Research has shown that when our daily activities are factored against our enjoyment levels, working lands at the bottom of the pile. The only activity that fills us with more dread is the morning commute. Considering we spend most of our lives (on average 6.9 hours per day) in the office, it’s a pretty bleak statistic. The secret to making work more enjoyable? Better connections.
The same study revealed that socialising at work ranks significantly higher on the happiness index. So in order to better enjoy our working lives, we need to make work a more socially interactive environment and we need to form greater connections with our coworkers. The vast majority of today’s organisations are designed around teams, and teams which socialise regularly and are given time to bond have a higher performance rate than teams which don’t. The key to creating strong connections comes down to how - and how often - we communicate: more opportunities for informal collaboration, outside of meetings or work events, will have a positive impact on social connections within teams, and thus boost team performance.
The rise of messaging platforms, such as Slack, in the workplace have been great for encouraging us to engage in a daily stream of communication with colleagues. However, the real power of connecting comes from regular face to face contact. Research from Alex Pentland, who leads MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, shows that face to face contact is significantly more effective than using email or other messaging platforms, allowing team members to think more creatively as a group than in virtual meetings. It’s important to note that with more face to face team-based activity comes the need for a better understanding of how we communicate with one another.
Whether it’s in a professional or personal context, the best connections are formed when we allow ourselves to be just that - ourselves. We want to create working environments that encourage people to bring their 'whole self' to work rather than a contrived, 'work ready' persona that inhibits a person’s true personality. Companies, like Google, have already started talking about the importance of psychological safety, where people can be themselves and take risks without fear. As Mike Robbins highlights, part of forming real, authentic connections in the workplace requires us to embrace vulnerability and be willing to have those "sweaty-palmed conversations" (whether it’s pitching a new idea or asking for a pay rise) that we often seek to avoid.
Our research has found that teams perform best when they are aligned around values or at least tolerant of each other’s values. We therefore also need to design teams so that people feel comfortable enough to be themselves, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be shouted down in a brainstorm or intimidated by their managers. Research has shown that lower performing teams tend to include dominant members, while it’s the teams that talk and listen in equal measure that perform better. Much of this comes down to trust.
Even Jack Welch (above), who is sometimes perceived as a more "old school" leader says: “when a team is infused with trust, people play to their better angles. They share ideas freely. They help their colleagues when they’re stuck and need an insight. What they do every day then becomes about the group’s success, not their own." If colleagues are shielded by mutual trust for each other and an understanding of each other's social values and habits, office conversations can quickly feel less like work and more like social problem-solving.
As we continue to promote teamwork in our organisations and embrace the value that teams bring, it’s now time to think about how we can support those teams. Tools are becoming available that both measure and help to improve the strength of relationships and connectivity between co-workers and leaders.
Life is short. It has become more apparent that we're working longer hours with little to no productivity gain. Improving worker happiness in the office will not just improve quality of life, but strengthen the bottom line. Work needs to become an activity that we enjoy and one that involves real engagements and honest relationships with our coworkers. We are all more likely to thrive in a workplace that’s interactive, respectful and allows us to be us.