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A few weeks ago I spent a few days in Vegas – not to see the Blue Man Group or to gamble, but to get to know my employees. It can feel increasingly difficult to forge meaningful working relationships in a remote world. Americans report feeling more only than ever, and many have never seen more of their colleagues than their bobbing heads on Zoom. And while it may be tempting to write these conditions off as the “new normal,” creating personal connections at work is as important as ever.
We flew our entire party to Vegas to do everything we can’t do when we’re stuck behind Zoom screens: We played golf, played games, shot guns, and ate many delicious meals together. By the time our two days were up, we learned things about each other that we could never have learned through screens and left with a stronger enthusiasm for the work we will be doing together this year.
That said, flying your company to Vegas isn’t the only way to connect employees. Whether you have the resources to plan a company-wide trip or a coffee date for two, it’s possible to work from home And developing meaningful relationships with those we work with – it just takes a little more elbow grease.
Related: How Leaders Can Get the Most Out of Remote Working
Go to the source
Our companies are filled with a diverse group of people with unique interests, personalities and backgrounds. If we try to force someone into uniform team building, they will probably just resent such forced ‘fun’. To build authentic relationships, leaders need to talk directly to employees and ask, “What do you need more of to feel connected? And what are you excited about participating in?”
Our employees know themselves best, so we have to tailor our events to their needs and wishes. In addition, everyone has different levels of extroversion and introversion; some may need more support to break out of their shell. Be sure to create a safe environment when trying to make connections: split into smaller groups, don’t demand people speak or be present if they don’t want to, and remain open to feedback.
Not everything we plan will be popular with all our employees, and we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with new events to see what sticks. We’ve had virtual cooking contests, murder mystery nights, and white elephant exchanges, some of which were a hit, while others flopped. By offering different options, we ensure that everyone can connect with their colleagues, should they choose to do so. Bringing employees together is an opportunity, not a task. Get creative, ask employees what they want and don’t forget to let yourself be part of the fun – leaders want connection too.
Related: How Has Remote Work Affected Our Relationships With Other Employees? The findings of this study will surprise you.
Balance the stormy weather
Whether at work, at home, or with friends, we will inevitably face conflict. However, the conflict will be much easier to navigate if we have taken the time to create positive experiences. If we work in a company with nothing but rain for months on end, we will probably consider moving to a sunnier country. But if we’ve built relationships based on positive memories and genuine connection, the days of rain won’t be so demeaning to morale — we’ll have enough sunny days to make up for one storm.
It’s much easier to get mad at or play the blame game with someone we don’t know – we yell at the person who cuts us off in traffic without thinking twice. Even if we don’t become best friends with our co-workers, getting to know each other better helps us understand each other better and thus have more patience in dealing with conflict.
People remember the little things
Cultivating connections doesn’t just happen on company-wide trips to Vegas. It’s often the little moments of connection that matter the most.
Lately I’ve been trying to entice someone I once worked with to work for our company. In one of our conversations, he brought up a memory that still held great significance for him. Years ago, at another private company, we provided employees with free meals if they had to work late. Often these meals came from a popular sushi restaurant in the area. One day this employee casually said that he is not a big sushi fan, “Maybe we can get pizza one night?” The following week I made sure we ordered pizza and continued to do so for the rest of the time we worked together. Some 15 years later, he still remembers the care we showed by simply providing a meal he enjoyed.
Taking care of people and forging relationships doesn’t have to be flashy. Whether we work across four different time zones or side-by-side in the office, consider: What is one small action we can take to make even one of our employees feel cared for at work? What informal event could we plan that would give people the space to connect authentically? You never know – 15 years later you may find that your more impactful action is that you ordered pizza instead of sushi.
Related: Leaders concerned about remote work should look at this statistic
Connection takes effort
Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We need to be mindful about how we make our employees feel, especially in a remote work environment. If someone feels isolated and closed off at work, what’s stopping them from doing the bare minimum or moving on to greener pastures?
Remote work isn’t going anywhere. While I’m a big believer in its effectiveness, it’s also true that our disparate locations greatly impact our ability to connect. I may not be able to gather my employees in Montreal, Florida, and New York on a Friday afternoon for a casual last-minute happy hour, but I can plan virtual game nights, facilitate local meetings, and plan corporate retreats. Making connections in the digital age is possible – it just takes effort, planning and maybe even a trip to Vegas.