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I’ve never met most of my new hires. Here’s how I got to know them better than my office mates

UnitedLex’s chief commercial officer says his approach to cultivating culture has helped him set up a better 2022. Here are three more ideas to help you develop authentic relationships among employees in the virtual world.

I’ve never met most of my new hires. Here’s how I got to know them better than my office mates
[Source images: mycola/Getty; Yevgen Romanenko/Getty Images]

In my past life, I graded my success as a leader and business owner by a straightforward metric: retention of my top talent. This year, the number of resignations has thrown me off, as it has many leaders.

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The remote world has rewritten the rules and expectations for employees. If leaders don’t move faster, experiment, and take action to better serve and engage with employees, their ability to hire and retain talent will plummet.

Like many people, when COVID hit, I did not like remote work and didn’t foresee it becoming a new way of working. I thrive on energy, the exchange of ideas, and the bustle and buzz of the office. Some of the most innovative ideas, meaningful relationships, and impactful networking started with a coffee talk in the real world.

I realized I needed to make more effort to create this happenstance on my team since it was no longer taking place naturally. At first, I took small steps. For example, I’ve carved out the first 5 to 1o minutes of virtual meetings for banter, such as “What’s your latest guilty pleasure?” or “What’s the biggest silver lining you’ve gotten from the pandemic?”

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This type of small talk might seem counterproductive. However, getting off script and having a real conversation is vital to building relationships. In fact, one study found that one of the top reasons people are satisfied in their jobs has to do with how well they get along with their colleagues. Creating a connection is a win-win for your company’s culture, but also its bottom line. Another report found that companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable.

Making remote work meaningful takes being intentional. You have to be purposeful to elevate your culture and build connections. This approach to cultivating culture has helped me set up a better 2022. Here are three more ideas to help you develop authentic relationships among employees in the virtual world.

Amplify appreciation with digital heart-to-hearts

People are already feeling more isolated due to the current circumstances. And when people are not face-to-face, showing digital heart-to-heart appreciation for their contributions doesn’t come naturally or frequently.

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The digital world can actually help you amplify your gratitude. One easy activity starts with posing this question to your immediate leadership team: “Think of how fortunate we are to be in this meeting making decisions that impact others. Reflect over the last few days. Is there someone who had a positive impact on you?”

Proceed by asking for two to three people to say the person’s name and what they did. Finally, ask everyone to open their emails and send a quick appreciation email to those individuals. Then wait a moment and ask the group to read aloud the responses they get. And if you really want to amplify it, ask your team to do this exercise with their own team.

Pass the torch and watch others shine

There is nothing worse than a leader bogarting all the air in a real-world meeting. But as an executive, this is even tougher to gauge in a digital environment. You might not even know you are turning off your audience because of the limited view and the inability to feel the energy in the room.

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To facilitate broader participation, pass the mic. Designate a new MC for each team meeting, ideally more junior talent, to manage the agenda, goals, and rhythm. A side benefit is that your younger team members can gain confidence speaking in front of their colleagues. Letting go of the reins when it comes to driving team meetings has not only been enlightening for me, I believe it’s empowering for tomorrow’s leaders. I’ve changed my mindset to be more of a coach than a boss (thank you, Ted Lasso). Switching from running the meeting to being the coach will immediately impact engagement.

Start with a personal “pechakucha”

A favorite and fun exercise to jumpstart a newbie on your team is to ask them to give a personal pechakucha (Japanese for “chitchat”). This is a storytelling format that inspires people to talk less and show more. The rules for a pechakucha presentation are simple: The presentation must contain exactly 20 slides that are displayed for 20 seconds each, making the total presentation time 6 minutes and 40 seconds. This method is highly effective when done virtually as it allows entire teams to quickly learn about their new teammates and what makes them tick. And if you want to next-level this exercise, record them and make the videos available for all to enjoy and learn from.

After this erratic year, you might be looking to level up your leadership game and explore new ways of working and building a culture. Now is the time to put some tactics in play by trying new ways to elevate your team, nurture your talent, and show them they chose the right place to work.

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Through the pandemic, I’ve hired many people onto my team. I haven’t met most of them in person—only via videoconferencing and phone calls. It’s ironic, but I feel like I know them better than I’ve known prior colleagues who I saw in the office every day for years. That is the power of a purposeful digital approach. And the power of orchestrating happenstance.


David Clarke is the chief commercial officer UnitedLex.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is reprinted with permission.

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