How to foster employee connections when you can’t stop for donuts

By Paralee Johnson
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Some years ago, I wrote a blog called Always Stop for Donuts. In it, I spoke about the employee experience and the impact of connection. In that blog, I touched on how to grow roots amidst the waves of change. Years ago, the formula for growing roots seemed simpler: connect with employees (people), know your stuff, grow yourself, take chances, never let off the gas (except to stop for doughnuts on the way to the office.)

So how do you find your purpose and grow roots when your days are in constant flux? The world has evolved over the last few years, and it isn’t always possible to stop for doughnuts. You might not even be going into an office anymore. The waves of change are different these days. Our workforces are dispersed, remotely connected, and hybrid models have emerged everywhere. 

So the question remains, how can you create connection with employees if you’re not in an office? What are the morsels that bind our foundation together when we’re physically apart? 

Here are three ideas on how to build and foster employee connections in the workplace as it is today. 

Curiosity: I call this one “whatcha drinking?”

We can build trust in the workplace and connection through simple curiosity. 

Do you see someone drinking coffee or their favorite sparkling water? When I do, I almost always say “Yum, is that a cup of coffee?” I’m usually met with a yes, and then they tell me about how they can’t live without their coffee and how they don’t do sugar but love creamer. Or, you find out they loathe coffee and it’s really tea. Then you go on to talk about what drinks you prefer and that one time, you had the best cup of joe or tea at this one place that you love. How do they like their drinks? Commiserate on how it’s hard to get in all your water throughout the day. That usually leads to talking about each other, which helps employees connect. And that connection leads to better strength as a team, and willingness to work together to accomplish goals. 

IDEA: Build a page on your intranet called The Coffee Shop. Ask everyone to share a picture and a recipe for their favorite drinks. It doesn’t have to be coffee-related, but everyone gets the idea of a coffee shop. Keep it going throughout the year by asking new employees to share their favorite drink, and once a month, post one from the IC team. Build a campaign around it. Have leaders join in on the fun! Make it a highlighted story in your newsletter. 

Build communications campaigns with human interest

Finding ways to show each other our humanity is a sure-fire way for employees to connect. We all have relatable experiences that allow us to escape the “walls” of our office and see how people live their lives outside of work. 

Pro tip: Run a brave series. Ask your employee to volunteer stories of bravery. This brings forward many heartfelt and interesting opportunities to know and connect with each other on different levels. I’ve seen stories about people who overcame medical challenges to someone who was writing a book, to spending over a year accomplishing a super-human race. Create these stories through video and blogs on your intranet and share them out via newsletters. This can be a very powerful way to help employees connect to each other. 

Highlight cultures 

No matter where your company’s located, everybody in it comes from a unique culture. So capture the influence and impact on multiple cultures in the workplace with fun new ways to view the world. This is especially important when it comes to diversity and inclusion practices. Ask yourself, how can we be more inclusive to various cultures? What opportunities do we have to highlight and celebrate these moments?

Pro tip: Connect with HR, employee resource group leaders, or ask employees to identify just a few cultural highlights to celebrate this year. Then, build an internal comms campaign to support that initiative. Add a video and article on your intranet, support it with local engagement: bring in food, awareness activities, or decorations to drive engagement. Ask for volunteers to share their stories and publish them on the intranet. 

Even though we can’t bring doughnuts to share anymore, that loss doesn’t have to leave a hole in our employee connections. We have to find creative ways to foster employee connections, iterate, use the tools we have, and adjust as the world throws us curve balls. As humans, we tend to navigate the waters of frequent change by holding tight to the relationships we build. These employee engagement ideas are starters to create more connection and get the creativity flowing for ways to help refresh your mojo and help our people find connection. 

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