Many of us are rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of working from home. The occasion likely marks hundreds, if not thousands, of video conferencing calls. While they’re a safe alternative to the meetings that used to fill your day, I have missed the casual interactions that come from a daily in-person workplace. The invitation to grab a coffee, passing a colleague in the hallway, chatting about the upcoming holidays — I desperately miss all of it.
There’s no replacing those moments when I’m feeling a bit low and a coworker notices, offering me an ear to vent or bringing me over a homemade cookie. One of the beautiful parts of these interactions is that there is no discussion about work, the moment is purely an opportunity to connect on a personal level. Working with other people entirely through a screen has left me aching for these human interactions.
A solution to this problem came to me while I was sitting in a culture audit meeting with a client a few days ago. Someone suggested that in every meeting, you make an effort to talk about something that has nothing to do with work for 5 to 10 minutes. They suggested talking about everyday life things, like holidays, kids, hobbies, etc. My ears perked, but I immediately rejected the notion. Five minutes out of a 30 min meeting? No way. That time is already precious enough.
When I thought about it more later, I realized this was an opportunity to satiate my desire for human connection. I have a bad habit of jumping into work right away, so much so that my husband and parents have facetiously labeled me the “Efficiency Queen.” This title, I thought, may ultimately be my problem. My daily grind of back-to-back Zoom meetings meant that I needed to be intentional about my connections. So I decided to try it out.
My next Zoom meeting was scheduled with a woman who helps me with my online marketing. She and I have known each other since 2009, but only recently started working together. We had the foundation for a friendship, but I still found myself vexed that there wasn’t more of a human connection during our meetings. That is, until I realized that my get-to-work mentality may be the reason.
I decided it was harmless enough of a social experiment, so during our meeting, I spent more time than usual asking her about her weekend. We usually have a one-minute back and forth exchange of pleasantries to start off every meeting. This time, I decided, I would really dig in. How? By asking questions. She mentioned she and her husband are starting a house-hunting search in Portland, Oregon.
She mentioned her husband’s family living in town and I realized I had no idea where she was originally from. It turns out that a lot of her family is in the Midwest and she grew up visiting Lake Michigan — which is where I live! There was something deeply satisfying about making that connection and learning more about her life. The interaction took seven minutes before we jumped into work, but I found myself much happier and more settled throughout the rest of the conversation.
As an organizational culture consultant, I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve workplace relationships and this time I learned something from my clients. I learned that my drive to be efficient sometimes hinders my ability to make human connections — even in situations where I had a head start. How many opportunities have I missed by rushing to get something done? While yes, being productive is important, seven minutes is not that much of a time investment — especially when you consider the satisfaction it can add to your day.
Try it out yourself, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.