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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 work relationships in a remote world. Americans report feeling more alone than ever, and many have never seen more of their coworkers than their bobbing heads on Zoom. And while it may be tempting to write off these conditions as the “new normal,” creating personal connections at work is as vital as ever.
We flew our entire company to Vegas to do everything we cannot do when we’re stuck behind Zoom screens: We went golfing, played games, shot guns and ate many delicious meals together. By the time our two days were up, we learned things about each other we could never have learned through screens and we left with a stronger excitement for the work we will do together this year.
That said, flying your company to Vegas is not the only way to connect employees. Whether you have the resources to plan a companywide trip or a two-person coffee date, it is possible to work from home and develop meaningful relationships with those we work with — it just requires a little bit more elbow grease.
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 anyone into one-size-fits-all team-building, they will likely only resent such forced “fun.” To authentically build relationships, leaders need to talk to employees directly, asking, “What do you need more of to feel connected? And what are you excited to partake in?”
Our employees know themselves best, so we should tailor our events to their needs and desires. Furthermore, everyone has different extroversion and introversion levels; some may need more support to break out of their shell. Be sure to create a safe environment when attempting to create connections: break out into smaller groups, don’t require people to speak or attend if they don’t want to and stay 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 gift exchanges, some of which have been hits while others have flopped. By providing various options, we ensure that everyone can connect with their coworkers 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 allow yourself to be a part of the fun — leaders want connection, too.
Balance the stormy weather
Whether we’re at work, at home or with friends, we will inevitably face conflict. However, the conflict will be much easier to navigate if we’ve put in the time to create positive experiences. If we work in a company with only rain for months, we will likely consider moving to a sunnier state. But if we’ve created relationships founded on positive memories and genuine connection, the days of rain will not be as degrading to morale — we have plenty of sunny days to make up for one storm.
It’s much easier to get angry 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, by getting to know each other more deeply, we gain an understanding of each other and thus have more patience when dealing with conflict.
People remember the little things
Cultivating connections does not only happen during company-wide trips to Vegas. It’s often the little moments of connection that matter most.
Recently, 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 meaning for him. Years ago, at a different, in-person company, we provided employees free meals if they had to work late. Often, these meals came from a popular sushi restaurant nearby. One day, this employee mentioned in passing that he is not a huge sushi fan: “Maybe we could 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 does not have to be flashy. Whether we work in four different time zones or side by side in the office, consider: What is a small action we could take to make even one of our employees feel cared for at work? What casual 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.
Connection requires 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 must be intentional about how we make our employees feel, especially in a remote working environment. If someone feels isolated and disconnected at work, what stops them from doing the bare minimum or moving on to greener pastures?
Remote work is not going anywhere. Though I am a huge proponent of its efficacy, it’s also true that our disparate locations deeply impact our ability to connect. I may be unable 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 meet-ups, and plan company retreats. Creating connections in the digital age is possible — it just requires effort, planning and, sure, maybe even a trip to Vegas.