One of the unexpected consequences of working from home was the loss of organisational connections, the fundamental basis of what is known as social capital. Those are the unplanned interactions that make up a surprisingly big part of our workdays. The water cooler chats, bumping into colleagues in the kitchen or hallway, sharing weekend plans or big projects you’re working on.
While we at Mango count ourselves fortunate to be back in the office, working with our colleagues and enjoying the interactions that drive productivity, innovation, collaboration and creativity, many of our clients are not.
So how can communications help prevent or minimise the impacts that a loss of social capital can cause? How can communications be used to stimulate informal interactions and connections?
At Mango and in the wider DDB Group we saw a range of initiatives that really worked – from daily coffee catch ups (on Teams of course), chat groups, FB Workplace social events, quiz nights and happy hours. Some were team specific, many group wide.
What we have found is that structure works. One team had a regular daily 8.30 Teams meeting where the agenda for the day was set and priorities agreed. In the office, this would look like micro-management but remotely it was a welcome ritual.
Keeping to normal schedules works well for many of us. While flexible working is increasingly requested, having regular immutable events offers a stability around which the flex works – think of the ‘post and swinging gate’ analogy.
While a number of clients have moved to a 3:2 in/out schedule, Mango and the rest of the DDB Group prefers ad hoc flexibility. In a creative environment, the collective energy helps power the best ideas. But sometimes you just need to focus – so work from home (WFH) is negotiated as and when it’s needed.
Your seniority also makes a difference as to whether it’s better to be together or WFH. Many younger colleagues simply learn best by listening, being in amongst the conversation and debates. You don’t get a lot of that at home or on Zoom.
Communication is not-negotiable. Not only having people tell you when they are in, or not, but also top down around management expectations of WFH. One of the benefits (yes, there are some) coming out of COVID-19 and lockdowns, is that we are more trusting of people to do what they say they are. The Master-Servant relationship has been truly stood on its head, thank goodness.
Since the last lockdowns, we at Mango have also doubled down on getting together, either socially or for group events and workshops. Culture is key component of why people stay at workplaces and the social capital gained from formal and informal gatherings is priceless.
Social capital is also critical in nurturing resilience. Maintaining authentic connections with your colleagues is shown to be as beneficial to developing resilience and mental toughness, as working on your own inner strengths.
As we navigate this VUCA* world, we will need new tools to support people and build resilient organisations while maintaining business success. Attracting and retaining talent will depend on the reputation and performance of your organisation as a supportive employer.
We’d love to hear what’s worked for you and your workplace. If you’ve been bereft of ways to keep those informal workday moments happening, let us know and we’ll give you some tips that may work for you. When integrated well, social capital gains lead to more engaged people and make good teams great.
Jill Dryden, Head of Corp. Comms and Claudia Macdonald, MD, Mango Aotearoa
*VUCA = Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity