhere, it’s about reimagining how we build social vs cultural capital. Seasoned remote leaders understand this – they’ve seen how these connections aren’t weakened, but rather redefined in the virtual space.
Let’s tackle these questions head-on:
- Is remote work unfairly blamed for social isolation?
- Are we hindering future leaders by embracing remote models?
- How do we grow our social and cultural capital in the virtual era of remote communication?
There’s a twist in this tale. A side you’re not hearing – and it’s time we fixed that.
Remote work isn’t the death of social life, or a corruption of cultural competency. It’s not giving these critical forms of workplace capital the cold shoulder – it’s putting them in the hot seat.
This article challenges the doom-and-gloom perspective of a ‘social recession’ brought on by remote work. And it explores why remote leaders should be pivoting towards a new understanding of connection and cultural vs social capital in the remote work era.
Let’s redefine social and cultural currency.
Social Capital: The Undervalued Currency of Remote Work
Will remote workers experience more social isolation, and less career success?
Modern media outlets certainly make it appear that way. But the hard facts are far more nuanced than you’ve been led to believe.
- Social isolation is not universal: Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the majority of remote workers that have a hard time with social isolation. In Buffer’s latest report, only 15% of people cited loneliness as an ongoing struggle. Remote work itself isn’t the issue, rather an organizational lack of education and structures to support specific individuals.
- It happens at the office: In-person workers are not magically connected to more people with richer, fuller social lives. According to SHRM, loneliness is 35% more prevalent in the workplace now than in previous generations. It’s not a people deficit, it’s a connection deficit – and it’s linked to the rise in digital technology and the speed of today’s workplace systems.
- Loneliness is linked to exhaustion: Harvard Business Review has written about how loneliness at work is often due to burnout and exhaustion, not social isolation. Given that remote environments tend to be far more flexible than office environments, it makes no sense to think that returning to the office will solve the social isolation issue.
So – social isolation is not an inevitable fault of remote work, and it only impacts a comparatively small percentage of workers.
The upsurge in loneliness and social disconnection are due to the broader issues of technology adoption, which is why it also exists at the office.
Expecting return to office to solve social isolation is like repotting a plant to fix its lack of sunlight and water – it misses the root of the problem.
And this is where the danger lies! Blaming remote work as a fundamentally flawed model is a trap!
If you drink the Kool-Aid and believe that remote work inherently leads to loneliness and isolation - it will prevent you from taking proactive measures to genuinely help your remote workers.
Instead of abandoning, reducing or limiting remote work, leaders should focus on improving it.
Building Social Capital in Your Remote Team
What is social capital for remote workers anyway?
Traditionally it refers to the network of relationships among people who work together. If everyone fits together and gels well, cooperation and productivity result.
It’s even more critical when your workers aren’t present.
You need to teach your remote team how to deliberately build social capital in your organization.
We know many of these individuals don’t have the skills, know-how or opportunities to do this on their own. It’s up to leadership to close these gaps.
1) From Passive to Active Social
A shift from a passive social mindset to an active one will help them find colleagues they can connect with.
- Creating a social program that educates workers on the benefits of remote workplace connections is key, so that they feel motivated to engage. The goal is transforming incidental connection to intentional connection in the remote workplace.
2) Create Connection Opportunities
From introducing remote workers to potential mentors, to creating text groups, in-person city meetups and experience mixers – your company should create more social opportunities.
These should be optional, exciting and varied because not everyone is going to engage with them.
- Structured mentoring, employee resource groups and networking programs are useful, and these can be organized around interests, career advancement, learning and even social impact. Don’t forget local co-working days and to celebrate special events together.
3) Leverage Natural Connectors
Create a social committee, where the more extroverted workers in your remote company can devise meaningful ways for others to connect.
Over time you’ll be able to build a framework where everyone can successfully increase their social capital without much effort.
- Group volunteering projects are a popular activity, where individuals are collectively challenged to raise money for a charity from different parts of the world. Support whatever your connectors believe will motivate and inspire your people.
Don’t undervalue social currency on your remote team. The best thing you can do is invest in helping your team connect, share and thrive together.
Cultural Capital: More Than Just Degrees
There’s an invisible currency that helps in-person workers excel in their careers.
It’s called cultural capital, and it promotes social mobility, helping some individuals achieve higher social status in society.
This collection of cultural assets has traditionally shaped the business world.
