How to build Human Connection in a Hybrid Workforce?

The Future of Work era is defined by the process of rethinking our relationship to work, and exploring new ways of working that surpass traditional boundaries - like where, when, and how we work - to improve the human experience.

Thus, no one can deny that this movement has made it possible to democratize many ways of working and has contributed to bringing many developments in companies to the benefit of the experience of employees.

Unfortunately, this progress has come at the cost of one of the main advantages of working in person: the connectivity of the employees, their engagement or even their sense of belonging have been damaged following a change in their work model - notably hybrid or remote-first. 

New studies prove it more every day, the lack of human connection within the workspace has a very negative impact on the productivity of employees, their engagement, and thus highly increases the risk of social isolation and churn.

During the last months, many experts and media professionals have been warning about this risk, speaking about the need to re-establish human connection within companies with a hybrid or remote first model: this is the case for the Workplace belonging expert Adam Smiley Poswolsky - who recently led a study published in the Washington Speakers Bureau, linking human connectivity and productivity in hybrid work model.  

At the root of this study, is the idea that human connection is the best investment in productivity that a company can make.

In this article, summarized below, Smiley provides practical tips for organizations to create a culture of connection in a lonely, hybrid world.

Shift #1: From a Hybrid Policy to a Hybrid Purpose

Hybrid work is not defined by the number of days you spend in the office, it’s what you do when you’re together.

If we’ve learned anything in the last three years, it’s that we will not go back to our pre-pandemic ways of working/living. The vast majority of employees prefer to work from home at least part of the time (2-3 days), and the majority of companies say they plan to continue having a hybrid work policy in the future. However, too much of the conversation about hybrid work is about which days employees work in the office and work from home.

The most important question is why do people come in the first place? 

Too often, employees are told to arrive at the office at 8am on Monday morning, but the rest of their team (including their manager!) decided to work from home. Or, they come into the office and find everyone on their team on Zoom calls all day long, with noise-canceling headphones on, leading them to ask, "Why did I just sit in traffic for 45 minutes?"

It’s time to leave behind the hybrid work policy, which is about how many days your team spends in the office. And focus on a hybrid purpose, which is about what people do when they get together, how they stay connected while working remotely. and providing what everyone needs to thrive.

According to Microsoft’s latest Workplace Trend Index - which surveyed 20,000 workers in 11 countries - 73% of employees say they need a better reason to go to the office than the company’s expectations. 

  • 40% of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come to the office, and 
  • 85% of employees would be motivated to come to the office if they could socialize with their colleagues or re-establish team ties. 
  • In addition, 80% of Gen Z and Gen Y employees seek face-to-face contact with senior management and their managers. These young employees know what they lack in terms of mentoring, learning and access to opportunities for personal and professional growth when they’re not around others, learning from them.

In other words, people don’t come to the office for work, they come for each other. They come for connection. 

Ask your team what they want to take away from their time in person, what works best for them (in terms of the frequency of virtual checks) and how they want to be supported throughout the week. Using this information, develop a team plan with expectations about when you will all work together in the office, when you will be asynchronously working from home and the support everyone needs to do their best.

>> Learn more about Microsoft return-to-office strategy

Shift #2: From Annual Connection Time to Connection All the Time

Connection is the best productivity investment you can make.

Rebuild serendipity across teams and create interest based connection

Microsoft has recently found that a positive culture is the most important aspect that employees are currently looking for beyond compensation, which makes sense given the challenging economic environment and the fact that 40% of the workforce is experiencing burnout. In a hybrid workforce, bringing your employees together for an annual or semi-annual off-site or team-building retreat is essential, but it’s not enough to foster a culture of connection throughout the year. In addition, establish rituals and find habits that aid connection at each stage of the employee experience.

