Let’s talk about the workplace. Not the space where you are currently working, but the physical place you once shared with your colleagues. Even if you have returned to the office, it is no doubt a very different environment from what it once was. (Thank you - physical distancing, masks and enhanced sanitization). Yes, these are absolutely necessary precautions, but they have also stripped away an essential part of our work experience: connecting with our colleagues.
The problem isn’t the ability to work collaboratively or move team projects ahead; we, as a society, have been remarkably good at that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What we’re losing is something harder to quantify, and more difficult to remedy - the erosion of company culture.
Almost half the workforce believes having friends at work makes them happier and more productive. As the months of the pandemic stretch on, and uncertainty continues over when, or even if, we will return to “normal”, we need to start investing time and energy into cultivating personal connections, and yes, some fun!, into our daily work lives. We need it for our mental wellbeing and we need it to continue to drive our professional engagement.
So what was it about the workplace? And what from it can we replicate in our physically distanced world that allows us to bolster our connections and friendships with our colleagues?
We’re all over Zoom; lIterally and figuratively. We have been able to move those team projects along because of the availability of video conferencing and collaboration technologies. But we are hitting an end point. These platforms allow us to get our work done, but how excited are you to join another Zoom-party these days?
Adding 5 minutes to the beginning of a meeting to provide an opportunity for checking in on how team members are feeling is an important strategy. It can also be used as an opportunity to share information about available wellness supports. However, this strategy risks being unidirectional, with the team lead doing all the talking.
Try this: Start the meeting by encouraging everyone out of their chairs for a round of squats, jumping jacks or stretches. A little moment helps rev us up for a more productive meeting, and despite being apart, it is an activity that everyone can participate in simultaneously.
Breaks and lunchtime were the ideal time to meet with colleagues for some socializing. Whether we made formal plans, or enjoyed a random encounter on the way to grab a coffee, these moments in our day were vital to getting to know one another as individuals and building commonalities. Messaging employees about the importance of taking physical and mental breaks throughout the day is essential, but with our shared physical space gone or augmented, how do we promote connectedness?
Try this: Virtual coffee dates. Yes, this one does rely on Zoom, but here’s the difference. Rather than asking employees to join an event after the workday, when they have already been online for hours, this concept happens during the work day. Create a Wellness Wednesday campaign, and encourage employees to schedule a 10 minute break with one of their colleagues. More than ¼ of adults live alone making these daytime social events even more important.
Onsite yoga; charity runs, office potlucks - these team building activities have been put on hold. Yet, the need to create opportunities for employees to foster their communication and collaboration, while having fun, hasn’t dissipated. If anything, the need has increased!
Try this: Run a company wellness challenge. Help employees to build healthy, actionable habits into their daily lives while having fun at the same time. Use your company’s communications channels to promote the challenge, and encourage photo sharing, too.
Wondering how to get started? Download Sprout's 20X20 Challenge Kit.
With all of the above strategies, the goal is to promote connections that are fun, meaningful and do not leave your employees feeling overwhelmed. Company culture can thrive, even in the era of Zoom. We may be physically apart, but we can work together to stay socially connected.