Employees work in a disconnected workplace – even as they come back on-site.
First, the pandemic sent them all home. Now, many people work fewer – or no – hours on-site. Plus, some teammates have left for other – or no – jobs.
Employees have lost the workplace connections they once cherished. The good news: You don’t necessarily need to get the band back together to make the band feel like they’re back together.
“The antidote to workplace disconnection is promoting friendship and meaningful connection at work,” says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness: An Optimist’s Guide to Connection in his Harvard Business School research. “A 2019 report … found that building close relationships with colleagues was the most important factor in determining job satisfaction by 77% of respondents.”
To help foster connections in a disconnected workplace, Poswolsky suggests these four strategies:
Create connection rituals
It’s more difficult to connect on a whim these days. People aren’t around each other as often as they were before the pandemic.
So leaders and employees will want to create new – or revive old – rituals that get people together in some sense.
Poswolsky points to research on friendship, which needs “three things to thrive: positivity, so we can feel satisfied; vulnerability, so we can feel safe; and consistency, so we can feel seen.”
Try consistent connection rituals that include praise and appreciation. For instance, institute Gratitude Mondays. Employees can start the week sharing something they’re grateful for. At the other end, try Storytelling Fridays, when they can share personal triumphs.
Make it easy to get, give support
Most people give help when they’re asked. In fact, most people feel great about helping colleagues. Kindness and generosity of time and talent builds connections. So make it easier for employees to get and give support.
One way: Try Reciprocity Rings (coined by organizational psychologist Adam Grant). Get together with your team (in-person or via Zoom) monthly or quarterly so everyone can share something they’re struggling with.
Then the rest of the group might be able to offer ideas, new contacts or resources that wouldn’t have come up if the conversation was never facilitated.
You might even keep a spreadsheet or an app that helps everyone stay connected on the issue, offer encouragement and congratulations when the struggle eases.
Encourage personable breaks
Employees need to disconnect from work to maintain their well-being.
“For human connection and friendship to thrive, we need to take employee health seriously,” says Poswolsky.
Leaders can set the bar for employees at work by designating “work-free hours.” That way, no one feels compelled to work outside the norms.
Encourage more phone calls and in-person conversations at work to reduce loneliness and improve communication. Remind employees to use breaks to phone a friend, take a walk with a co-worker or play a board game.
Onboarding is the first opportunity leaders have to facilitate friendships and connections at work. Don’t squander it.
Amp up new employees’ – especially those hired remotely – opportunities to interact with each other and new colleagues.