Boosting retention: Tips to build social connections in hybrid work environments

4 minute read

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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Earlier this year, we predicted the managers will determine the success of hybrid and remote work environments and therefore have a strong impact on employee retention going forward.

Indeed, managers’ success in meeting the competing demands of flexibility, work culture, and employee performance hangs in the balance. And those managers who now find themselves leading a hybrid or remote team are essentially facing a concept that was foreign to most of them before the pandemic began. Additionally, their ability to manage people with unique identities and performance capabilities, and then customize their individual interactions to each person’s uniqueness are essential, as such action fuels the feeling that each individual belongs in the organization.

These are the roots of organizational culture, Further, these actions are consequential because manager/employee interactions can enormously influence the day-to-day experiences of employees, especially in hybrid or remote work environments.

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Obviously, employees working hybrid schedules are interacting with fewer people at work compared to when they were in the office. This gives the daily interaction between managers and team members an even greater influence on employees’ retention and engagement as well as on their perceptions about their own performance and opportunities for career development and advancement.

Part of this expanded role of managers is forging friendships. As a recent review of research in this area concluded: “If hybrid working does become the new norm, then creating human bonds is likely to be a crucial part of a manager’s work.”

At this stage of the pandemic, it’s fair to argue that hybrid work is the new norm. Recent research from Harvard Business School conducted a randomized field experiment at a large global company in mid-2021. Researchers concluded that “performance effects” of synchronous and informal “virtual water coolers” moments between senior managers and remote interns enabled the remote interns receiving offers for full-time employment, achieving higher weekly performance ratings, and increased positive attitudes toward their remote internships.

Further, researchers indicated that these results have “immediate managerial relevance”, and the remote time employees spent with managers led to “a 7.3% boost in the likelihood of the individual being offered a job compared to peers who were not given such time with their managers.” Moreover, “their job performance also increased by around 10% as a result.”

<b>Managers play a pivotal role</b>

Trust is at the center of human relationships, and managers have an outsized influence on building trust between themselves and each employee and members of the team. The most effective human relationships are those where individuals feel they can fully be themselves. Indeed, these human friendship bonds can be produced during the normal course of work, often in some very simply ways, such as:

Start off video calls with a 10-minute “open mic” session where team members can learn something about each other.

Inject breaks into meetings where someone can share a funny story to infuse fun and moments of laughter into team collaborations and individual relationships.

Create a meeting “pause” and have each team member answer a fun, get-to-know-you-better question, such as “If you could have one superpower, which one would you pick?”

Incorporate a personal update, like sharing a new recipe you tried or TV show or movie you watched, at the start of a daily or weekly huddle.

All of these actions help to build trust and establish psychological safety for employees and allow each person involved to fully be themselves. They also assist in creating virtual environments, because, again, they are based on trust, where debate and disagreement without penalty is a team norm.

Since manager effectiveness will play a critical role in employee retention going forward, the number of offerings to boost managers’ ability to lead in virtual environments will skyrocket. For example, ConvergenceCoaching recently launched a video learning program designed to help accounting firm partners, managers, and supervisors shift to the new remote and hybrid work paradigm while maintaining their work culture and strengthening close bonds. And, at the request of their clients, Kunik, a talent management firm, is launching a program for managers from different companies that will cover topics such as how to deliver on trust, authenticity, humanity, and transparency by unblocking obstacles to progress and using communication to demonstrate empathy in hybrid work, explains Elizabeth Gulliver, a co-founder of Kunik.

Clearly, managers’ role in driving human bonds in the virtual workplace is never more important as it is now. It is widely recognized that if employees have friends at work, they are more likely to feel “engaged, productive, and loyal” to their employer.

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Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Natalie Runyon has more than 20 years of experience working and volunteering for multinational organizations, including Thomson Reuters, Goldman Sachs and the Central Intelligence Agency. Currently, she is the director of enterprise content for talent, inclusion and culture within the brand marketing function of Thomson Reuters. Before her current role, she ran the strategy and operations team supporting key account programs within the legal business, and before that, she ran global security in the Americas for 3 years. As a volunteer leader, she has led strategic leadership and change initiatives on the global and local levels for business resource groups at Thomson Reuters. She completed an Organization Development & Leadership certificate from NYU in April 2016 and is a Certified Leadership Coach. She resides in New York City with her husband and two sons.