In the past, Work Culture was mainly about values, vision, and work policies. After being locked down for nearly 2 years, we have seen human connection and social interaction become not only important, but crucial to cultivating an innovative, creative and positive culture.
We have now stepped into a new era where work connection, interactions and friendships are a huge key to significantly increase the efficiency of an organization and a real way to retain talent and avoid isolation.
As the lack of human connection has endangered many remote-first companies, it has become apparent that hybrid work–when organized and executed well–could be a game changer for Work Culture.
With remote-first and hybrid work cultures extending in most tech companies, finding meaningful human connections in the workplace is more difficult than ever.
And it significantly impacts employee engagement and retention.
Human connection at work is one of those things that we took for granted—until it was no longer an option. A smile, a handshake, an honest question about how you’re doing; these seemingly small social recognitions have a greater impact on workplace culture than many of us realize. We’ve been devoid of these interactions, and now, people crave friendships at work, but they are having a hard time finding them.
Remote first has been threatening human connection and has appeared as one of the main priorities while switching to Hybrid Work.
Recently, a study conducted by Atlassian has highlighted how difficult it has become for businesses to foster a sense of belonging and connection in their work cultures after the pandemic. Employees' sense of belonging is the number one challenge cited by senior executives, with 95% recognizing that their corporate culture and sense of belonging need to be improved. What’s frightening is that 75% of these executives believe their employees would be ready to leave and work for another company where they feel more connected.
Remote and Hybrid work, as practical and desired as it may be, can have a negative impact on social connection. 72% of workers aren’t socializing as much as they’d like to when they’re remote, and 33% expressed feelings of loneliness. Along with an actively toxic work environment, simply feeling disconnected from one’s colleagues is one of the main reasons employees quit.
However, employees who feel connected to each other are more motivated and have higher productivity performance; in fact, Airspeed found that 96% of executives surveyed believe this.
So how can hybrid organizations encourage relationships between employees? First, we need to understand what kinds of connections workers are looking for.
Mark C. Perna has written about human connection in relation to trust and surveillance in the workplace.
In a word, a true “human connection” happens when a person feels seen, heard and valued by another. They build the strength of this bond over time, as ongoing interactions cement and deepen the initial connection.
He uses the term “human connection” instead of “relationship” for several reasons. “Human connection” emphasizes the moment of eye to eye human interaction. Rather than “relationship,” which seems more vague, and perhaps more demanding than a moment of connection between two people.
A human connection cuts through artificial surface-level interactions that most people actively endure or avoid. Generation Z, in particular, has little time for these types of inauthentic interactions.
Of course, no one wants to be told to “play nice and be friends,” as if they’re children on a playdate. This is where the problem lies for managers, who want to help employees forge human bonds, but are hesitant to impose.
A true human connection is organic, in the sense that it occurs naturally—or not at all. Job postings may ask for candidates who work well with others or are qualified to collaborate, but they cannot require you to make eye contact with your teammates or show a genuine interest in their lives.
But employers can set the stage for people to make real connections—even remote and Hybrid workers. It all starts with leadership.
As a leader, it is up to me to set the tone for the human connection within our organization. Like the leader, like the team, it’s a truism, but it’s real.
In education the last few years, we’ve learned the importance of administrators, counselors, and teachers facilitating human connection virtually. Connection between students went from being pleasant to have, to essential in the classroom.
Digital natives, Gen Z students, who live half their lives online, silently pose three questions to each authority figure: Can you see me? Can you hear me? Do I matter?
We could say that the workplace is no different. Every day in your workplace, whether geographically or together in the same building, people want to know:
If we prioritize human connection with those we lead and work with, we find it is not that difficult. It’s more of a mentality than anything else.
Yes, it takes a little more time and effort to ask someone how they’re doing—and really listen to the answer. Yes, we need to pay more attention to those around us—and notice if something is wrong. This makes this link so essentially human.
When leaders deliberately choose to build habits of human connection, these behaviors will spill over into culture. And one of the easiest habits to implement is the art of checking in and then leaving.
If you’re directing people in any capacity, especially in a remote and Hybrid environment, you’ve probably heard about the importance of regular audits. Keeping the pulse of the team’s situation is critical. And it’s great—if you get it right.
When you register, check in and then leave. Add nothing else to the conversation. Don’t mention a task that you need them to complete, don’t talk shop, don’t let it turn into anything other than a sincere conversation about them and their needs. Check in and go.
If you ask someone to do something immediately after checking with them, you have just invalidated the registration. They see it as a simple chatter, with your ulterior motive that is what you need from them.
Effective check-ins are not complicated. You ask them how they are, actively listen to their response and see if they need you. We leave it at that. We show them we care, not what they have to do.
Many leaders do not know how much they undermine their human relationships by using check ins as catch-all conversations. The other person sees the checking as blind from the real purpose of the discussion, and it’s a huge detour.
Not forging human connections with our colleagues can come at a high cost. The speed shows that the widespread lack of correspondence has created a workforce that is transactional, and thus strongly disengaged from the company’s vision.
Still according to Atlassian's study, 52% of the employees surveyed admitted that all they cared about was the paycheck, to where 62% said they would accept another position for a membership bonus of only $1,000. Others reported a strong sense of loyalty to their company (62%) and their colleagues (69%).
Fortunately, senior management recognizes how critical the situation is. The vast majority (88%) say improving culture and connections is one of their top priorities. Of those who do not offer an integrated technology platform to support workplace connections, 83% intend to move in this direction, noting that this would improve people’s daily work experience (92%) and make them more likely to stay in their business (87%).
Of course, while effective technological tools to make connections are important in our dispersed workforce, they are not the only thing. We cannot practice the human-to-screen connection if we rarely practice face-to-face interactions.
Regardless of the environment, a real human connection remains or is lost in the way we answer the three essential questions: do you see me? Do you understand me? And, I count?
The lack of connection across an organization can endanger the efficiency of its remote first or hybrid work model, as explained in the constellations and shooting stars concept.
As we've seen how human connection is hard to keep in remote first and hybrid organizations and critical for the health of a company, here are several ways to boost connectivity and recreate human connections between coworkers.
There's nothing more efficient than gathering coworkers, teams, or offices at the same time to celebrate and share moments together. Among all the possibilities, events and celebrations are the most powerful way to increase the connectivity across and within teams.
Learn more about event management in Café
Every day in an office, we randomly run into people, crossing them at the coffee machine, arriving or leaving the office at the same time… Whether you realize, these interactions trigger new connections and allow us to more easily connect with people outside our team. While working hybrid or remote-first, recreating serendipity is a powerful way to get new interactions and trigger connections, and we have been working on several features to allow a company to do it.
Ever find yourself wondering, “How could I even relate to my coworkers?” Truth is, we all share common interests; making them the perfect basis for initial meetings, connections, and potentially strong relationships. However, when working Hybrid or remotely, where do you find the interests of your peers? How do you know who likes what?
Allowing people to connect based on interests is surely the most likely way to connect with people you don't see every day at the office - and create a connection that lasts.
At Café, we truly believe the future of work is Hybrid. Because of that, we enable employees to shape their hybrid work styles with flexibility, transparency, and interest-based connections at the forefront of each social interaction. We help hybrid and remote first companies increase workplace connectivity and build efficient, flexible and thriving cultures.