When the world pivoted to working remotely amid the pandemic, many business leaders, managers and employees feared that employees would be unable to create and sustain connections with their colleagues. At particular risk of being disconnected are employees who were hired immediately prior to or during the pandemic.
“Leaders throughout the organization must figure out how to create the processes and support mechanisms necessary to build and maintain employee connections regardless of where their employees work,” says Emily Rose McRae, Director, Gartner.
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The traditional, prepandemic advice on building employee connections for those working remotely was to hold more meetings, particularly team meetings, to ensure that remote team members felt in the loop and connected to their colleagues. But now, after close to a year of remote and hybrid workforce models, employees are tired of meetings.
Gartner data shows that employees working remotely attend, on average, one more meeting a day than when they were in the office. More meetings, and more meeting fatigue, clearly cannot be the solution.
Instead of increasing meetings, follow three key principles to build employee connections and networks:
- Make the meetings you have meaningful.
- Match the medium to the message.
- Tailor connection-building strategies to the organization’s or team’s goals.
Make the meetings you have meaningful
With more employees working remotely, many organizations have increased not only the number of meetings, but also the number of attendees at meetings. The goal was to make decisions and planning more visible to more employees, but employees often find themselves in meetings they don't need to attend. Consider moving people to a distribution list for key take-aways and meeting summaries, rather than adding them to the meeting invitation.
Also incorporate simple, structured best practices into your organizations’ meeting culture. Start each meeting by outlining the goals and desired outcomes from the meeting. Use the last five minutes to confirm and share decisions, commitments and next steps.
“Don’t forget to optimize audio, video and workspace issues. Work with IT to ensure employees have technology solutions available that support how they prefer to join and participate in meetings,” says Adam Preset, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner.
Link the medium to the message
Employee connections aren’t necessarily built better with one medium versus another. Rather, choose the most appropriate channel for the goal. For instance, team channels on workstream collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack often work best for discussion threads, brainstorming and idea or article sharing, whereas instant messaging or chat is ideal for urgent questions or informal discussions.
Shifting the connections to the appropriate channel for the goal means that employees can save their video calls for topics that need to have space for nuance, tone and body language. These include sensitive discussions or conversations where tone could be misconstrued when put into written form, such as performance management conversations and mentorship or coaching conversations.
Tailor strategies to goals
Why do you want to increase employee connections in the face of remote and hybrid work? There are many possible answers to this question — exchange of ideas, employee engagement, professional development, and more. No connectivity solution will address all of these goals at once. Prioritize the potential solutions you’re considering based on your goals for building employee connections.
When it’s a priority to exchange ideas, for example, you probably need a virtual content-sharing platform or tools like digital whiteboards, which allow asynchronous and synchronous work within the team and facilitate feedback within workflows where needed.
To create employee network building and professional development opportunities, create avenues for both lateral and vertical employee connections within the organization. This can include virtual mentorship connection platforms, where employees can offer or solicit coaching on a wide range of professional skills, or optional special interest groups on popular topics or development interests.
You can also encourage business leaders to schedule informal meetings with small groups of employees who do not work together, which offers employees the opportunity to get to know a senior leader as well as one another.
When employee engagement is a priority, ensure explicit, intentional recognition of achievements by both teams and individuals, through multiple channels. Gartner research reveals that during periods of disruption, employees' desire to be recognized for good work increases by 30%.
Employers can also organize remote volunteer activities, such as mentoring, virtual charity races, letter writing and connecting with isolated elderly community members. These activities give employees the opportunity to feel positively about their organization and themselves, regardless of their location.
The remote work tools that organizations have come to depend on in the past year will remain part of the work environment for the foreseeable future. The new digital behaviors that develop in the remote environment will carry over in the transition back to physical offices, especially when some employees continue to work remotely.
Organizations that find solutions to these challenges sooner rather than later will be better positioned to manage employees in the rapidly growing and evolving digital workplace.