Human connection: The role of the workplace

Hello Everybody,

Today I want to talk about human connection, why we need it, how we get it, and the role of the workplace. A few weeks ago, I met up with a group of friends, all ex-colleagues, and it got me thinking if those friendships would exist (4 years on) if it weren’t for the physical workplace:

  • The knowing smiles and glancing look during meetings.
  • Seeing each other come out of a meeting room and sharing a big cheesy grin.
  • The purposeful detouring to pass desks to say hello.
  • Very cliche but seeing each other at the coffee machine: My heart genuinely warms reflecting on the times where we’d see each other, eyes widen, we’d smile, go in for a hug, have a few minutes chat and then carry on with our day. If you were having a difficult day, they knew and we’d chat for longer, arrange lunch or afterwork drinks.
  • And yes, after-work drinks.

We all have those friends that you haven’t seen for months and when you meet them it’s like you’ve never been away, that’s because of the solid foundation, the solid connection you have built.

Humans are innately social creatures, hard-wired to seek out a community, the less connected we are, the lonelier and more vulnerable we feel. Humans long for security and attachment; we need people to count on when the chips are down.

The longest-running study in the world, by Harvard, studied people for 75-years and found that a powerful sense of community, feeling connected to the people around you, is the most significant factor in living a longer and happier life. To give that some further context, a study by UCLA has determined by social pain (loneliness) is interpreted by the brain the same as physical pain.

In 2018, Gallup published research that illustrated that those who have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. The research highlights that we spend more of our waking hours at work than at home, and it’s such that we want to build connections with our team members to ensure work feels worthwhile and having those trusted confidants and supporters help foster that feeling; we work to benefit colleagues.

So, in today’s increasingly virtual world, are these moments of connection being lost? And if so, what is the impact?

My thoughts right now are that, yes, these moments are being lost and the impact could have been huge, BUT we have and continue to adapt to the new world, which is offsetting the actual impact, we’ve created new moments:

  • The new slack channels that have appeared in lockdown (especially the sharing of pet photos!).
  • The virtual socials – quizzes / drinks / yoga.
  • The weekly all hands-on virtual meetings.
  • ‘Hybrid’.
  • The simple things like a slack message to just say hello.
  • Calling each other after virtual meetings, to connect and de-brief.

To feel connected to people and the organisation, it’s quality not quantity, which is key. It’s why, despite us being connected to hundreds of people via social media, people still experience loneliness. Connection doesn’t happen through a ‘like’, a ‘follow’ or even a ‘connect’ button ironically. This isn’t connection, it’s one way communication. Somebody is communicating to you that they ‘like’ what they have read, they want to ‘follow’ more, or they want to ‘connect’ with you.

Once one of these buttons has been pressed, that’s when the true ‘connection’ work can begin. You have a shared interest or experience, a mutual friend, you may live in the same city or share the same goals in life. Those ‘connections’ need connecting with.

It’s the same in the workplace. Just because you’re in a building with hundreds of people doesn’t mean you are connected to them.

Whether we’re in the physical or the virtual, connection takes conscious effort.

Tips for leaders:

  • Know names and USE them. Our name is part of our core identity, there’s a study which highlights the ‘cocktail party effect’ – explaining how and why we hear our name being said even in a loud and crowded place.
  • Get to know people and encourage people to get to know each other.
  • Promote open communication and the sharing of ideas. Create channels, ensure people believe they can speak up and share without fear of being shutdown / told it’s a bad idea or a stupid question.
  • Promote and participate in social activities – Get off the pedestal and show that you are human.
  • Actively listen – don’t tune out, don’t read your emails (yes, we can see your eyes moving), show you’re listening by asking questions.
  • Care – ask people how they are and if there’s anything you can do to support them.
  • Allow, and encourage, small talk in meetings.
  • Consider the value of personality tests and use them in a way it enables people to understand and work with each other better. Don’t treat personality insights as hard facts, rather as behavioural tendencies that can change over time.
  • Diarise regular 1-2-1 time. Create a regular feedback loop where you can uncover potential problems, it will help you stop fires when they are a small spark.
  • Gratitude – Create habits and focus around saying thank-you, it’s too easy to forget.
  • Buddy newbies up to help onboarding and Slack bots like ‘donut’ are pretty cool to get people talking too.
  • Remember two key dates and mark them on your calendar: The date the employee was hired and the birthday of the employee. It’s simple and shows you care.

Tips for all:

  • Be you, bring your humour, your likes, and dislikes, share your personal life (within the boundaries you choose to maintain), your hobbies and fun facts.
  • Give – random acts of kindness.
  • Share photos, as well as text, it builds a deeper emotional connection.
  • Be conscious and be consistent, relationships take effort.
  • Turn your camera on (Note: 80% of communication is through expression and non-verbal cues!)
  • Speak up – yes, it’s easy to stay quiet in a virtual meeting but speaking up enables connections and relationships.
  • If you’re able, at least some of the time, see each other in person, tone/body language/eye contact/touch/small talk over lunch or at the coffee machine and even just seeing how tall somebody is (if you know you know haha) all helps to build connection.
  • Do what is needed to change a name on a screen into an actual person. “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

Don’t blame the lack of the physical office for a lack of connection and don’t leave your relationships to chance. Let’s get truly connected!

Take care,

SFJ.

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