Technology is rapidly changing the workplace and the relationships therein. With myriad technologies to keep us connected, including phones, email, instant messenger, and video conferencing, it allows us to easily stay in touch. As a result of these technological advances, many companies have embraced remote working situations, allowing employees to stay home a few times a week, or even weeks at a time. Even more radical, some companies have gone almost entirely virtual, like app-integration company Zapier and Automattic, the company behind the world’s most popular content management system (and what our site is built on) WordPress. (Shoutout to Zapier, we use their helpful tools, too.)
While these companies may be virtual and geographically dispersed, they still recognize the importance of getting together for relationship building. Zapier, while being a 100% distributed team and such a proponent of this arrangement that they wrote a “how to” guide for remote work, still promotes in-person get-togethers for building culture and relationships. In their article entitled, “How to Build Culture in a Remote Team” they state:
“We get the whole gang together twice per year for a company retreat. During the retreat we do things that help foster our culture. Things like pairing up to cook team dinners and hiking as a group have helped us learn more about each other and our families—it’s knowledge we wouldn’t have gained in a normal week.”
Similarly, Automattic places a high value on in-person meetings for relationship building. According to their site, they “get the whole company together once a year for seven days so that Automatticians can create bonds that influence them all year long.” These “Grand Meetups” happen in a number of exciting locales. They also get together in smaller teams for “five to seven days to brainstorm team-level strategy and bond” in other fun locations.
What these companies seem to inherently know, and make clear in their company culture, is that building employee relationships matters, and is something that is worthy of the investment of time and resources.
Perhaps the most important metric for employee satisfaction is people’s level of engagement at work, and this feeling of engagement is due in large part to the relationships that have formed with fellow employees. And if you need a reminder about the poor state of employee engagement, note that only 33% of American workers feel engaged, and this number drops to 15% internationally. Obviously there is room for improvement.
People care more about work when then care about the people they work with. There is a massive ripple effect when inter-employee relationships are built within organizations. If you have a friend in another department, suddenly you think about how your actions affect that other person, and vice versa. Likewise, communication and helpfulness increase as information flows more freely and silos break down. If you have a positive relationship with someone in logistics, it may compel you to share an idea you had for improving a particular aspect of shipping instead of keeping it to yourself. Because of your relationship, when you see that person and department benefiting, you feel good.
Building relationships takes time and requires shared experiences. I met one of my best friends at a previous job, yet it took a year-and-a-half of working together for that friendship to begin to develop despite the fact that we were in a very small business with many overlapping responsibilities. But in between meetings, strategy sessions, and emails passing back and forth, we formed a strong bond, one which found us often going out of our way to help each other – something that inevitably benefited the company.
What companies like Zapier and WordPress are doing is putting effort into accelerating this process of relationship building through face-to-face meetings and shared experiences. These companies know that to run a successful remote-work company, you have to double-down on relationship building, something that sometimes gets lost in traditional organizations.
Far from traditional, yet not a virtual team, Zappos is another leader with regard to relationship building, always experimenting with how to make its employees happier. One standout in the relationship building sense is their WISHEZ program, (meaning Want… Imagine… Share… Hope… Engage… Zeliver (they Zapify everything, even the word deliver). This program facilitates the submitting and granting of employee wishes – an employee’s wish may be something like learning how to create jewelry or learning to juggle. Your wish goes into a database where other employees can find and fulfill them. To date, thousands of wishes have been granted through the program. Just imagine the bonds that have formed as a result, not to mention the added mood-boosting effect of being able to help another person.
Team building events are another tremendous way to accelerate the process of building relationships. Through shared experiences and overcoming challenges together, people form the kind of relationships that often take much longer to develop in the workplace. Programs focused on this deep connection, like our Trail Venture event, really bring people together and get them talking and learning more about one another. Employees learn about co-workers’ personalities and their lives outside of work, making their colleagues more three-dimensional and human.
A commitment to ongoing relationship building is key to enhancing employee engagement and satisfaction. It’s an ongoing process that high-performing companies understand and devote time and resources to, because they know that in the end, relationships are absolutely vital to success.
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