How to Maintain Human Connection in a Hybrid Workforce

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November 5, 2021
August 19, 2021

How to Maintain Human Connection in a Hybrid Workforce

We’ve been talking about how you and your organization can adapt to the emerging hybrid workforce. In my last blog article, I discussed the shift to real-time communication between colleagues in different locations

This week, we turn to another persistent challenge in the hybrid workforce: maintaining genuine human connection when we are rarely (if ever) in the same location as our colleagues. 

At many organizations, employees were used to building relationships through informal interactions during the day. Connection “just happened.” So what do we do now that those kinds of interactions are reduced or eliminated? A hybrid workforce will work only when your leadership team creates new ways to foster connection.

The Past: Passive Socialization 

Passive socialization encompasses all those spontaneous things you did to establish and maintain human connection when you and your colleagues were all working from the same office. For example, you went to the break room for a cup of coffee, saw a colleague there whom you hadn’t spoken to in a while and sat down to talk with them. Or you popped into a co-worker’s office for a quick chat when you saw their door open.  

These are the opportunities that the pandemic took away and that will be limited in a hybrid work environment. To maintain human connection, we need new opportunities to connect.  

The Future: Active Socialization

We can create those new opportunities through active socialization. Active socialization means setting up planned, intentional events that allow your team members to interact — without talking about work — and that deliver real value for participants.

The virtual happy hours that sprang up at the beginning of the pandemic are an example of active socialization. They gave colleagues a chance to compare notes on how they were adapting to the massive changes in our lives. After about three months, though, some of my clients that were holding virtual happy hours noticed attendance dropping off. These events were no longer providing value, and participation waned.

As a result, I had clients launch some new and creative ways to bring their team members together no matter where they were located. They began offering virtual cooking, art, music and classes, and even virtual wine and beer tastings. Another option is to bring your team 

together once a week online to talk about nonwork issues that might be affecting them. I’ve seen groups discuss incredibly vulnerable issues that they had never discussed in person – all because the team leader made time and space for the discussion.

You could also do this in a less formal way by kicking off team meetings by asking participants to share what’s going on in their world, professionally and personally. If you have never done anything like this before, it might seem strange at first. So the leader must lead by example.  When a leader can be vulnerable and open, team members will feel that they can be as well. If you, as a leader, are not willing to share, your team members won’t be, either.

The hybrid workforce is upon us. We cannot simply ignore the loss of passive socialization. Left unaddressed, this void will diminish connection and trust and undermine our culture.  

Instead, we must turn to active socialization to maintain ties between colleagues in the hybrid workforce.

As I continue this series of articles about succeeding in the hybrid workforce, I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!

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