Slow down to catch-up: fostering connection in the workplace

As our work and non-work life continues to integrate and evolve, one of the challenges facing companies and the people within them today is connection. With the rise of flexible working practices, Activity Based Working, the third place and the ability to get hold of anyone, anywhere at any time, you might feel that we are more connected than ever. However, these working practices can result in disconnected teams, either by geography or workstyle.

Gallup research demonstrates that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs, more effective at them and less likely to be absent due to illness. Its hard wired into our DNA, from a time when social connections provided security and food.  Building relationships within the workplace is harder than ever as we sit in back to back meetings and focus on our numerous screens, making social face to face interaction harder. Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy wrote an article in late 2017 entitled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic” published in The Harvard Business Review with the tagline “Reducing isolation at work is good for business.”

Positive relationships can help us feel grounded, secure and reduces stress levels but as we spend more time working and the line between work and home blurs, how can companies provide spaces that foster connection, thus improving staff wellbeing?

Although the spatial response to foster connection doesn’t replace the social one, they can be developed in tandem. The culture which supports the creation of authentic social connections within a company can be augmented by spaces which consider this.

One such space is the bump space, a space where people accidentally meet and end up having a chat that may otherwise not have happened.

What makes a successful bump space? Think about the energy of the bump space, if it’s too fast moving like a corridor connecting point A to point B, it’s hard to slow down and stop, a nod will suffice or a “we must catch up”. More successful are the staff social spaces, as we wait for the coffee machine or microwave we have a break in our concentration on work that allows connectivity, although we are still focussed on a task, lunch!

The key to a space which allows us to disconnect from work to reconnect with our peers is calm energy. An energy that allows us to become more present and engage genuinely. When we slow down, we are more available to connect.

Think of kayaking a river – would you be slowing down for a chat while negotiating rapids? Not likely but you may be more open to connection when you are drifting in a slow current or focussing on something that inspires or intrigues you in nature.

Design can create a focal point or points that encourage people to slow down, stop, comment, commence dialogue, engage. Art can do this, as can nature, it needs to be significant enough to create a “pause” and positioned so that we can ease ourselves out of the flow of the current for a while.

Sometimes it’s good to slow down to catch-up.