August 23, 2020

Creating authentic connections while working apart

When it comes to connection in the workplace, it seems like we didn’t know what we had until it was gone — over the past several months, it’s become increasingly clear that the impromptu moments of interpersonal connection that arise in an office setting are vital, and hard to replace.

We joined Blueboard, Donut, and a panel of HR leaders for a webinar to discuss how companies can continue to create authentic connection while we’re all working from home, and how these new practices can continue to benefit us in our lives at work once we’ve transitioned to socially-distanced offices, and, eventually, a return to “normalcy,” whatever that looks like by then. This blog post summarizes that discussion.

Why authentic connections matter 

During the first phases of our changed lives at work during the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining productivity was a priority. As the months have stretched on, loneliness has set in for many, and combating the negative effects of isolation will be crucial in the next phase..

Here’s what we know about the importance of connection at work: 

Fostering connection and belonging

These recommendations come from panelists and attendees to our recent webinar with Blueboard and Donut:

1. Mentorship

Implementing a mentorship program facilitates strong relationships between leaders and less experienced employees. Like coaching, mentorship provides an opportunity for people to develop new skills and work toward their goals; it also contributes to belonging and connection.


  • Keep it casual. Provide just enough structure to keep mentors accountable, but don’t over-formalize the program. Give pairs some guidelines for their first few sessions to build a foundation; then let them take the mentor relationship in whatever direction is best for them. One panelist noted that her company has encouraged broader participation by call mentors “dialogue partners.”
  • Pair with intention. Instead of randomly assigning mentors and mentees to each other, take specific criteria into consideration. This can be anything from career goals to personal interests. Tools like the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and CliftonStrengths can help you pair mentors and mentees based on personality type, leadership style, and strengths. A panelist shared that mentor pairing has been crucial to the onboarding process over recent months by giving new hires a “go-to” person for any questions they have.

2. Use asynchronous tools 

Getting everyone in the same “room” at the same time is harder than ever. Companies should be mindful of time differences among their employees and use tools that allow for asynchronous communication.


  • Schedule inclusively. Blueboard gave the example of a shared celebration between its Ukraine office and US offices — for the former, it was a Happy Hour, and for the latter, it was breakfast. The celebration was cross-cultural, and, with a little creativity, worked well in both time zones.
  • Keep the conversation open. Tools like Slack cultivate connections by allowing conversations to last beyond a single moment and into a 24-hour cycle. This way, can make sure that nobody on the team gets left out of meaningful interactions. A panelist shared that the top-level execs on her team share a comprehensive update video on Monday morning that everyone can watch on their own time.

3. Use Zoom wisely

Video meetings can get boring — even mind-numbing. Find ways to connect off-camera, and when you do use video, be sure you’re mixing things up a bit.

  • Video variety. Keep up variety by exploring different iterations of your meetings, including different cadences and group sizes. You can also introduce a greater variety of ”fun” meetings to the mix: cooking and eating a meal together, a “walk-and-talk,” or a “game night.”
  • Participatory learning. Lean into opportunities for learning — get employees engaged in creating and leading book-club-style learning sessions based on articles, podcasts, or video content.
  • Daily prompt. An easy way to encourage connection is to post a fun daily prompt to stir up conversation over Slack. For example, asking “what’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?” can lead to some awesome photos and conversations. Plus, it gives employees the space to engage on the level of their choice — some may want to share content, while others may want to more passively react to other people’s posts. 

4. Introduce coaching questions

Another great way to strengthen or build connections with others is by implementing coaching questions in your conversations. These can happen during meetings, one-on-one sessions or during mentorship and mentee conversations. Bravely Pro Hakemia Jackson shared these examples of coaching questions for leaders to ask team members:

  • What talent or strength do you possess that has the most natural connection to your goal and/or your team’s goal? You can help guide your team member through this exercise in labelling and owning their strengths by asking how their natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and working might connect to the task or goal.
  • What is the specific task or goal that feels unmanageable or unreachable? It’s common to feel overwhelmed but not be sure what the root challenge is. When you ask your team member to clarify and use concrete words to identify the specific tasks that feel unmanageable, you’ll help them see past their heightened emotional state and think about their problem more productively.
  • What helps you feel connected to others and counteract the potential loneliness of working remotely? It’s time to stop complicating connection and simply ask people what they need. This question not only helps build rapport and trust overtime, but it’ll also tell you exactly what your employees need during this time to feel like they belong. 

With these ideas, you can cultivate authentic connections among your employees, even when everyone is working remotely.

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