January 6, 2022
Happy New Year.
I was talking to a friend and colleague the other day about the work-from-home boom. He told me his team had been working from home since before the pandemic, and that he always made it a point not to call it “remote work.” The definition of remote paints this picture of a distant and disconnected atmosphere, he said. Instead, he likes to think of their workplace as a virtual community – a meeting of minds over land, sea, and WiFi connections.
In a recent study, Gallup predicted that we can expect “a 37% reduction of in-person days worked per week” for the 60 million employees who have work-from-home options moving forward. This means that even in hybrid working models, some team members will always be geographically apart. As leaders, it’s up to us to embrace this reality and find ways to build connection around it, not in spite of it. A simple language adjustment like the one above can be a good start for a larger mindset shift.
Here are a few additional tips from our team for cultivating connection in an increasingly digital world:
1. Make time for downtime – Building relationships in the office was often a matter of happenstance – we’d catch someone in the hallway or walk by an open office door. A virtual workplace offers the same, if not more, opportunities for connection – the only difference is that we need to be intentional about it. One simple way to do this is to schedule virtual “drop-in” hours – agendaless holds in your calendar dedicated to quick questions and ideas from team members. Another way is to add downtime to the agenda itself, making space for colleagues to chit-chat and catch up before you get down to business. In our HPS all-staff meetings, we kick things off by going around the horn and voicing individual and team celebrations. It’s a great way to reflect on team accomplishments and exchange gratitudes.
2. Explore common interests – One perk of making time for downtime is discovering shared interests between colleagues. Maybe you’ll find that everyone on your team is an avid runner and that a running club will spark communal motivation and encouragement, or there is a book related to your work that you can all read and reflect on. Whatever the connection, make room for the group to explore it together.
3. Use technology as a connective tool – Platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams are primarily used for work-related correspondence, but they can also be utilized as spaces for social interactions. Try recreating the in-person watercooler as a digital communication channel specifically for non-work discussions like recipe swaps or sharing inspiring news or quotes.
4. If you can, budget for face time instead of FaceTime – While it’s no question that we can build meaningful connections and relationships online, that doesn’t mean that in-person interactions aren’t necessary. One could argue that making a point to meet in person at least once in a while is more important than ever. If possible, try to schedule at least one in-person meeting per quarter with your team and make the focus of that meeting community-driven instead of agenda-driven.
Now that we’ve moved past the emergency work-from-home models, it’s time for us to find the positives and work out the challenges of our new reality. Virtual or not, building community takes time, and it’s always worth it.