In the era of COVID, social connection and relationships, in general, have been top of mind for many of us. From our work relationships to our friendships, (sometimes one and the same), the ways we connect have shifted and evolved.

As a lover of community and connection, I’ve thought about the long-term impact of work relationships and how to ensure we’re truly carving out time to connect with those relationships that are important to us.

Leaders across the board have struggled with managing teams remotely, ensuring productivity and engagement are maintained while managing the emotions that have come with a global pandemic from grief, loss, fear and sadness to name a few.

None of us would have predicted our favourite work pal would now be a pen pal or turn into a socially distant colleague, challenging us to maintain social connections and relationships in new ways. Here we are, nearly 5 months later into a global crisis where our work relationships have changed, some even ending suddenly due to lay off’s.

Our work relationships will continue to change under new working conditions that have remote working being the norm for the near and long-term future. So, how does this impact you as a leader?

Some research suggests strong working relationships and even friendships will positively impact engagement and a good predictor of performance.

A Gallup study suggests –

The best employers recognize that people want to build meaningful friendships and further, that company loyalty is built on such relationships.

We know you’re tired (we all are) of the overstimulated digital world we’re in which seemed to heighten even more since COVID (if that was possible), and now includes the ‘go-to’ Zoom calls or video chats.

It doesn’t replace the hallway chats, morning coffees or extended lunches with your colleague. And a remote environment can have these once closer work relationships easily slip through the cracks and leave people feeling alone.

When you can recognize employee isolation and address it with encouragement to connect with peers and colleagues regularly, you present an opportunity to create stronger working relationships. Including those that may be dormant and can afford to be resuscitated.

Now, the Gallup study says friendships. Do you have to be friends with everyone you work with? No. The choice is always yours nor am I suggesting forcing people to develop friendships with their peers or colleagues. Some are quite content to keep their work pals 9-5 pm while others have some of their closest friendships with those they work with.

Connecting with others, knowing the in-person contact and social engagement was once a regular and often ‘fun’ aspect of work, is human nature. It can be an easy solution to help alleviate stress ‘at work.’

As you consider ways you can support your team in encouraging connection and developing stronger relationships in a remote environment, here are a few ideas that might help:

  • Carve out time for ‘social connection’relationships need to be invested to grow. There’s no way around it, including, excusing a lack of communication or going long periods without talking because you’re “Zoomed out.” Similar to your happy hour or weekly gathering (if you had one) with colleagues that may have been a regular outing pre-COVID, consider scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly social connection hour where employees can come together on a video chat or Zoom to re-connect and socialize! You can even secure the time and encourage employees to do this on their own to give them free will on who they wish to connect. The first idea allows everyone (company-wide) to do so while giving people the chance to meet people they may not have met before or don’t know very well. If you’re a larger organization, consider offering multiple times so everyone has an opportunity to participate.

Making time for social connection needs to be deliberate and with intention when you’re being conscious of developing work relationships. By sending out a company-wide communication, it encourages regular ‘social connection’ and you send a clear message saying you care about the wellbeing of your employees and the importance of maintaining work relationships.

  • Encourage phone or video over email or chat – we all know the power of an in-person conversation over an email or text. We all have a friend, colleague, brother or sister who insists on texting vs. ever picking up the phone! Because it’s easier, it’s faster and many other reasons (or excuses). Some things better said in person than a text or email. Use discernment when communicating. When should a message be delivered in a video/phone call and what can be sent via email? Under these circumstances, remember you’re trying to maintain and develop your work relationships. You build connections and get to know others when you take time to talk to them and that’s far easier done when picking up the phone than writing a ‘Dear Sally’ email.
  • Consider mentoring opportunities – this one might be a bit tricky in a remote environment. As a leader, this is a great opportunity to partner employees together who can learn from each other and also have room to foster a meaningful work relationship. Depending on how you choose to coordinate this, what opportunities can you add an element of ‘fun’ where your employees can get to know each other more personally? Think of icebreakers, activities that can help them get to know one another outside of the workplace.
  • Schedule time to connect & reach out – you used to schedule coffee breaks, lunches and team outings, so yes it makes sense to continue the practice of scheduling time to connect with peers and colleagues. The connection and camaraderie only happen if you take time to reach out. And if you happen to develop a friendship out of that working relationship – that’s a bonus! If you don’t schedule it, it likely won’t happen.
  • Plan for fun, not business talk – part of getting to know your work buds is taking the time to get to know them personally. Not their role in finance, the status of the project their working on or when they’re planning on getting that report you asked for a week ago. Use the scheduled time to socialize! And get to know each other personally.

All of these suggestions take time, effort and yes energy. With family commitments, blurred lines of work and home life, it’s easy to deprioritize your work relationships. One less person to talk to or schedule a Zoom call you might think.

Having said that, encouraging your team to invest in developing their work relationships has multiple benefits beyond the impact of engagement and performance. Our day to day stresses don’t have to be bared alone and can easily be comforted by picking up the phone and calling a peer.

I’d love to hear from you and curious how your work relationships have evolved working remotely.

Do you schedule time regularly to connect with your colleagues? What’s changed if anything since COVID with the people you work with? Let me know in the comments below!

With so much love,

Lisa ?