Building Connections: How Hybrid Work Impacts Workplace Relationships

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Over the past two years, the way we’ve built and maintained relationships has evolved — with old norms being replaced by new. In the beginning, we all rallied around virtual happy hours, video meeting book clubs, and on-demand yoga classes — even virtual dating. As the months wore on, we were able to get back to some in-person meet-ups, but these were few and far between. With many not going back to the office, we stopped making new connections and doubled down on the ones we had.

Despite my title, the term “human resources” isn’t one that truly captures how I feel about people. Much like ‘information technology,’ it oversimplifies the heart of what we do. The people — the lifeblood of any organization — have a huge impact on colleagues, customers, partners, and their community.

For much of the pandemic, many of us felt more like the ‘resources’ than the ‘humans’. While headlines featured executives concerned about getting their people back to the office, perhaps they should have been thinking about adapting and connectivity. I’m not talking about software — I’m talking about the real human connection, although software definitely has a role in enabling and empowering it.

At GoTo, we stayed close to our employees throughout the pandemic. Since we’ve come out the other side, we checked in through pulse and deeper engagement surveys to understand and respond to needs, desires, and frustrations. We’ve hired over 1,000 new people remotely, people who never met another colleague before joining our family. We have learned a lot. Recently, we went outside our own walls to ask nearly 1,500 employees around the US about what has changed, or hasn’t, what’s missing or isn’t, and what they’re craving more of — here’s what we found:

The Generational Differences of Hybrid Work

It’s no secret that employee needs and wants can be as diverse as the employees themselves, but our research highlighted some common themes. It also found some differences across demographics, with Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers sharing some alternative views in the way they think and approach work.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Millennial and Gen Z employees say it’s easier to build relationships over video calls as opposed to in person — much more so than Gen X and Baby Boomers. Whether they preferred virtual relationship building or not, nearly two-thirds (65%) say they’re missing out on better understanding the mission or vision of the business, and nearly half (48%) report lacking mentorship opportunities. Communication and connection are as essential as they ever were, but both are arguably now harder within this hybrid world where some employees are together on a site every day, while others never leave their house or meet a colleague in person.

These desires and frustrations are shared across generations, and highlight the importance and benefits of building workplace connections.

The Value of Workplace Connection

We’re hearing a lot about quiet quitting these days, a title that I don’t feel is accurate. Having a reasonable work/life balance isn't quitting at all, far from it, and this movement to force companies to examine what they are asking and expecting of their people is perhaps well overdue. People are clear that they don’t want to give 50 hours a week, week in and week out. But what is it that people want from their newly imagined remote-centric workplace?

While three in ten Americans say they’re not missing out on anything as a result of remote or hybrid work, of those that are, they miss creating workplace friendships the most (17%). What accounts for this difference? Turns out, you miss what you don’t have.

Hybrid work employees — those who work from home between one and four days each week — wished their organizations created more opportunities for relationship-building with colleagues. It was no surprise to see that they felt this loss significantly more than those who work from an office full time, however it was enlightening to know that those who work from home full time do not have that desire to build more relationships to the same degree. This would suggest that when you have a small taste of what you’re missing, you miss it more. Perhaps the choice to be 100% home based and fully remote comes with a conscious acceptance of what you are giving up in order to gain the benefits of being able to live far away from an office, in a more affordable or preferred area, or closer to family.

A Strong Culture Builds Engagement

With a looming recession and inflation creating pressures for consumers and businesses, perhaps it’s not a surprise that the majority (70%) of employees plan to stay at their company for at least the next year — even if they’re not completely happy. However, Gen Z employees are more than twice as likely to leave than other generations.

What’s an employer to do? My recommendation would be to stop focusing on worrying about ‘quiet quitting’ and instead spend your time on building a strong culture. Put effort into empowering your teams to build the connections and relationships that make for a more engaged workforce and a more successful business. This has to be solved in a multi-channel fashion if you are a hybrid or global workplace, building both in-person and virtual touchpoints. Luckily, the tools that most companies already have to conduct business effectively can also be used by employees to build relationships outside of the office walls.

One-third (33%) of survey respondents agree that they require better technology support to stay with their company for another year. What’s more, 30% also agree that they need more relationship-building opportunities to stay. This highlights the importance of wise investments in both technology and the time and space to build connections. These in turn will strengthen a company’s culture and ultimately its performance.

Build Strong and Prosper

Consider this: our survey found that half of US employees have made lifelong friendships at work, more than 2 in 5 (42%) have been invited to a coworker’s wedding or significant life event, and nearly a quarter (23%) met their significant other at work. In short, the workplace has always been a place of building connection. With the shifting sands, the desire for more remote, more hybrid, more flexibility it will be interesting to see how future connections will be built and how younger generations find new friends and life partners.

Employee needs are diverse, and organizations that want to succeed must focus on both people and technology needs in order to ensure productivity, business results, and an engaged team of people. Whether remote or in office, prioritizing employee well-being and connection has become increasingly important post pandemic. We work hard to offer flexibility and to support our whole employee: mind, body, and spirit and this focus not only acts as a competitive differentiator for hiring, but is a big part of the reason I love my work at GoTo.

Creating the opportunity and space for relationship building can be a game-changer — your employees and your bottom line will thank you.

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