During Covid-19 when we were all working from home and the office doors were locked; a surprising fact is just how productive we all became.  We got extremely busy and accomplished a lot.  Whilst managing our health, looking after our families, worrying about those we love, staying safe, and wondering when all of this would end; we worked, and worked and worked.

Tasks won out.

However, amongst many things, in a professional context, what suffered as a result of the global pandemic was our relationships at work.  No time to natter; no walking down the corridors catching up on the latest events, no gossiping in the kitchen as we make a coffee, no sitting in the canteen and eating our lunches, no sharing plans for the day/week/weekend, no moments of connection, fun or friendship.

It is in all of these moments that we build ‘social capital’, and it is that which binds us together, makes us feel like we belong, like this is a great place to be.  It is in these moments that trust is built, and we feel psychologically safe.

Humans are wired for connection because we’re pack animals.  We want to feel part of something.  Fundamentally, we want to feel that we matter.  Now that we’re navigating a forever changed work environment where we’re both remote and, in the office, the strain, the challenge and the opportunity, is to strengthen our relationships with colleagues.

Why?  Because we’re all in a relationship business.  We need others to get things done, help us out, make our lives easier, deliver results, demonstrate value to our customers… the list is endless.

Harvard Business Review published research pre-pandemic which reveals that we’re two and a half times more likely to mistrust colleagues we don’t see very often versus those we see regularly face-to-face.  We feel less psychologically safe around them and are more likely to perceive incompetence, mistrust and poor decision making. 

And here’s the challenge… just how do we meaningfully build relationships now?  Especially given the new, hybrid world of work.  I’m struck by how many clients operate from the belief that “well, it just happens”.  Sometimes that may be the case, but most often the reality is that it does not.  Why?  Because we need to fight through all of the demands of time and task to get the attention of others, demonstrate value, create connection and build trust.  We don’t have much time, or even the same type of opportunities in which to do this, and so we need different skills and strategies to do this well.

So where to begin?  Over the next couple of months, I’ll share a variety of practical approaches which work in the hybrid world.  Here’s just three to kick us off:

– Set SMART goals for the relationship.  Wait, what?  Because we need to set intentions and gauge whether or not our efforts are working.  Think in very practical terms.  For example, by the end of the quarter I want to have met that person face to face.  That’s a SMART goal.  What’s next?  That’s where most people get stuck.  Don’t just assume that you’re now mates for life; you’re not.  It is a subtle, gradual process around which there is much more to say… and I’ll do so over the coming months.

– Be fully present.  Hideously bad habits have become the norm (e.g., talking to you whilst on my device; demonstrably doing emails and not listening on a remote call, off camera most of the time etc.).  All of these things and many more besides say ‘you’re not worth all my attention’.  Well good luck with that.  Show up and be fully present, otherwise don’t show up at all.

– Be curious about others.  I have an expression called ‘the press play person’.  This individual (and they might be in our family or social circle, never mind at work) just talks, and talks, and talks.  It’s like pressing play on a podcast, movie or song.  It just goes on and on and on.  They never asks you a question about you, your life, your family, what’s important for you, what’s going on for you… they simply talk and talk and talk.  Don’t be the ‘press play’ person.

Meaningfully building relationships in the hybrid environment isn’t easy.  There’s much more to say….and I’ll be saying it next time.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP