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6 Action Items to Create Human Connection in the Future Workplace

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Brittany Tilstra
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
June 25, 2020

One of the biggest drivers of human connection in the workplace is proximity. This insight may seem obvious, but over the past decade it has launched several studies and some major office redesigns, especially in big tech that prioritizes innovation and productivity like Apple and Google.

Before COVID-19 changed our workplaces forever, open office spaces made up 70% of all U.S offices. Designed to create 'collisions' between colleagues from different departments, colleagues from different departments could connect in sleek lounge areas and well-lit snack bars and find serendipitous opportunities.

In response to the Big Switch to remote work, many companies, like Dentsu Aegis Network, were challenged to create those same collisions virtually to ensure business continuity and employee wellness.

We work with over 180 organizations to create virtual collisions, here are 6 action items industry leaders are prioritizing in the new world of virtual office spaces.

Make it personal

People need to feel empowered to do things on their own, otherwise, they’ll feel like they are getting dragged along by someone else’s agenda. That’s why you need to focus on personalization and enablement over admin-heavy, mandatory top-down initiatives.

Strategies that focus on enablement will empower your employees to self-select what works for them. Think of it like a buffet of opportunities. Some people may want to skip the salad bar and go straight to the main entrees, others LOVE the salad bar. Create an easy-to-navigate content library and pair with a toolbox of helpful tech and let people pick and choose based on their preferences. 

Be value-driven

This point is all about HR's internal marketing campaign for connectivity initiatives. Think about the different values and benefits that your program will bring to the various ‘personas’ within your workforce. 

Do they care about collaboration and innovation? Maybe your program will help them solve difficult problems by gathering different perspectives from colleagues in other departments. Are they interested in job opportunities within the company? Maybe they will connect with someone who can help them prepare for an interview.

Be clear about the benefits to employees' careers and personal wellness. Bonus points if you can segment your employees based on goals and interests to target them with relevant messaging.

Encourage grassroots activities

Bottom-up activities feel more organic and natural than top-down activities. Nurturing small communities within your organization to connect over mutual interests can play a major part in employee engagement. 

In our most recent webinar, Daniel Lindquist, Chief of Staff at PwC, referenced a few initiatives that have sprouted since the switch to remote work like photo challenges, cooking challenges, and a Peloton community that hosts team rides. Similarly, Olivia Lee, Chief of Staff at AIG, mentioned virtual yoga and meditation sessions and curated content for parents working from home with kids. 

Find out what your employees care about and create space for them to find community, connect over personal interests, and make friends.

Create a “permission asset”.

A term often used by our founder, Dave Wilkin, means the social permissions someone needs to feel comfortable and confident in a given situation, especially if they need to ask someone for support.

Take networking as an example. One of the most common problems people face when trying to build their professional networks is making the first move, or rather, not making the first move. This is especially true when someone is trying to connect with someone of higher seniority. There is a paradox where junior employees feel that the more senior person should lead the conversation because they have more experience, but senior professionals feel that their junior should lead the conversation so they can use the time efficiently and answer all their questions. 

Part of your enablement strategy should be creating a permission asset that gives employees the confidence to reach out and connect with senior leaders, and reminding senior leaders that in their earlier years, they likely needed someone to take a coffee chat with them. 

Obviously senior execs’ time is precious, which is why we recommend organizing fireside chats and AMA’s with small groups of 5 to 20 of their juniors to maximize and respect their time. 

Think beyond geography.

The silver lining of the shift to work-from-home? Geography is no longer a barrier to people meeting for a coffee chat. Since March 2020, professionals are more open to having coffee chats via phone or video chat. 

Now, back to your enablement strategy: In a virtual office, collisions have to be intentional. It’s incredibly rare for folks to “just bump into each other” on Slack or Yammer and build a meaningful connection. To promote connectivity, match colleagues with similar interests and goals for informal conversation, especially if they are from different offices. If your organization is 1000+ employees, you’ll want to automate this process. 

Develop a culture of connectivity—at all levels.

Most employees are interested in career development and mobility at your company. Whether it’s another role or honing their skill, connecting with others is one of the easiest ways employees can gain insight into career and development opportunities. 

65% of employees don't feel they're allowed to speak to colleagues on different teams or levels of seniority.

Unfortunately, optics can interfere and employees may feel anxious about meeting with leaders on other teams to seek out future opportunities for fear of the reaction from their current manager. This can be stressful for employees looking to grow and ultimately hurt your bottom line.

It's on senior execs and HR leaders to normalize cross-collaboration and internal mobility as a part of your company's culture. Involve and encourage people leaders to support employees on their journey with your company and prepare them for their next role. Your employees and you retention numbers will thank you.

Interested in learning how Ten Thousand Coffees can help? Book a demo.

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