5 Ways to Nurture Connections in New Workplace Environments

Even if you're back in your offices after the COVID-19 quarantine, chances are those workplaces look a lot different, whether because some employees are working staggered hours, setting up more permanent work-from-home arrangements or dealing with far-flung clients. Many are missing the ease of workplace interaction and spontaneous conversations that occurred in hallways and break rooms. That lack of natural communication can cause productivity bumps and even depress morale.

Though it’s harder to recreate the synchronicity of an office environment these days, it still can be done with renewed effort toward culture-building. Here are five ideas to help your employees create connections, even from a distance:

1. Communicate often via multiple channels. When it comes to status updates, project reports or any important download, “give a little more information than you think is necessary,” according to Chris Kaundart of Trello, an online collaborative tool. Build in communication redundancies so you don’t risk employees missing out on essential news, particularly when some are in different locations and time zones. And ensure that anything related to human resources—particularly when it comes to employee health and safety—is communicated frequently, updated regularly and available through easy-to-access methods. Another good reminder from Trello when it comes to communication: “Always communicate with positive intent and assume others are, too.” Starting with a positive approach gives a better chance of a positive outcome.

2. Prioritize company transparency. It may be wise to discontinue or combine some meetings to combat video chat overload and Zoom fatigue, but make sure to keep regular all-hands calls on the books. These informational meetings don’t have to be elaborate productions, but they should provide opportunities for leaders to discuss company priorities and status of important projects, explain what’s on the horizon and listen to employee feedback. Think of these as uplifting, inspirational meetings—not places to detail a litany of employee mistakes. “Tell stories and share the impact of specific projects to help employees stay motivated,” Fast Company recommends.

3. Plan regular coffee chats with colleagues. Reach out to someone you don’t know that well and initiate a conversation that intentionally doesn’t hinge on work. “Corporations have historically seen some of the biggest new ideas emerge,” Ben Waber of Humanyze told The New York Times, “when two employees who usually didn’t talk suddenly, by chance, connected.” Though the altered workplaces of 2020 and beyond make random connections more difficult, technology can be used to create these cross-departmental connections.

4. Mix in fun whenever possible. Though watercoolers are now off-limits, many technology tools like Teams, Zoom, Slack and Basecamp offer virtual means to recreate back-and-forth chats and light-hearted communication. Set up channels for swapping music, movie or TV recommendations. Share recipes and takeout restaurant picks. Crowd-source ideas for new home office equipment or gardening tips. Show off pictures of your office mates—the human and furry variety. These specific channels perform a double-duty, as Fast Company reminds us: “Creating designated spaces prevents employees from clogging online business threads with nonwork banter.”

5. Don’t be afraid to upend “what’s always been done.” COVID-19 has caused multiple layers of disruption for your company, but consider ways that some of the lemons of disruption can be squeezed into the lemonade of good and sustainable change. Are there processes that could be more inclusive? Projects that could be smoother and more streamlined? Are there better ways for employees to connect and collaborate? Are there creative ways to motivate employee health and well-being?

“There’s all kinds of habits and practices that develop that aren’t effective,” Stewart Butterfield, the chief executive of Slack communication software told The New York Times. “You think you can’t do something—and then you have to do it. And so it turns out you can.” Finding ways to reap the lessons of this difficult moment in time will help you and your employees find purpose and spark greater connection.