For example:

  • Offering new employees an onboarding buddy 
  • In-person and virtual continuing education
  • Employee-led luncheons or other events based on shared interests
  • Peer coaching programs 
  • Mentoring opportunities 
  • Start meetings with “How are you?”
  • Try something new at each meeting (such as allowing remote employees to share first or change facilitators) 
  • Create intergenerational co-management initiatives that link early career talent with more experienced colleagues 
  • Schedule office hours
  • Weekly 1:1s
  • Ongoing work sessions where people share unfinished projects 
  • Sign up a Slack channel or Teams chat to congratulate and congratulate
  • Chat channels for various affinity groups
  • Invest in employee resource groups holding transparency and accountability sessions on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, regular general meetings, Q&As with senior management
  • Wellness breaks
  • Interactive and fun team building activities focused on relationship building and friendship

When a manager says, “We don’t have time for connection activities. We have too much work to do,” they resist. Research shows time and time again that connection is the best productivity investment you can make. For example, a Gallup study has shown that employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more engaged in their work, are better at engaging customers, produce better quality work, have higher well-being and are less likely to be injured on the job. 

Employees who do not have close friends at work have only one in 12 chances of being hired, and people who have close relationships with their colleagues are 10 points less lonely on the UCLA loneliness scale.

Simply put, investing in connections and belonging in the workplace is good for wellness and business. According to BetterUp data, employees who have a high level of belonging have a 56% increase in their job performance, a 50% decrease in turnover risk, a 75% reduction in sick leave and a 167% increase in the employer referral rate. These benefits translate into annual savings of $52 million for a large company. 

Shift #3: From “Talk to HR” to Belonging is Everyone’s Job

In a hybrid world, belonging is everyone’s job, regardless of their job title.

For too long we have had the mentality that belonging at work is an HR responsibility. When employees say they feel overwhelmed, stressed or underappreciated, too many managers say, “This is not my problem, go talk to HR.” Or there isn’t enough psychological safety to even raise such concern. 

In a hybrid workplace, belonging is everyone’s job. Yes, HR and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion leaders set the tone and often bear much of the burden. But everybody contributes and helps evolve the culture of an organization in their own way, whether they’ve worked at the company for 20 years, two years, or two weeks. Creating a culture of connection begins with psychological safety, which Amy Edmonson, a Novartis leadership and management professor at Harvard Business School, said: team members are defined by feeling safe to take risks, admit mistakes, be vulnerable about not knowing, be curious and ask lots of questions.

When it comes to contributing to The Great Reconnection, a great starting point is to gradually increase vulnerability at your next team or individual meeting. A study entitled “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness”, led by SUNY Stony Brook psychologist Arthur Aron, found that: “One of the key trends associated with developing a close peer relationship is sustained, progressive, reciprocal and personal disclosure.” Start small and continue the conversation. Ex. Ask your team what they have recently learned from a family member or loved one, or something they are grateful for.

This does not mean that everyone has to share their darkest secrets at work. It doesn’t mean everyone has to be best friends; but rather, simply that everyone deserves to feel seen and celebrated at work. This means creating a culture of connection, care and inclusion for all. It also means that since a connected culture where people can be themselves at work, does not just happen on its own, vulnerability is required. To share struggles, thoughts, support, etc requires additional intent, time and effort, especially in a hybrid world.

If the future of work is hybrid, the future of work is also defined by human connection. It is time to work together to fight the epidemic of loneliness and build The Great Reconnection. - Adam Smiley Pswolsky.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky, Future of Work International Keynote Speaker

Adam Smiley Poswolsky, Keynote Speaker on Workplace Belonging, Managing the Hybrid Workplace, Future of Work

Author and International Keynote speaker, Adam Smiley Poswolsky is a true Future of Work leader and workplace expert. You can read Smiley original article on Linkedin and Washington Speakers Bureau WSB Blog,

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 At Café, we truly believe the future of work is hybrid.

We designed the ultimate social hub for hybrid teams, to enable employees to shape their hybrid work styles with flexibility, transparency, and interest-based connections at the forefront of each social interaction. 

We help hybrid and remote first companies increase workplace connectivity and build efficient, flexible and thriving cultures.

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Timothée Bourcier

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