How to foster belongingness during remote work

How to foster belongingness during remote work

One of the most common issues doctoral researchers bring to my attention at the moment, is the lack of social gatherings and social support during these exceptional times.

Fostering belongingness in academia can be difficult even if there isn’t an ongoing pandemic. But right now, it’s more important than ever.

From spontaneous chats during coffee breaks and meeting colleagues in the hallway to the ease of knocking on your supervisors door to get a quick answer to a question. All gone. For now, at least.

Because of the ongoing situation, doctoral researchers are getting disconnected from the academic community and the realities of academic work. When there is no social comparison, we don’t know what is normal and what is not. For example, during office work, junior scholars see and hear about the ups and downs that others face. During remote work, this part of normal interaction disappears, making it seem like “everyone else is doing great and I’m struggling”.

In addition to this, remote work has changed the way we exchange information. We get bombarded with messages from different apps and programs, causing information overload. At the same time, the message we would need the most, is the one we don’t necessarily get: “How are you doing?”

Remote work challenges doctoral researchers’ wellbeing, motivation, creativity and productivity. Lack of social support from peers and supervisors, not being able to brainstorm ideas or spontaneously ask for advice, and lack of social comparison leaves doctoral researchers in an especially precarious situation.

We are all struggling, but let’s not drop the ball on doctoral researchers. Especially they need our support during these exceptional times.

To help improve the situation, I’ve gathered a few recommendations below. I would love to hear from you, if you have some best practices or other comments on this topic.

What can I do as a doctoral researcher?

  • Speak up, ask for more social gatherings, brainstorm with peers.
  • Organize departmental coffees or just coffees with your research group.
  • Organize writing sessions online.
  • Schedule weekly appointments with your supervisor and vocalize your concerns.
  • Contact doctoral education services or study planners to ask for advice on how to advertise different social gatherings to other departments/schools.

What can I do as a supervisor or member of faculty?

  • Understand that remote supervision needs to be more personally engaged and structured than before.
  • Open, supportive and frequent supervision is the key, so focus on availability, communication and empathy.
  • Reach out and ask how people are doing. Don’t judge, just listen.
  • Set clear and explicit goals for communication and ways of reacting or responding to each other.
  • Organize virtual coffees, meetings and writing groups.
  • Remember: it is your duty to help doctoral researchers become a part of the academic community, no deed that leads towards this goal is too small.

What can we do as a work community/university?

  • Make sure everyone understands the importance of social support during these times.
  • Encourage desired behavior. For example, create low hanging fruits for faculty on how to foster togetherness even if staying connected isn’t really their thing.
  • Improve ways of connecting people from different part of the university.
  • Organize university-wide virtual events where doctoral researchers can meet and discuss.

It might feel like a lot to make schedules and plan social gatherings, especially if you’re having a hard time adapting to the current situation. Be compassionate towards yourself and others, and start small. Whatever you have the time and strength to do, that’s enough. It might require some effort in the beginning, but once we’ve managed to get it rolling, it will become routine.

Being a part of a community, feeling supported and staying informed are all important resources that help manage the demands of work. Not only for doctoral researchers, but for all academics and non-academics. So let’s re-motivate and re-engage ourselves and get through this together.

Maybe someday we’ll meet again

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3 thoughts on “How to foster belongingness during remote work

  1. Impostor syndrome, belongingness and wellbeing in academia – PhD Pathfinder

    […] impostor syndrome and belongingness in academia, something I’ve written about before in this blog and […]

  2. “Should I stay or should I go” – reasons for persistence and attrition in doctoral studies – PhD Pathfinder

    […] Again, the theme of socialization and belongingness rises up as an important factor in the doctoral experience. (See my other blog posts about the topic here and here) […]

  3. Impostor syndrome, belongingness and wellbeing in academia - PhD Pathfinder

    […] impostor syndrome and belongingness in academia, something I’ve written about before in this blog and […]

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