Early on in my career, I worked for a small company of about nine employees. It was a good group of people and given the small number of us within the organisation we got to know each other quite well and had great camaraderie. However, there was one event that I still remember clearly that changed my perception. There were three of us in the main area of the office having a conversation about nothing in particular when one of the executives came out of his office, interrupted, and said “we have work to do, you can socialise later.” The conversation came to a grinding halt, there were some awkward exchanges and we went back to our collective tasks. So much for a positive workplace culture.
While we may not have bosses that are breaking up our water cooler discussions with workplace colleagues we are still reeling from the pandemic that ushered many out of their offices and to their homes. And, while some have adapted well to remote work, there are many who long to be back in an office setting for the engagement with co-workers and the human connection that is part of our hard wiring.
No matter if we collectively adopt remote work as the new normal or gradually move back to corporate offices, executives must be acutely aware of the need for their employees to connect as it is a fundamental human need and one that is foundational to building a positive corporate culture. While in-person interactions can never be replaced, there are a few ways that you can stay connected with colleagues during these difficult times.
When you are facing a day that is jam-packed with meetings it is easy to fall into the trap of being all about business and getting to the task at hand. While it is important to go about the business of the business, it is equally important to remember the human element that is within all organisations.
The next time you get on a video conference, be intentional by asking everyone how they are doing? This is a small step that gives people the space to open up (potentially) about what they are experiencing.
Over the last several weeks I have made a habit of putting this into practice and have learned so much about people I work with on a regular basis. I have heard about the struggles with on-line schooling, positive events like birthdays, and anniversaries, upcoming holidays and home sales. I have been able to connect by taking one small action before getting down to the tasks at hand and it has been a great experience.
Create an event
The first time I got an invite for a “virtual happy hour” I will admit that I was quite skeptical. I was not sure the interaction would be ideal, had thoughts about everyone talking at the same time, and while I agreed to attend, I had pretty low expectations.
Since that time, I have been to several and all have been incredibly positive.
A recent study by The Campaign to End Loneliness shows that 45% of adults in the UK report feeling occasionally, sometimes, or often lonely. A very sad statistic and thee current state of things is certainly not helping. We all want to be seen and heard, it is a part of the human condition. In order to help meet that need, plan events that enable your teams to do just that.
I was recently part of an all-hands with a company where at the end the CEO encouraged all the employees to bring their children onto the call and interact. It was indeed a highlight that went on for almost 20-minutes.
If you want to stay connected be creative in planning gatherings that foster positive interactions and engagement.
Be old fashioned
It is easy for us to rely on technology for our means of communication. Nearly all of us have numerous messaging apps on our phones that we use to communicate. However, reverting back to the old days may just be what you and your colleagues need.
The other day I received a handwritten card in the mail from a colleague. She could have sent an email or a text, but the fact that she took the time to write a card was meaningful and clearly made an impact.
While it is easy to resort to a text message or hop on video, maybe what is needed is a good old fashioned letter that just tells a colleague you appreciate them and that you look forward to some time, hopefully soon, getting back to the office.
There is no doubt times are hard and remote work poses new challenges to those who are used to working side-by-side with their colleagues, however, it does not mean you cannot connect, it will just take a little more effort. Begin applying these tips today and see the difference it can make.
Originally published Nov 24, 2020, updated Nov 25, 2020