Face to face contact or talking, to use the correct term, is still employees' preferred method of communication.
So, in a Teams and Zoom world, how do we address that need?
Talking is effective when it is conversational. It is not a presentation or a dissemination of information, it is an exchange, where individuals share knowledge, understanding, humour, insights and nothingness.
It is difficult to create an online environment for the sort of chat that would happen when
people cross paths in a break, at the water cooler or before a meeting starts. But it is not impossible.
But before considering how to create a viable online experience, consider first the organisational safety-first response to workplace opening. So many large organisations responded to the first 'work-from-home' lockdown instruction with communication which informed their workforce that they would be working from home for a long time.
For some organisations that safety-based communication has evolved into a shift into a strategic view of office space, how many desks are needed and a more permanent resolve to allow people to work from home.
There are clear benefits in this strategy. Cost benefits, environmental benefits and work-life-balance benefits. There are also consequences, and one of those is talking. Or its loss.
For example, how do you really find out what is going on in your department or the wider businesses if you can't chat about communication, or changes which are not properly communicated, and share some mutual interpretation?
For that matter, how do you influence your boss or peers so that your own personal profile grows and the potential for individual development or promotion follows?
And then there is the matter of the living culture of the organisation. How does a new starter come to learn to accepted behavioural norms, the way things are done, the stories, the heroes, the villains if they have no informal contact with others?
Each of these questions deserves more exploration on another day, suffice to say, organisations might want to consider the longer term benefits of conversation before entirely removing their organisational gathering places for good.
Back to today and how to replicate or replace the missing chat.
Anyone who has tried weekly check-in online chats will know that they don't really work. There is a sort of awkward exchange among the grid of faces, with the slight digital delay, the social-awkwardness of some cameras switched off and the dependency on the extraverts to fill the silence.
There are better ways and they don't require virtual TV studios, complex and expensive production sets creating game-show style faux-excitement, or indeed the forced fun or group cocktail making, flower arranging or a quiz!
The answer lies in authentic shared experiences.
In asking the group to fulfil a task (something real).
We favour asking people to record some video and send it to us, so that we can edit something together. For example, we recently completed a 'One Day Like This' video showing 24 hours in a whole business, featuring call centres, distribution, online training, shops and so on - the majority featured video recorded by individuals across the organisation.
The process of completing the task creates a shared experience, the processes of viewing the output of the task creates another shared experience. And then leaving the group, without a leader, facilitator or purpose AFTER they have shared their experience together, in their online forum, creates an environment for conversation. People talk. And the talk typically shifts away from the shared experience as people become more relaxed and animated.
It works. And the whole process quietly reinforces the organisational culture and the sense of belonging that is missing for so many, as well as creating valuable communication assets for recruitment and training.