20 April 2023

Creating the magic of social connection in a
displaced workplace.

One of the most significant questions on leaders' minds today is how to create social connection in a displaced workplace. How can leaders build a culture and foster engagement to reconnect in an age of economic uncertainty and workplace disruption? 

Social connection is an issue that goes to the heart of the modern workplace in a post-pandemic age characterised by hybrid workplace models, fluid employment arrangements and the changed expectations of employers and employees. It is shaping to be one of the long-term challenges for organisations of all shapes and sizes across the spectrum of industries. 

The need for social connection has always been fundamental in organisations. Its importance was evident before COVID, but the unique challenges of the pandemic heightened the urgency of the issue. Beyond solo entrepreneurs and a few rare organisations, all businesses must grapple with social connection and how it is constituted and expressed in the workplace.

Social relationships undergird essential organisational elements such as communication, teamwork and values. When social connection breaks down, the adverse flow-on effects seep into all corners of the organisation. Without a culture that supports healthy social connection, organisations soon become dysfunctional. As leaders, we turn a blind eye to social connection deficiencies in our organisations at our peril – and the detriment of our colleagues and the business more broadly.

Social connection magic.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with an amazing leader, Mario Halouvas, the Founder of EA Essentials and CEO of Priority Management Australia, a corporate training company specialising in helping organisations increase their productivity. Mario and I presented at one of our EA Circle events on social connection and how it is proving to be among the most demanding challenges facing organisations right now. His take on the topic was unique and insightful.

Alongside his corporate credentials, Mario has a rich background in drama, theatre and film. In fact, Mario was a Theatre Sports champion back in his university days! Because of this training, he is astute at spotting hidden narratives among individuals and within organisations. Many of us in business are excellent with numbers or systems and processes, but someone like Mario can bring a perspective to a topic like social connection that is not always obvious to most.

After speaking to Mario, I could see we were aligned on the theme of social connection in a displaced workplace. We both were able to share our pearls of wisdom and connected positively with some of the best and brightest minds in our EA Circle, sparking a robust and productive discussion around this crucial topic. It was wonderful to have Mario address our EA Circle because I firmly believe EAs are essential for building culture, engagement and social connection in organisations.

I see EAs as "the glue" because they are the culturalists, the hosts, and the custodians in organisations. EAs are highly capable administrators but also have a hidden superpower – they have the power and influence to lead and impact an organisation's social connection. They do much of the invisible work that holds an organisation together. They can make a difference!

The objective of both Mario and I co-presenting together was to increase awareness and help EAs and organisation influencers change their mindsets and become more strategic in their thinking.

Our presentation and Circle discussions touched upon the current environment's many issues relating to social connection and beyond. These included:

  • The pendulum swinging back from an employee market to an employer's market in some sectors as the need for job security increases.
  • Tough economic times forcing some employers to shed 5-10% of staff in some instances, apparent across the tech industry but also wider reaching.
  • The time required to fill job vacancies is reducing. However, some industries still find it challenging to attract the right talent, especially in health, hospitality and engineering.
  • Industrial relations reforms are making employers nervous with more complexity and uncertainty forecast on the horizon. The federal government's IR reform agenda requires businesses to be aware and mindful of changing compliance obligations.
  • The continuing social, cultural and technological challenges of creating effective hybrid workplace arrangements for businesses and employees. We need to think outside the square to get people connected, engaged and aligned no matter where they work from.

So how do you build culture, engagement, and social connection in a displaced workforce? We narrowed it down to the Big 5 things EAs and others can do to facilitate and enable better social connection across any organisation:

1. The Glue.

In the organisation host or culturalist role, the EA can play a critical part in welcoming an employee into the organisation and also work closely with people and culture (HR) to formulate, tweak and tune the induction program. EAs (and others) can get closely involved in formulating and improving workplace induction programs, providing their insights and expertise. To build social connections and a healthy workplace culture, it is integral to ensure that new hires have a sense of belonging right from the outset. To that end, a well formulated induction program and welcome process is essential.

2. The Inner Circle.

Social connection depends on understanding, expanding, and aligning the sphere of influence. EAs are often influential within organisations as conduits for connections across departments and up and down hierarchies. As organisational hosts, EAs often understand the social dynamics of a workplace. They can identify not only the overt influencers (those with managerial titles, etc.) but also the covert influencers, or "foxes", the people who make tangible differences to the everyday atmosphere of a workplace. The "foxes" play an influential role in shaping an organisation's granular culture. Getting them on board can make all the difference in creating healthy social connections.

3. Ikigai.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living. Yes, we work to earn money, pay the bills and provide a better life for ourselves and our loved ones. But we want our work to have meaning. A sense of purpose for our work and a shared mission create powerful drivers for workplace culture and social connection. By making the space for people to explore and express their sense of purpose, you can tap into a conversation between employees about what they love and are passionate about both in and out of work. Ikigai is simply about finding the alignment and harmony between our sense of self and the organisation's purpose.

4. C & E Groups (Connect and Engage).

Organisations can successfully engage their workforce by simply seeking their opinions, perspectives, and thoughts on the continuous improvement process (CIP). There are several ways to facilitate C&E groups in the workplace:

Establish face-to-face focus groups to discuss identified areas of concern, listen to feedback, and demonstrate a genuine commitment to improvement.
Lunch-and-learn groups can get together over lunch and have someone present their viewpoint or expertise in an informal and friendly setting, allowing employees to get to know each other and opening avenues of learning and communication within the workplace.
Engage the power of storytelling and have existing employees, guest speakers, and people from the broader community come in and tell their stories. We have so much to learn from each other. We need to make the space to listen and learn. Create situations to engage employees through the power of storytelling.

5. Celebrate!

We don't do it enough! Celebrating the success of individuals and the organisation builds enormous momentum for social connection and healthy workplace culture. Catch people doing great stuff. Get the team together, do a webinar/podcast about successes, and share it with people. But don't only celebrate the obvious achievements. Dig deep and find the silver linings in apparent failures, too. Share the pain and create the gain. We can bond powerfully over challenging situations as well as victories.

A big part of celebrating is creating fun days to encourage people and social connection—BBQs, training sessions, guest speakers, etc., are all great ways to connect and bond. Additional things could be mental health programs, yoga, and exercise groups. It's not about getting people back into the office; it's about creating a workplace employees want to be part of, where they feel valued and they belong.

The Greater Success of your organisation depends upon social connection. Your workplace leaders have an important job to do in that success. To finish, I ask you to think about the following: "By understanding your space, your people, your culture, you can influence and help create the conditions – and the outcomes happen. The magic happens!"

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