As many of us have transitioned to remote work over the past year, one of the pressing questions of the workplace has become: how do we form community and foster a connective work culture? It’s important as leaders to center authenticity when trying to build connection from afar in the virtual world. You can provide all of the opportunities for happy hour, game night, lunch socials, and more, but if those events don’t appeal to your employees or demonstrate real care for their needs, they may not be beneficial. Let’s explore ways in which you can identify the needs of your employees and offer meaningful opportunities for engagement and community.
This first step can be quite simple. Ask your employees: what would make you feel more connected to your colleagues? Brainstorm ideas together or ask them to fill out a short survey so that everyone has a voice. Maybe you notice from their responses that they need more time to settle in before diving right into a meeting or maybe they’d prefer a scheduled social event that takes place weekly, even if it’s done remotely. By focusing on employee feedback and carving out time to implement their requests, you demonstrate care and invite a more equitable work environment. When employees feel seen and heard, there’s more room for real authentic connection. Let’s explore some activities you can try together to build up that sense of community.
Let’s say your employees have expressed that jumping directly into the minutia of a meeting can be overwhelming. In order to demonstrate that you’ve heard their feedback, you can try starting each meeting with a guided meditation. You don’t have to spend a long time with this, but rather can begin with a one-minute meditation and open up space for everyone to reset before getting to the agenda.
Sometimes we’re so caught up in our work schedules and responsibilities that we neglect to ask basic questions like how are you today? This can be such a powerful way for people to begin opening up to one another.
It’s important to note that not everyone feels comfortable in the same way, so providing options for participation is key. You could ask everyone to respond on a scale of one to five, one being the best and five the worst, to indicate how they’re feeling. Then, those who’d like to share could have the time to do so. Or, maybe it’s a meme challenge where everyone has to submit a meme that corresponds to their emotional state that day or that week. This can be a fun and silly activity just as much as it can be raw and honest. Be prepared for and embrace the full spectrum of emotions that people are brave enough to share.
Everyone isn’t always comfortable being vulnerable in whole group sessions. Breakout groups can create a less intimidating environment in which people can share. Topics of discussion could be anything from addressing conflicts at work to expressing your high, low, and new experience of the day or week. Remember, these activities should be tailored to the needs of your employees. If you’re wanting to enliven the group, you could even try creating a competition of sorts through a scavenger hunt or a trivia game.
Forcing people to connect won’t work. Cultivating a real and authentic workplace environment takes time and patience. Providing an opt-out option for community-based activities can be a powerful way to remind employees that connection is rooted in collaboration and that it will look different day to day and person to person. Sometimes people just need a break from each other and that’s okay. You can always circle back to check in or present the opportunity for connection again at a different time.
Fostering connection can be messy because humans are complex and what has profound results one week may fall flat the next. The goal is to keep striving for a work environment that feels safe, welcoming, and real. What steps will you take today to ground your employees in care for themselves and each other?