The Importance of Connecting with Colleagues

The “new normal” these days means a new way to work. People getting things done at home. Teams operating virtually. The proverbial water cooler standing lonely. With many companies in large cities not expecting a return to physical offices this year, workplace culture is being reshaped. And it matters.

Before social distancing became a part of life, Harvard Business Review reported that 40% of employees felt lonely at work. Certainly, that number will grow—and it will impact your organization’s people and their productivity. 

Consider this: the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration notes that loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Conversely, friendships promote wellness, can speed recovery from illness, and help reduce the risk of mortality. And the workplace is an essential place for friendships to develop.

T. Maccarthy Kapaan, an international recruitment manager who worked through the Ebola epidemic in Liberia talked about the importance of connecting with people at work. “We learned during Ebola that supporting, encouraging, and inspiring an organization’s most critical resources–its employees–cannot be overemphasized. It’s easier to replace your material and financial resources than it is to replace your human resources or the people who further your mission. A dear colleague, a top talent, or someone with institutional memory is irreplaceable.” 

Even though the proximity of colleagues has changed, the value of your organization’s workplace culture doesn’t have to. Here are three ways we can all continue to take care of our colleagues, wherever we are.

1. Check-in regularly

In any situation, a lack of communication often leads to people making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. During stressful times, this natural tendency gets worse. Rumors start. Gossip builds. Emotions increase.

Even if it seems like a lot, a daily company-wide text, email, or video conference can help everyone feel connected. Just a short greeting and update can calm people’s nerves, share timely information, and keep people on the same page.

Remember to schedule one-to-one meetings, too. Regardless of your role, reach out personally to your teammates, supervisors, direct reports, and cross-functional co-workers. Personal communications inspire and can actually increase productivity. They shouldn’t all be about work, either. Just like passing by someone’s desk or walking through the breakroom, asking for an update on the family or taking a moment to check-in and say hello goes a long way towards trusting relationships.

At Spoonful of Comfort, we’ve seen an outpouring of care from co-workers and leaders. Some meals are sent to colleagues who are ill. A manager surprised her team with care packages and words of encouragement during a business downturn. Sometimes we see simple efforts of reaching out friend-to-friend.

It’s inspiring to see people thinking of each other.

2. Encourage creative collaboration

There’s a reason people work together. From brainstorming to breaking down to-do lists, the adage “two heads are better than one” holds a lot of value. So what happens when you can’t physically be together?

Phone and video conferences are the quick answers, of course. But think outside the box, too. Try scheduling a walk-and-talk meeting outside. Instead of meeting in person, have your conversations on the phone. You’ll get a needed change of scenery, stretch your legs, and refresh yourself as well as the conversation. Turn it into a video call and see each other’s surroundings. 

Or, bring back the working lunch. Instead of gathering in the conference room or at a restaurant, bring the take-out to each person’s kitchen table. (Who knows? A video lunch might be just the reason someone needs to wash their hair that day.)

One Spoonful of Comfort client scheduled a team-wide Zoom lunch and ordered meal packages to be delivered the day before. Everyone was delighted to get lunch on the company dime—plus have plenty leftover to share with the family later on.

3. Celebrate together

It might seem like the little things that make your company culture unique are no longer possible. Sometimes that might be true. Still, we can’t help but smile at the creative ways people adapt:

  • Instead of hitting a gong when meeting a sales goal, one manager improvised a kitchen pan “gong” he suspends near his desk. It gets a clang—and a lot more laughs—when successes are announced during team video meetings.
  • Instead of an in-person round of applause, call for claps during video meetings. Or send an animated gif or series of hand-clapping emojis in an email.
  • Celebrate the things that stand out. Work-from-home routines get awfully, well, routine. Shake things up by recognizing people who have made extra effort at work, who are exploring a new talent in isolation, who act as a volunteer during off-hours, and so on. More than ever, people need to be celebrated.
  • Keep traditions alive. Did the office previously throw retirement parties? Share cake in the lunchroom? Go out for happy hour on birthdays? You still can. Send a group gift to the lucky person at the center of attention and watch them open it together online. Invite that person’s family members to join in (they’re in the next room, you know). There’s no reason the traditions of toasts, speeches, music, and even a game or two can’t go on.

Spoonful of Comfort is honored to help companies and colleagues connect with each other. Our corporate gifting program has always been used to reach out to clients and co-workers to celebrate occasions of every kind. Now our meal packages of soup, rolls, and cookies are becoming a new way to connect during this new way of working. Nourish those relationships!