7 signs your team is feeling disconnected at work (& what to do about it)

Written by 
Brianna Hansen
July 28, 2022
A graphic with the inscription '(Don't let) things fall apart.'

When a plant is dying, you don’t blame the plant. You blame the environment it was provided. Was it watered enough? Did it get enough sun? Did it have the right soil?

The same applies to your employees. It doesn’t matter how talented or resilient they may be, they need an environment that allows them to do their best work. An environment that enables connection and collaboration.

So, what does connection at work actually mean? It means engagement. It means inclusivity. It means having a shared purpose.

However, when a work environment consists of unproductive meetings, misaligned priorities, and poor collaboration — connection is hard to attain.

And it’s not just your team, disconnection is becoming a worldwide problem for employers — with 56% of people feeling disconnected from their colleagues because of remote work, globally.

Feeling disconnected at work is a worldwide problem.

Returning to the office is a concerted effort by employers to renew and nurture connections among employees. And while the in-office culture is great for some things, it’s not a catch-all solution to your disconnection problem. 

Let’s dig into what to look for to diagnose disconnection, and tips on combating that disconnection across your team. 

Related: How to Build Team Connection with Reflection [on-demand webinar]

7 red flags your team is disconnected at work

1. They’re isolated

According to a Cigna study, 61% of Americans feel lonely at work — that’s up 7 percentage points from 54% in 2018 to 61% in 2019.

If individuals on your team feel isolated, work suffers. Lower productivity, missed days at work, and poor quality of work are all repercussions of isolated employees according to that same study. 

What to do about it: 

Build opportunities for your team to connect both in and outside of work. Schedule an in-person social event or host regular warm-ups and energizers before your team meetings. When you prioritize making space for your employees to build healthy relationships with each other, they’re less likely to feel isolated. 

Try this Visual Check-ins Template for something really simple to get started with in your next team meeting.

An image from the Mural visual check-ins template

2. They have too many meetings

Meetings are an important component of collaboration. Seeing other people (even if it’s just through video) is crucial to communicating and collaborating effectively. 

However, if your team’s calendar is filled to the brim with meeting after meeting, there’s a problem. Research shows it takes approximately 23 minutes to refocus after being distracted. How can you expect your team to get anything done with such a jam-packed schedule?

What to do about it: 

Meetings should not be the default when something needs to get done. And if it is, it’s time to change your team’s approach to meetings (psst … we have a guide on how to do that). 

Start by defining what meetings should actually be meetings. Then figure out how to collaborate on everything else asynchronously so your team can give their attention to different tasks at a time convenient for them (we have a guide for that, too). 

Other tactics to cut down on meetings include having no-meeting Fridays, hosting office hours instead of scheduling individual meetings, or sharing a mural where people can leave their feedback and ideas on their own time. 

3. Their meetings aren’t productive

Think about the last productive meeting your team had. Y'all probably got a lot done.

If you can’t remember the last time you had a productive meeting with your team, you’re probably suffering from disconnection … and it’s costing you. A single hour-long meeting with six attendees, each earning $100,000 a year, costs $50 per person for a total of $300. If half of those meetings don’t end with clear expectations and next steps, well, it can get expensive. 

Not to mention the emotional cost of feeling frustrating, drained, and even more lost than before a bad meeting. 

Why is it so hard to have great meetings? Because your team is probably suffering from “meeting inertia,” or a lack of desire to engage or take part in a meeting without some serious prompting. The rise of video calls has magnified the problem, making it feel like collaboration is happening “on TV,” leaving attendees feeling more like viewers rather than participants.

What to do about it: 

Meeting inertia can be debilitating to your team’s productivity and have serious consequences to innovation. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to combat meeting inertia and get your team feeling connected. 

Set reminders for prework. Whether that’s filling out a project kickoff mural, leaving feedback in a retrospective mural, or simply reviewing a project plan, reminding your team to invest some time into the work before the meeting can save some follow-up after. 

At Mural, we like to set aside the first 15 minutes of the scheduled hour so participants can get their bearings and review any prework before joining the discussion.

Another way to fight bad meetings is by setting up clear expectations for the meeting. Is it a brainstorming session? Are you making an important decision? Identifying the goal of the meeting helps everyone understand how they can contribute. 

4. Priorities aren’t aligned with other teams

Disconnection doesn’t only happen within a team. One of the most common symptoms of disconnection in an organization is misalignment with other teams. This often occurs when teams are working in silos versus collaborating cross-functionally. 

Prioritization and alignment are so important for the planning and execution of projects, and when teams don’t care about the same tasks equally, that’s when things go awry. 

What to do about it: 

We suggest aligning on the goals you set at the beginning of the quarter (working on goals now? Use our OKR Template to expedite visibility and execution). Sprint planning is another effective way of recalibrating priorities so everyone is focused on the same projects. 

Need clarification on a specific task? Use our Clarify a Task Template to dig further into the purpose and motivation behind a task so you can refocus and collaborate with confidence. 

An image of the Mural clarify a task template

5. Quality of work has deteriorated

Poor quality of work is dangerous because it can impact the bottom line. It affects what your customers see and how they engage with your brand.

But when disconnection is impacting your team, tasks are rushed, mismanaged, and things are likely to fall through the cracks. 

What to do about it: 

Before you start pointing fingers, take a good look at how work is getting done. Are inclusivity and accessibility key tenets in your work processes? Does your team have access to the resources they need? Is psychological safety actively encouraged on your team?

If these are things that you know are lacking on your team (or terms you’ve never heard before) it’s time to start looking into ways you can be a better advocate for inclusivity in the workplace. Luckily, we have a handy Accessibility Best Practices Template to help you get started. 

An image of the Mural accessibility best practices template

6. They aren’t happy at work

When was the last time you checked in on your team? 

Your team is more than just faces looking into a camera. What’s going on behind the scenes can often be a huge indicator of how they show up at work. 

What to do about it: 

It can be challenging to flat out ask your team how happy they are at work. To help make this conversation a bit easier, try our Team Health Check Template. This template gives you a canvas to ask more specific prompts around their job and well-being. Feel free to do this as a team or with each individual, privately. 

An image of the Mural team health check template

7. They’re leaving

This one’s a tough pill to swallow — but also an important call to action.

According to a 2021 study, 73% of employees would consider leaving their jobs for the right offer. With the job market being so competitive, identifying and acting on the signs of disconnection are critical to making sure employees stick around. 

So, why are people leaving? They’re not being challenged. Another study cites that 1 in 3 professionals say boredom is the main reason why they're leaving their job. 

What to do about it: 

It’s time to invest in growing the skills of your team. In addition to helping them pursue skills they want to learn, teaching them skills they will use every day (like collaboration and facilitation) will help them not only add more tools to their arsenal, but will also show them you’re invested in their success at your company. 

When you invest in them, they'll invest in you.  

Disconnection happens when collaboration is an afterthought

Since the world went virtual, building connections across teams has been top of mind. So why is collaboration still an afterthought?

Winging collaboration just isn’t cutting it anymore. It’s time to bring intention into how your team works together. When you foster an environment of engagement, inclusivity, and belonging, you will begin to see your team grow and flourish. 

About the authors

About the authors

Brianna Hansen

Brianna Hansen

Sr. Integrated Content Manager
Brianna is a storyteller at MURAL. When she's not writing about transforming teamwork, she enjoys swimming, cooking (& eating) Italian food, reading psychological thrillers, and playing with her two cats.

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