- Going to an ivy league school
- Getting higher level degrees
- Joining elite clubs and social groups
- Dressing to fit into the wealthy class
Historically, these have been types of cultural capital that have propelled certain privileged people to greater heights.
Employers look for these cultural signals to assess value and whether or not someone might ‘fit’ into a workplace culture that prioritizes performance and success.
That’s why we see job postings asking for ‘degrees from top universities only,’ and ‘elite colleges given preference’.
Companies from Silicon Valley endlessly search for talent using these cultural signals in the hope that the people from these places will excel.
They believe they’re hiring the best of the best – people with the highest cultural capital.
But even Google said, “There is no relationship between where you went to school and how you did five, 10, 15 years into your career…so we stopped looking at it.”
Reports have been released confirming that employers look for talent in the wrong places.
These days, these signals don’t make much sense – and they’re doubly confusing for remote teams. That’s because in a remote environment, no-one cares what you look like, how you dress or which school you attended.
What matters most is results, and if you’re someone who works well in a team that creates them.
We know that the best talent doesn’t always come from the richest places, the best schools or the person with the most degrees. We’ve torn that paper ceiling down.
But that doesn’t mean cultural capital is dead. It’s just different now.
For remote workers the drivers of cultural capital are verified skills and remote communication. These are the forms of cultural capital with the highest value.
- Proven performance is what matters: Remote teams rely on each other to not just have the skills required to get the job done, but to do it autonomously, often asynchronously, working as an individual part of a collective whole. It requires superior interdependent teamwork hinged on a broad set of skills that allow for autonomous problem-solving.
- The ability to work remotely: Remote communication and collaboration are both learned skills that determine the quality of your connections and work in a virtual environment. If your team works remotely, you should be constantly providing opportunities to upskill in these areas. This gives them the ‘how’ they so desperately need.
By focusing on the values, knowledge, ideas and skills shared by your remote team – you’ll be able to build a culture where everyone fits in at work.
The Symbiosis of Social and Cultural Capital in Remote Work
Combined, social and cultural capital in a remote work context are the seeds you need to plant to establish a strong workplace culture. Give your workers the water and light they need, instead of repotting them somewhere else.
Plus, with a clear identity as a remote company, you’ll be better equipped to find and hire people that will help you achieve your goals. This can only be accomplished when your people connect with each other in meaningful ways.
Social capital vs cultural capital are both essentials for a fulfilling remote career. While they are trickier to get right in the virtual space – they will make your workers happier, healthier and more productive.
That’s because feeling like you belong somewhere lowers stress and amplifies motivation.
- More support and trust means less fear and stress
- High social capital protects against mental health deterioration
- Complementary skills and measurable team value aid social connection
- High cultural capital helps build a stronger distributed workforce
A New Era of Connection Culture
The future of work isn’t about holding onto past practices. It’s about embracing the transformative nature of this new way of working!
Far from being a barrier to social and cultural capital, remote work provides a dynamic, evolving platform for these fundamental aspects of professional life.
- Redefine social and cultural capital: Social and cultural capital aren’t diminished by remote work – they’re given new dimension. This isn’t a social recession, it's an opportunity to enrich and redefine what these concepts mean in a modern, digital world.
- Quality over proximity: Physical proximity isn’t at the heart of connection in remote work. Instead, it’s the quality of interactions and the shared values that anchor them that matter. This shift in perspective can lead to more meaningful, intentional communication and collaboration.
- The role of remote leaders: As a remote leader in your company, your role is critical. You’re not just managing a team of people - you’re pioneering new communication strategies to advance social and cultural capital in a completely new arena. Educate your team about their mindset and create opportunities for them to improve their remote communication ability.
- Create your connectivity canvas: Don’t see remote work as a set of social challenges. See it as a fresh canvas for creativity and connection. It’s your chance to build a diverse, flexible and productive workforce that values shared goals and performance above all else.
This is paradigm shifting work. In the future, working remotely will present different ways to connect and collaborate – but everyone looking to expand their social and cultural capital will find it.
Think of remote workers as potted plants. Moving a plant from room to room might seem helpful, but without sunlight and water, it won't thrive.
It's about understanding and providing the right conditions for growth.
Similarly, just having your remote workers frequent the office more often isn't the solution.
It's understanding and nurturing what they truly need that will cause their social and cultural capital to flourish. Just like the right care makes a plant bloom, the right support helps remote teams thrive.
Going into 2024, understanding and cultivating your remote team's social and cultural capital is the key to a flourishing virtual workplace.
It’s time to redefine what matters.