The pandemic has drastically changed the way we work, with remote work the new norm for many. This shift, however, has also highlighted the importance of the more communal perks at work, including having the opportunity to build face-to-face connections with colleagues, leaders and teams. The loss of in-person interactions have left many feeling isolated and disengaged from their organisation.
For some, the pandemic created opportunities to expand and deepen interpersonal relationships. We've seen into our colleagues' homes and living spaces - places we may never have visited otherwise. We've met their children, partners and pets, and become aware of their home lives to a degree we could never have imagined pre-covid.
Not only have we connected personally, but many have taken the opportunity of an increasingly borderless digital world. Trimboli himself tells us that he's delivered virtual presentations to places he never would have imagined two years ago - from Chicago and Boston to Stockholm and Copenhagen.
But from reimagined possibilities to the other side of the coin: Trimboli notes that, for many, our physical separation is also characterised by feelings of "detachment, disconnection, despondency and despair".
Constantly plugged in, yet disconnected
Amid a global crisis, these feelings are only a natural response to our external environment. However, when sustained over an extended period, they are clearly compromising our mental health. Trimboli says this negative experience is exacerbated when leaders "haven't thought through their company culture beyond posters on the wall".
But regardless of the type of experience we've had, there is one thing that remains the same: a whole lot more time spent behind a screen. In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, Australia's National Broadband Network saw a daytime usage increase of 70-80%, compared to pre-covid times.
As anyone who has worked from home can attest, it's simply too easy to spend way too much time in front of a screen.
Those perks at work we take for granted, like when a colleague stops by your desk to ask a question, don't happen. You miss out on chats by the coffee machine, a walk to your favourite Malaysian place for lunch and in-person meetings or workshops. Instead, all of this is done via email, Zoom and Slack, racking up those screen time minutes.
But now, companies need to explore how to reconnect their people as we continue to transition to a transformed post-pandemic future, where both face-to-face and digital connection will be essential.
Physical proximity brings us together
As essential as video calls have been for organisations, it's also become increasingly clear that online connection tools have shortcomings.
From virtual meeting fatigue, miscommunications due to internet connectivity issues all the way to Instagram-scrolling during the morning meeting, it's unmistakable that we lose something when we don’t come together in person.
Trimboli explains that we're up against "thousands of years of evolution based on being together."
"We looked out for each other, we collected food together, we protected each other - it's no secret that homo sapiens in communities or family units were more successful."
The fact is, being together in person helps us to forge more effective relationships. Forbes Insight research found 85% of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships in person. And while we may no longer be fighting off sharp-toothed big cats, those effective relationships are still critical - especially to business.
It's not just in-person meetings that are important. It's also the more intangible connections - made over a cup of coffee in the lunchroom or shared experience at an after-work Pilates class or the intrinsic trust built on the walk to pick up lunch - that make coming together in-person so impactful. These moments simply can't be manufactured or virtualised.
Now that we can come together face-to-face again, it begs the question: How do we reconnect in our new world?
Rediscovering the coffee break
The past couple of years have thrown up some pretty unique workplace challenges. Like meeting a colleague you've technically known for months, if not years, in person for the first time. Or onboarding a new employee who works from a different country now remote working has become the norm. In a changed working world, simply undertaking the morning commute you used to do every day can seem out of the ordinary and challenging.
Jokes aside, though, reconnecting your workforce is a significant undertaking. One that leaders need to get right to take full advantage of all the in-person upsides we've already explored.
"As a leader, when you're dealing with this challenge of hybrid working, stop trying to pretend you know the answers," says Trimboli.
He explains that the best leaders engage in careful, explorative questions with their employees: "What are the kinds of things you do want to come to the office for?"
A quick whip around our colleagues garnered some interesting comments, with the humble coffee break being sorely missed by many:
"I love the mental break of a coffee at work."
"It’s an opportunity to brainstorm in a relaxed way plus stretch the legs."
"I like the time away from my computer and being with my team enjoying a coffee together - you don't get to do that online."
"A coffee break is an opportunity to get perspective - both physically and mentally. You're stepping away from your computer and also from the problem that's potentially been doing your head in. It's not quite the same when you get a coffee at home."
"I enjoy the chance to have a laugh and share the load of whatever's on my mind, and getting to know my colleagues better. A coffee break is an energiser."
Your key takeaways to reconnect in the workplace:
Ask employees about their needs and preferences for perks at work.