“The organizations of the future that people will be the most excited to work for will be those that foster supportive social ties for those in the room and also those that are not.” (HBR, 2021)
It’s not easy to make a meaningful connection with someone you only know through a screen. However, with the world opening up, there are opportunities to re-engage with your coworkers in a hybrid workplace model. How we choose to rebuild those connections is up to us.
We all miss aspects of our lives pre 2020. Some will reemerge, but others will profoundly shift – especially those aspects related to work. With around 1 in 4 Americans projected to work fully remotely in 2021 after the pandemic, home offices and video calls have replaced open offices and meeting rooms as the new norm. For many of us, working from home has had a host of benefits, from skipping the daily commute to dressing more comfortably while on the clock. It’s no surprise that two-thirds of remote employees would like to continue working from home, even as quarantine restrictions are lifted and vaccines are administered all over the country.
Employers are finding ways to accommodate these preferences. However, many employees, employers, and companies are suffering from digital malaise especially during this remote world re-order. How do we stay meaningfully connected even when we are physically distant? How do we build bridges to each other and increase human awareness and understanding?
The Hybrid Approach
A widely discussed solution to workers’ hesitancy about returning to the office is for companies to establish a hybrid workplace. This situation would require employees to split their time between the physical and virtual office spaces each week. The reasoning behind this middle-ground approach is that it would give employees the flexibility and comfort of working from home, while also encouraging stronger connections between coworkers. Although the hybrid workplace aims for the best of both worlds, it comes with its own set of potential issues.
A lot needs to change to make the hybrid model work. Without human interaction, culture becomes difficult to maintain. Morale and retention can suffer. Furthermore, recent insights into the impact that working from home can have on our mental health and overall well-being are giving cause for concern. As the days of in-person interaction with our coworkers seem to be slipping away, people are feeling increasingly isolated and disconnected from their teams. Spending a few hours each week in the office isn’t likely to help maintain the social relationships and team building that an entirely in-person office can nurture. We need to begin seriously re-thinking the way we build relationships and communicate in meaningful ways while at the office.
There are incredible technological solutions that can help make hybrid work, but at the same time, there must be intentionality around how we use them – especially to help foster meaningful relationships. Video calls with your teammates can be a great opportunity to spark conversations that allow everyone to open up. However, these meetings all-too-often begin awkwardly while people wait for everyone else to join the virtual room. Then, after the subject at hand has been discussed, it’s not unusual for the call to end abruptly with a brief wave and goodbye. These stiff, rushed interactions can be devoid of the social formalities and nuances that humans have developed over thousands of years—the result being that people are left feeling uncomfortable and socially distant.
How Can We Fix This?
Big Talk wants to help make the hybrid model work. We aim to help address these gaps in interpersonal relationships that will result from hybrid models.
Although creating small talk around what everyone did over the weekend can lead to some discussion, it usually dies off pretty fast. Instead, try asking teammates some of the meaningful questions from your Big Talk cards, or those topics and activities suggested through the Big Talk for Work application (coming soon).
Some examples of Big Talk Questions you can ask include:
- What have you been curious about lately?
- What is something new you have recently tried and enjoyed?
- If you could freeze time today, what would you do during those uninterrupted moments?
- What are you struggling with at work lately? Is there any way I can help?
These questions were developed specifically to create open and honest conversations, which draw more interest since they encourage discussion about meaningful and personal topics. More importantly, Big Talk questions are universal, so that everyone on your team can feel connected and relate.
For the smooth integration of Big Talk questions into your video calls, try setting up a plan with your coworkers to reserve the first or last five minutes of the call for some deeper conversation. Big Talk questions can even be brought into the hiring and onboarding process to help your company conduct more in-depth interviews and training.
On the days when your team is in the building, Big Talk can help facilitate interactions that may otherwise feel awkward or stale. During your offsites – prime times when coworkers are physically present, maximize the opportunity for creating stronger connections during these social activities by fostering active empathetic listening and encouraging non-work related conversations that go beyond small talk. Set the groundwork by introducing concepts of curiosity, intentionality, alignment, and vulnerability. These conversations will form the groundwork to help your team form stronger bonds whether you are connecting on or offline.
The Need to Adapt
As break rooms shift to chat rooms, and as private messages replace watercooler conversations, it seems that a hybrid office will be the workplace of the future. Knowing that, it’s up to us and our employers to begin adapting work culture into something fit for the post-pandemic era. Something that should address the novel issues presented by a partially remote work environment. In a year when people are interacting with their coworkers less on average, carving out extra time to establish meaningful moments at work is vital to fostering the sense of belonging that most of us crave when it comes to our careers.
More Info on Big Talk
For an easy way to begin feeling reconnected at work, we encourage you to check out Big Talk. If you’re already working in—or are about to shift to—a hybrid workplace, shoot us a message and we can work on bringing Big Talk learning programs into your workplace!