Culture Oct, 2022

The importance of workplace connections and how they could help get employees back to the office

By Michael Bowden | Share:

As the world cautiously begins to return to the normality of socialising in groups and attending restaurants and nightclubs again, there’s still one area that some people remain stridently keen to avoid: the office.

As businesses grow and evolve, so does their ability to really explore just how they make their organisation a great place to be a part of. But is the silver bullet that will retain your post pandemic workforce and attract more talent really just to offer the option for staff to work from home? Or is there a way you can effectively entice your team back to in-person working without impacting their morale and productivity levels.

In recent research by Microsoft in their Work Trend Index, 73% of workers surveyed said they needed a better reason than just company expectations to get back to the office.

This demonstrates how, in a post pandemic world, “work” is fast becoming something people do, not a place they go.

So, the question for employers becomes, what is a compelling reason for staff to come into the office?

Microsoft’s employee survey provides further food for thought:

  • 85% would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds
  • 84% would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialise with coworkers
  • 74% would go to the office more frequently if they knew their “work friends” were there

HR software provider Ciphr’s recent research also confirmed that 40% of people surveyed think working alongside ‘good people or friendly employees’ is more important than their pay.

In short, no one goes back to the office because they simply missed being there, they go back to see their colleagues and friends. It’s not surprising that it’s the in-person human connection that they’ve missed over the last 3 years.

Let’s take a moment to think about the importance of social capital in a workforce. As a result of staff connecting well with each other, this fuels their ability to generate new ideas and inspiration, for them to be able to get help or advice, or finding new career growth opportunities.

For anyone who started a new role mid-pandemic, this opportunity to get to know and work closely with colleagues has been completely absent. This shows how important it is for leaders to prioritise building and rebuilding connections between people to fuel creativity, teamwork, and strong support systems that empower them to tackle challenges. By not doing this, it could lead to the deterioration of any existing social capital.

In a brilliant piece for HBR, Microsoft CMO Chris Copessala maps out three ways leaders can set the stage for meaningful connections at work.

Reduce busywork

It feels like an odd sentence to write, but no one wants to travel into an office only to spend all day swamped with work. Make sure your staff have time and permission to engage and reconnect with each other ring fenced. Keep in mind that in-person socialising won’t detract from your team’s productivity, it will help fuel innovation, retention and more.

To help alleviate anxiety around work piling up, consider introducing team meeting-free days or encouraging employees to book and protect focus time so people know they can catch up later.

In-person rituals

The reason cliched team building exercises stand the test of time is because they are still a great way to help colleagues connect with each other. Ensuring there’s an ongoing team calendar of events and opportunities for people to get together is important regardless of whether you have an office you’re enticing back to or you’re an entirely remote team. The same goes ensuring there’s a process in place for new hires to help them build up their networks at work.

Be authentic

Another interesting statistic shared in Microsoft’s survey was that 85% of employees ranked authenticity as the number-one quality a manager can have to support them to do their best work, but what does authenticity look like in practice? Leading by example and prioritising your time to connect with colleagues beyond transactional requests, is a great starting point. This will help cultivate an authentic working environment where open, genuine, and empathetic connections can happen.

As the office now enters a new era, the key to ensuring it doesn’t become obsolete is to put people at the centre through fostering connections between colleagues.

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