How do you build relationships between in-house and remote employees? And how do you create those water cooler moments that don’t often happen as easily in the digital environment?
The digital age has had a profound effect on the evolution of the workplace environment. And then there was a pandemic thrown in there which forced us to connect virtually only. We found new resilience and new ways to work. But those changes have come with a price, significant growing pains, and some serious dysregulation when it comes to people’s mental health.
A meaningful career depends on meaningful relationships inside your organization. All this ties back to future leadership, productiveness, and retention, making it an integral part, if not the most important factor, in workplace mental health and well-being. The foundation of all of that is connection, belonging, and relationship building.
Here are the 8 tips managers can use to foster connection in hybrid teams:
1. In-person interaction. Your employees come together for important interactions as a team or with clients—but otherwise, people can choose where they want to work. And if one employee works out of town and you are having an in-person event, that means having the tech that brings them into the room with the rest of the team.
2. Be vulnerable. Admit that you are still figuring this out, too. That there will be changes and shifts and you’ll be trying new things and there will be successes and failures and lessons from those initiatives that were unsuccessful. Ask for their input and patience. I used to ask for input as a business owner through a survey that was conducted by another employee to assure anonymity. That way people offered more honest feedback about my leadership. And I learned and listened.
3. Use some old-school and new-age strategies to connect. Handwritten notes, a happy hour after work that doesn’t necessarily mean booze but includes nonalcoholic choices, and events like mass massage which was popular at one workplace wellness after-hours event. You want to do things that make people want to come in and mingle. Not ones where they have to give up a weekend to do some corporate team-building.
4. Create opportunities for water cooler moments. Don’t lapse into pre-pandemic habits of only relying on transactional connections when it comes to remote employees. Make the effort to set up regular events where hybrid and in-person team members interact.Use random check-ins, lunch and learns, and mix-up teams. Making water cooler moments means you have to be more intentional but it’s worth it. And once managers get a taste of that magic, they’ll be more prone to making the effort.
5. Lean into those ERGs and affinity groups. ERGs and affinity groups help connect people with similar interests and has a role in the hybrid space. It helps people find common interests and plays an important role in creating a culture of connection and belonging. Inserting a value-add like important connections of support mean more people will stay. Because while compensation is important, loving where you work can break a tie.
6. Elevate voices from the margins. This builds rapport and connection. We all love a good story and learning about cultures and ways of life. If we amplify those voices and stories and allow them to feel supported, the overall work climate is positively impacted. We’ve seen this play out in high schools with an active GSA, (Genders & Sexuality Alliance) and how having this club has long-term positive benefits on the whole student body. Offer opportunities to share stories about traditions, holidays, and oneself, or have a spotlight opportunity on a specific day of the week or month. If Bob knows that Nhat endured a year in a refugee camp with no running water it builds bridges or respect instead of allowing prejudices to thrive.
7. Use hybrid-friendly activators to promote group relationships. Activators and group interactive activities that can be done online help build connection and team relationships. Simple, one-sentence connectors can be: “Name one thing people don’t know about you.” “Share a family tradition with us that is unique.” “What is your favorite kind of music?”
8. Make sure everybody turns on their video camera. This last one might seem obvious, but I couldn’t leave it out assuming it was. Barring special circumstances like face surgery, teams should see everyone’s mug because talking to a dark square isn’t the same as seeing people. And if you don’t have your camera on, you will tend to check out. I admittedly cut off my camera momentarily to blow my nose or run to the restroom but otherwise, mine is on.
Anne Moss is a mental health speaker who helps businesses create a culture of connection and belonging, the foundation of good mental health and workplace wellness.