20 Ways to Deepen Work Relationships
Are you fed up with Zoom fatigue? You got a break, but now there is no end in sight. Do you miss the everyday casual interactions and office friendships? Are you new to an organization and finding it hard to get to know people and grow work relationships from your living room?
I work with many senior executives to help them assimilate to their new organizations and I can’t think of anything more challenging than coming into a new company/culture and having to build relationships without really getting to know people. These missing informal interactions are not only torturing the extroverts, but they are also costing companies serious productivity and causing burnout. High performing teams generally know each other well. When it comes to building trust, relationships rule the day and that has suffered in many places in 2020.
As we go into 2021, here are some things you can do right now that don’t cost much (if anything) and will help you not only build better work relationships yourself but will set you up as someone to whom relationships are important.
1. Pick up the phone
While rarely done much anymore, a quick phone call, even if just to leave a voicemail can go a long way. Who would not welcome a message that says, ‘Hi, this is Jane, I wanted to reach out and have an informal conversation. My relationship with you matters to me because [say why] and it will be important that we’re on the same page. I just wanted to briefly connect to get to know you better [or talk about x]. Nothing formal, just give me a call when you can.’ Even if you play phone tag for a bit, they will remember that the relationship matters and you made the effort. Another great message is asking how you can help or serve them better.
2. Zoom coffee
This one might be getting a bit old but sharing a virtual cup of coffee in the morning takes the formality out of the call and buys you a bit of time to have a personal conversation upfront. I’m staying away from ‘Zoom Happy Hour’ these days because who wants to be on Zoom after 5 pm? But breakfast and coffee first thing in the morning is still fair game.
3. Food delivery gift cards
Sending out a $20 gift card to everyone on the team and telling them to order lunch while you meet to do team building or an informal discussion goes a long way. Extra points if this discussion includes something they are dealing with, have had to change, or goals for the new year. Topics like those move the conversation beyond business and the weather and will help deepen work relationships.
4. Add some fun to your Zoom calls
Offer a prize for the best shoes (everyone shows their feet), background, or most unique location. Be creative. Introduce pets, kids, talk about kids’ art, share what keeps you sane, do house tours, share recipes…
5. Comment on their space
For those not using a virtual background, observing and commenting on personal space can go a long way towards keeping people engaged. ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful painting, who did that?’ or ‘You keep the toilet paper above the fridge too?’ These comments up the personal connection and help people to remember that they are ‘seen’ as people and not just a talking head who does work.
6. Virtual team building
This is not for the faint of heart but can be really effective. One technology team I know sent out a list of ingredients members were allowed to expense and brought in a chef. They all made pasta together, each in their own kitchen, under the guidance of the chef on Zoom. They then sit down to eat together. Another team did a murder mystery with team members as actors, facilitated by an external group.
7. Question of the week
Post a fun question of the week in a forum where people can go answer when it’s convenient. It could be a Slack Channel or a shared Word document. One team asked for gift ideas before the holidays. Favorite movies or new hobbies also work. Or you can go deeper with something like, ‘What are you most grateful for this week?’ The trick with this one is to get into a routine and make it fun.
8. Weekly 15-minute update
Part of staying connected involves ensuring that people feel heard and are kept informed about what is going on. You could do this with key clients (internal or external), team members or really any group that makes sense. The idea is to share what’s hot and listen to what they are excited about or struggling with.
9. Company challenges
Nothing brings people together like a contest, but this has to be something outside of business if you want to deepen the informal work relationships. Think: number of steps in a week; list of unique magazines read; most unique food cooked; trivia contest; messiest desk; etc.
10. Virtual workouts
Bring in a yoga, stretching, or pilates instructor, or take a class on-line together. Keep in mind that people are not in the same place physically and this could be more fun than you expect.
11. Lunch Book Club or Lunch and Learn
Spend some time eating together and discussing a book you’ve read or a topic you want to learn about. Take turns picking the books or topics. This could even be a Podcast Club.
Set up short one-on-ones with the people you need to stay connected with. They can be 15-20 minutes on the calendar but find a time to touch base so you don’t lose that connection you lost when you left the office.
13. Brainstorm using technology
Don’t lose the value of bringing people into a conference room to brainstorm. Technology can replicate this and it is not hard to learn. Software like Mural can replicate writing on sticky notes and moving them around on a whiteboard virtually. Everyone can work on it together. Google Docs can allow people to be working on a document together at the same time, and Trello allows people to bring order to complex projects. None of these are difficult to use and all of them (and more) can help replicate that ‘in-person’ collaboration when you are not in the same space. We have used these for strategic planning all the way up to the board of directors’ level and they are pretty powerful.
14. Create an informal group chat
15. Set up unlikely pairs
In any office, there are people who will really never have a reason to connect. Randomly set those people up with a short connection each week. Slack has a donut function that does this, but you can replicate it manually by asking one thought-starter question to get the conversation going and pairing people up. This is an informal and short ‘get to know you’ conversation, not unlike speed dating at the office… virtually.
16. Virtual mentoring
Start a mentoring program to pair newer or more junior people with established or more senior people to learn from each other.
Start and/or end meetings with music. Encourage people to take turns picking the tunes.
18. Word maps
Try rotating responsibility for creating a word map after a meeting and starting the next meeting sharing it. There is free software available to help do this.
19. Virtual gifts exchange
Ask team members to share a gift they would like to give someone else in the meeting. They don’t have to actually exchange the gift, just talk about what they would like to give and why.
20. What do they care about?
Start a one-on-one meeting with the question, ‘What do you care about?’ The idea is to leave this open-ended, be comfortable with the pregnant pause and see how they answer. You will likely learn something about what motivates them. This is not designed to be about goals and objectives or business.