Social Deficit — How to rebuild social capital on your team.

April 1, 2022
4 mins read
Photo by Gabriela Tamara Cycman on Unsplash
“Some things never change. They just become different”
-Joshua Caleb

What Is Social Capital? 

Our ability to work as teams, or even function as a team, relies on the strength of our social capital — the relationships between people.

Hatching ideas, spotting opportunities, and information sharing all stem from social capital. Some of the upsides are tangible, others intangible. They are all attributable to the personal relationships and networks we build within and outside organizations. It describes the personal connections that build trust among employees, and enhance company performance.¹

Creating or holding on to social capital in remote work environments is challenging. Without it your long-term success is at risk.

Social Capital is in trouble.

In his article Great Reset, my colleague, Dave Frost, states that in 2021 nearly one third of Americans left their jobs. 

This trend continues. Many factors fuel the Great Resignation, but ineffective leadership is near the top. Most leaders agree strong relationships make organizations more effective. Ineffective leadership makes maintaining those relationships remotely even more difficult. This problem is exacerbated when onboarding new employees.  

While social networks facilitate existing employees’ chances of success, new employees struggle with the question, “how do I get my network started?”  

Social interactions build trust. Trust begins with the commitment we have as team members to the success of the social network. Consider back when we worked in the office. Getting together for lunch, weekly meetings, encounters in the hallway, were all common practices. We would get to know one another and get things done. 

Technology gives people a unique ability to work together at a distance, but also risks a more isolated, siloed workforce.

People crave connection.

Working from home reduced commutes and increased productivity, yet 40% of U.S. adults report they are struggling with mental health issues.²

Lack of human connection takes a toll. We are social creatures. Feeling socially connected, especially in an increasingly isolated world, is more important than ever. This means the benefits of social connectedness in the workplace shouldn’t be overlooked, and neither should  the value of leaders who are as comfortable operating remotely as they are in person.

Only 20% of leaders however, are effective at leading virtually³

According to Stephanie Neal, director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research. “CEOs acknowledge how underprepared their organizations are to meet the challenges of a more virtual, remote workplace.”⁴

Executives need to strengthen their virtual leadership skills. The place to start is by amping up relationships with team members.

Can we save it?

In their 2001 article,  “How to Invest in Social Capital,” Laurence Prusak and Don Cohen declared we were already at risk. They attributed that risk to “volatile and virtual times”. 

They went on to say that volatility and virtuality erode relationships.⁵

21 years later the pandemic drove not only disruption, but a new reality of how we work. The disruption will eventually abate, but how we manage and collaborate has changed forever. Those of us who had established strong social networks prior to being sent home have been able to hang on to them — so long as everything remained stable. Move to a new job assignment, a new team, or a new boss however, and that social network is weakened.

For a quick start, my colleague Gavin McMahon offers simple advice for ramping up relationships with your employees.

Everything is different, or is it? 

While many aspects of work have changed in past years, for employees with tenure, the ability to maintain established social capital has not been one of them. 

Relationships initially established in the office can thrive (and grow) just as well remote as when physical. Knowing where to find information and knowing the “players”, especially between functions, reduces the time and investment in maintaining social networks. Repeated interactions with these people then builds stability.  This, in turn, opens the door for acquiring additional contacts, and increasing social capital still further. It is this connection between individuals inside and outside of the company that provides an economic advantage over those who are not so well-connected.

The challenge is keeping your tenured employees. Companies that value social capital understand that to retain their employees they need to invest in those employees.

Onboarding into a new work environment however, has its own set of challenges. For starters, you have no network and no social capital. 

In a recent HBR article, what separates firms that do onboarding best — whether in-person or virtual — is that the work is intentional.⁶ It takes time to build a network — it takes time to build social capital. This is not a 30 day event. In fact some organizations confuse onboarding with orientation.⁷ Helping new employees build their social networks accelerates more thorough decision-making, increases their success, and improves your chances of retaining that employee. 

How would you welcome, train and engage new employees in an in-person environment? Is it really so different when virtual?

Frank Mazza is a Principal Consultant, Executive Coach, and Lead Facilitator at fassforward. He works as a coach one on one, and a facilitator with intact teams, and large organizations across a wide range of fassforward's live and online programs. Known for his ability to present familiar concepts in such a manner as to give "life" to the content and spark renewed and sustained interest.

Peter Watts is a Senior Instructional Designer and Facilitator. He works on both fassforward's Live, Live/online and tailored programs. Peter is fassforward's lead instructional designer for Live/online experiences which deliver mission-critical leadership and communications training, globally, at scale.

Eugene Yoon is a graphic designer and illustrator at fassforward. She is a crafter of Visual Logic. Eugene is multifaceted and works on various types of projects, including but not limited to product design, UX and web design, data visualization, print design, advertising, and presentation design.

¹ William Kenton Social Capital “ Investopedia” July 24, 2021

² William Arrud “What The New World Of Work Will Actually Look Like” Forbes May 18, 2021

³ Development Dimensions International’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021

Edward Segal “Leaders And Employees Are Burning Out At Record Rates: New Survey” Forbes Feb  17, 2021

Laurence Prusak and Don Cohen “How to Invest in Social Capital” June 2001

James M. Critin and Daeleen Derossa “How to Set Up a Remote Employee for Success on Day One” Harvard Business Review May 10, 2021

Sean Little “What is Employee Onboarding --And Why do You Need it?” the SHRM Blog February 26, 2019

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