Intentional Communication, Connection, and Culture Creation to Prepare for the Return to Office 

September 28, 2021 Lynette Silva Heelan

As “return to office” becomes a reality and leaders seek ways to support employees through their fear and uncertainty, the word of the moment is “intentional” – how are we as leaders being intentional in our efforts to communicate, connect, and create a culture that matters in today’s work world?

Thanks to the wisdom of Lipika Verma, vice president of rewards & performance innovation & thought leadership at Schneider Electric, and the insights of several leaders from a range of industries and organizations across EMEA (as shared in a Gartner Reimagine HR 2021 Roundtable discussion), we discussed proven practices to respond to very human needs in this unique moment in time. Here are three of those practices:

1. Communicate clearly.

 As leaders and employees alike battle uncertainty, the need for higher EQ (emotional quotient) is more apparent. Those who can empathize, listen well, and support others (without micromanaging) will not only succeed themselves, but also help others find their own path to success in a post-COVID world. Helping leaders clearly communicate, especially when communication methods can be radically different, is necessary to keep everyone focused and encouraged. Simply setting aside an intentional time to recognize others each week helps focus yourself on positivity and gratitude. Clearly communicating your appreciation tells others how valuable they and their efforts are, something we all need to hear and share during this era of the “great resignation.”  

2. Connect meaningfully.

In the “before times,” we relied on natural social mechanisms for connection – lunch outings, watercooler talk, or maybe meeting up with colleagues for a drink after work – to provide a social outlet. Today, leaders are being much more intentional in fostering opportunities for connection such as scheduled “lunch dates” to bring together groups of employees, often from units or teams that wouldn’t have naturally socialized prior to COVID.

Make wellbeing check-ins a regular part of interactions and meetings. At Workhuman®, we often start meetings with a “happy check” (something from our early days as a company) where people simply share how they’re doing on a scale of 1-10. Knowing someone’s “HC” level at the start of the meeting helps ground discussions and understanding on perspectives shared. (And people can share why they may only be an HC3 if they like.) These kinds of intentional activities create an environment of psychological safety and trust for more openness and, ultimately, progress.

3. Create culture purposefully.

Culture is often thought of something that develops when no one is looking, but it too, can be intentionally created and supported. Leaders shared several ideas of purposeful, intentional culture creation:

  • Reevaluate what matters most – Some companies have realized their core values no longer aligned to employee or business needs. Resetting core values clearly communicates the cultural aspirations of the company. Then, if you empower every employee to “catch someone doing something good” based on your core values, and recognize them for it, you’re making those core values very real and applicable in the day-to-day work for everyone.
  • Use the tools available to you – Outlook is a primary tool in many workers’ lives today. Take advantage of system features to set the default calendar meeting time to 25 minutes or 50 minutes (instead of 30 or 60 minutes). Get in the habit of using the “delay delivery” feature so others only receive emails from you during their working hours. Add a statement to your email signature to “respond when you can” to signal respect for others’ busy schedules. Use My Analytics from Microsoft (another common tool in many companies) more intentionally to see how time is being spent and encourage people to block focus time.
  • Redefine what productivity means – Productivity shouldn’t solely be defined by the work output or results. Productivity in the post-COVID era should also include time spent connecting and socializing with others. Connection is valuable and as important as “productive” outputs.

All of these ideas highlight greater and, yes, more intentional focus on our people and their very human needs in the workplace. While living through the COVID era was not a choice, what we choose to learn and implement is in our control. Let’s make sure we take all the good learnings around communication, connection, and culture creation forward into the new era of work!

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About the Author

Lynette Silva Heelan

Lynette Silva is a principal consultant on Workhuman’s Strategy & Consulting team, partnering with clients on change strategies to make work more human.

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