More than a few Chief People Officers and CEOs are worried about the impact of remote work on company culture.
Without serendipitous meetings, how can bonds form between people who don’t normally interact?
It’s a valid worry. Exit surveys show that people who like their coworkers and company culture stay, while those who don’t, or never get a chance to experience it, move on.
Strong and weak ties
This isn’t just idle speculation. Microsoft research shows strong ties – people who work together regularly because they’re on teams – grew tighter during the pandemic. Weak ties got drastically weaker. This is worrisome because it is the latter that are typically related to culture.
I see this in my own company when teams that don’t normally work together meet. Weak ties are valuable because they allow people of different career paths to meet and discover each other. Weaker ties also give rise to innovation, and help an organization break out of siloed thinking.
Naturally, business leaders are wondering if they can bring people together digitally and accomplish the same cultural effect. The answer is yes. But it’ll take more effort than wheeling in ping pong tables and kegs to a corporate campus.
To keep employees, leaders want to put as much focus on the weak ties as they do the strong ones.
Create networks, foster community
Here are a few tactics businesses can take to make employees feel more connected and engaged. First, create connections between newly hired employees and others within the organization, recreating that moment when a new employee meets a more tenured person in the breakroom and can naturally ask, “do you know who I should talk to about [name the issue]?”
Candidates are often recruited because they see a strong company culture. But if they don’t experience that culture quickly upon joining they’ll leave after a few months. For the new employee, leaving is no great loss. But the cost and impact to the organization and their new peers is tremendous.
By creating an intentional strategy to introduce employees (new or otherwise), business leaders can foster those chance meetings, albeit digitally. What will that look like?
Welcome new employees
Imagine if, as a new hire, I’m asked to fill out a survey of my interests, past experiences, and hobbies. That data is then compared with others across the organization. Then over the next six months I’m encouraged to have 15 minute get-to-know-you-meetings with everyone with whom I’m matched. Will I feel more connected to the organization if I spend 15 minutes talking with a colleague in finance who shares my love of Film Noir? If it’s the spark of a friendship, the data says yes.
In fact, Gartner research from 2019 (note – this is from before the pandemic) shows that new hires quickly become star performers when their managers actively leverage their expansive internal networks to help new hires feel more connected to the organization.
We all experience different communities in our work lives. This variety and connection helps to build culture and supports employee connection. In many organizations, the first and primary community is your team and office communities.
Team connectivity actually strengthened during the pandemic. But the removal of the office as a place to congregate and connect was disrupted.
To support communities of practice, resource groups, personal interests or innovation pods, create digital communities. That’s where employees can connect with colleagues beyond their day-to-day interactions and establish a sense of belonging.
Let’s consider again our new hires, brought together with others hired at the same time into their own community. This community will be cross-functional and with an immediate shared experience of onboarding as the initial connection.
Sharing “class notes” and interests via a dedicated Teams channel can foster bonds. It also reinforces corporate culture as new hires are more likely to be working miles apart.
Evidenced by Microsoft Research, the pandemic has had a profound impact on the nature of connectivity for employees. Teams have become more siloed during the pandemic represented by a sharp reduction in distant networks. That’s lowered innovation and a sense of culture and increased isolation and ultimately attrition.
As the business world struggles with the great reshuffle, rebuilding the connections between employees offers the opportunity to digitally create those moments of serendipity between employees, rebuilding social capital and culture.
In some ways it may seem counterintuitive to “create” serendipity. But building an intelligently connected organization supported by technology and insights is imperative to success in a hybrid working world.
We spend a large chunk of our lives at work. It’s only natural to want that time to be spent in a positive and engaging culture.
Organizations must create an environment that encourages network growth and broad connectivity to reinforce culture and innovation.
Without an engaged and sustainable workforce, organizations will struggle to operate efficiently, attract new talent and grow. As leaders, we are all responsible for creating the environment that encourages people to stay, invest time and engage broadly.