Employees (re)connecting in the new hybrid working!

By Marwan Jezrawi & Laura Natrop

Every summer, the directors of consultancy firm Verdonck, Klooster & Associates (VKA) hand over the baton to young professionals to gain management experience and put a theme on the agenda. This year, Marwan Jezrawi and Laura Natrop seized this opportunity to focus on the topical theme 'reconnect & make impact'. They have researched the challenges of hybrid working for connection. Their research among employees from the public, semi-public and private sectors shows that an active role of the employer with regard to realising connection leads to greater job satisfaction.

Iedere zomer draagt de directie van adviesbureau Verdonck, Klooster & Associates (VKA) het stokje over aan young professionals om managementervaring op te doen en een thema op de agenda te zetten. Dit jaar hebben Marwan Jezrawi en Laura Natrop deze kans gegrepen om aandacht te besteden aan het actuele thema ‘reconnect & make impact’. Zij hebben onderzoek gedaan naar de uitdagingen van het hybride werken voor verbinding. Uit hun onderzoek onder werknemers uit de publieke, semi-publieke en private sector blijkt dat een actieve rol van de werkgever met betrekking tot het realiseren van verbinding leidt tot meer werkplezier.

Before corona, the topic of connection was not as high on the management agenda. Connection then came naturally through chance encounters and informal contact, resulting in more job satisfaction, creativity and personal development. Now, chance encounters have to be created. According to employees, organisations would therefore do well to actively facilitate connection in the hybrid work form by (1) organising informal activities, (2) creating a meeting place and (3) organising office days, the survey found.   

Before corona, most people worked physically in the office. The survey shows that employees have felt connected to colleagues and the employer through informal contact; before or after a physical meeting or at a chance encounter as we know it from the coffee machine. 71% of respondents said they felt (significantly) less connection since Corona due to the lack of informal and spontaneous contact. As a result, the focus of contact has become more result-oriented. People indicate that because of this focus on efficiency, contact with colleagues or relations has become "more sterile". Moreover, according to many, less physical contact leads to a hardening of communication and people are less able to "read" each other by making it harder to pick up on non-verbal signals. As a result, employees experience less job satisfaction, more stress and other psychological complaints.  58% of respondents said that this "distance" also meant they experienced less creativity, motivation and personal development. One respondent summed it up nicely: "the goal-oriented communication and result-oriented cooperation limits my creativity and hinders the exchange of knowledge and energy".   

Connecting employees demands a different approach in new hybrid working. Indeed, a large proportion of the respondents indicated that they expect an active role from the employer in ensuring that employees know how to find each other again both professionally and especially informally. However, bringing each other "together" demands a different approach than before, more focused on creating and facilitating "spontaneous" encounters. The study shows that the following points contribute positively to connection in new hybrid working;   

  1. Organising meetings and activities: More than before, the employer is expected to organise (informal) meetings where colleagues can also talk to each other about non-work related things. 
  2. Creating a meeting place: Consider a physical environment that lends itself to informal meetings, e.g. a café or lunch room, but also consider a location suitable for (hybrid) collaboration. The right (collaboration) tooling is very important here. 
  3. Office days: Employers should create a certain structure to manage when employees are in the office so that there is a greater chance of different colleagues meeting. A certain (office) rhythm needs to be created, for instance through regular (digital) team, department or organisation meetings. The challenge for employers is to find a good balance in this, with sufficient structure for some and sufficient flexibility for others. 

The employer of the future creates connection by actively taking a facilitating role in organising activities and creating environments that call employees to meet face-to-face again in an informal setting. The connection that was previously achieved by chance will now have to be consciously created and realised. 

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