27 September 2023

Rebuilding our pre-COVID connections

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Arianna Huffington* says ways must be found to counter feelings of isolation and disconnection as hybrid working takes hold in a post-pandemic world.

In May, 2020, Microsoft Chief Executive, Satya Nadella warned that we should “be on the lookout for what is lost” as people around the world began working from home.
“What I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after,” he said.

“Maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote.”

So as we move forward into a hybrid world, we need to find ways to rebuild the social capital that we accrued more naturally in the in-person, pre-pandemic world.

The ‘where’ and ‘how’ of work have changed, but ‘who’ we are remains the same — human beings hard-wired to connect.

A Work Trend Index report by Microsoft shows that, as workers went remote during the pandemic, interaction and connection within immediate teams or close networks was strengthened.

However, interactions outside of those teams and networks were weakened.

“Remote work makes for more siloed teams,” the report states.

“Leaders must look for ways to foster the social capital, cross-team collaboration, and spontaneous idea-sharing that’s been driving workplace innovation for decades.”

As Anne-Laure Fayard, John Weeks and Mahwesh Khan noted in the Harvard Business Review: “studies have long shown that frequent in-person interactions lead to commitment, support, and cooperation among people on teams.”

The Work Trend Index shows feelings of disconnection and loneliness are rising, especially among hybrid and remote workers.

As Organisational Psychologist, Constance Noonan Hadley says: “Without a new approach, employee isolation and disconnection will continue to grow — regardless of whether people are back in the office.”

So how can organisations continue to build social capital, nurture connection and collaboration and drive innovation among employees working remotely?

We need to create building blocks of social capital in a hybrid world; to be much more intentional about the ways we interact.

Thrive Reset is one of these hybrid tools —it’s based on neuroscience that shows that we can course-correct from stress in just 60-to-90 seconds.

Each Reset includes a guided breathing bubble that helps you inhale, exhale and interrupt stress before it can become cumulative, overwhelming and damaging to your health.

You can also create your personal 60-second Resets by selecting images, quotes, and music that bring you calm and joy.

Reset allows us to move out of survival mode, access our empathy, and be more fully available to connect with others and collaborate on a deeper level.

At Thrive, we’ve brought Reset into our meetings, with a different member of our team sharing their Reset with the rest of those attending.

So instead of launching straight into updates and announcements, we get an intimate glimpse of our colleagues by being brought into their world — the people, the music and the quotes they love.

It can include photographs of places they’ve travelled, cute pets, passions and talents we’d otherwise never know about.

It’s amazing how much we can learn about each other in 60 seconds.

Sharing Resets in meetings, within teams or across teams, is a way to break out of the silos of the hybrid world, create moments of serendipity and connection, and build social capital.

On-boarding has never been more important than it is now in our hybrid world.

A powerful on-boarding ritual we’ve implemented at Thrive is the entry interview between the new hire and their manager.

The first question is: “What’s important to you in your life outside of work and how can we support you?”

Answers can involve responsibilities, like childcare or elderly parents, but also whatever gives you joy in your life that you want to make time for.

The entry interview is all the more important when, as is often the case, the manager has never met the new employee.

To keep their connection strong, managers and employees revisit this initial conversation during their regular one-on-ones.

However you do it, the key to creating new rituals to build social capital is to be intentional.

It might seem paradoxical to be deliberate about creating serendipity, but this is the only way to create the space and seed it with elements that can spark human connection.

The stakes are high.

As the Microsoft report concludes: “The data shows that rebuilding social capital and culture isn’t just nice to have — it’s a business imperative.”

The pandemic has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform how we work.

By creating new rituals of connection, we can create a more human workplace, no matter where we are located.

*Arianna Huffington is the founder and Chief Executive of Thrive Global; the founder of The Huffington Post, and the author of 15 books, including, most recently, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution.

This article first appeared at LinkedIn.

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