People are finding it harder to connect with coworkers and company culture as the way we work transforms into a hybrid working model. Experts Aksel van Elteren and Jesús Barrera call for the return of the coffee break, outlining 10 tips on how to foster relationships in a remote team.

49% of people working remotely today are finding it harder to build relationships with co-workers than they used to pre-pandemic. And it’s not just relationship building that seems to be suffering, with 32% stating that they’re also struggling to relate to company culture.

These stats aren’t that surprising. In a traditional office working environment starting a spontaneous conversation with a colleague while making a cup of coffee is a normal occurrence. Organizing after work activities and integrating coworkers in company culture feels effortless.

In a hybrid working model things get a little tricky. How often have you reached the end of a working day and realized that you haven’t had a social conversation with a colleague? How often have you gone a whole month without some sort of team social activity? When was the last time you met a colleague for coffee, rather than on Teams to finalize a deck?

While these things may seem trivial, they’re crucial to help employees feel valued, involved, and interested in both the company they work for and the colleagues they work with. And though hybrid working gives people more control over their work-life balance and fosters greater productivity, there’s something about the age-old in-person coffee break that is irreplaceably beneficial.

How to recreate the “coffee break” in a hybrid working world

  1. Take time for yourself!

Breathe some fresh air, stretch, take your eyes off the screen, and have a non-work-related chat with a coworker. Remember, a day at the office is full of little breaks, chats, and walks. Try to emulate that at home by going out for coffee or lunch with team members.

  1. Connect informally!

Don’t overthink it. Go ahead, send that “Hi, how are you?” message in Zoom or Teams. Follow-up on that wedding your colleague went to, or what they ended up buying on their shopping spree. It’s not quite like an in-person experience, but you’ll be surprised how quickly this will deepen your relationships.

  1. Be spontaneous!

It’s 3pm, your brain is turning to mush, you’re finding it hard to concentrate. You could really use a walk and a random chat to re-energize. Or you’ve had a terrible morning getting your kids ready for school. You still feel stressed and all you want is a coffee to recenter and focus.  Be spontaneous! Reach out to your colleagues – you’ll find yourself out of whatever funk you were in quicker than by persevering with your eyes glued to your outlook.

  1. Be proactive!

Are you finding it hard to find time for social get-togethers with colleagues? Be proactive and schedule in 15-minute coffee/tea breaks, similar to how we carve out time for 1-1 time at the office.

  1. Be attentive!

Find out what your colleagues are interested in beyond work. Listen to what they choose to share about their lives and check in every now and then. What about their hobbies? Are they into tennis? Do they have kids? Are they currently doing a course outside of work? Be attentive, respectful, and interested and you won’t run out of things to talk about.

  1. Have fun!

We’ve all seen that typical stock photo of a group of coworkers sat in a meeting room laughing over a table piled high with random sheets of paper. While those photos are obviously staged, it’s clear that inside jokes and having fun with colleagues is much easier in person.

But just because it’s more difficult, doesn’t meant that remote working has to be void of fun. Don’t be afraid to bring up the joke Monica said during the weekly call last week. Point out the funny typo you made in your last email. Why not?!

  1. Create an even playing field!

Put yourself out there! Don’t just use coffee breaks for idle chatter – network, make yourself visible, let people know who you are and what you do. Obviously, if your company has a strict hierarchical culture that should be respected, but don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to all sorts of teams and integrate yourself in the culture in that way.

  1. Share your ideas!

Do you have an idea of how to better track certain KPIs? Do you have a secret talent for graphic design and know how best to improve decks? Was there a software you used in your previous job that you know could elevate your current company’s processes?

Coffee breaks are an ideal opportunity to air out your ideas informally and see if the problems you spotted are also impending your team. Often this is where new initiatives are incubated before being executed in the more formal project setting.

  1. Have each other’s backs!

Everyone reacts to situations differently. Listen to yourself and to your colleagues and respect the ways each needs to break up the day to work at their best. This will keep morale high and foster a supportive and safe working environment.

  1. Don’t forget about the office!

Virtual relationships can be successful, but nothing beats an in-person get-together. Speak to your colleagues about when they’re planning to come to the office and go on that day.

Reach out to our experts for more information on how you can navigate hybrid working.

Aksel van Elteren

Aksel van Elteren

Associate Partner

Aksel is an organizational change manager with over 25 years’ experience, specializing in change, project and process management. He has an impressive track record in multiple industries and business areas, including S/4HANA, SAP, shared service implementation, business process outsourcing (finance, supply chain, HR), IT implementation, and organizational/process (re)design.

Jesús Barrera

Jesús Barrera

Senior Consultant

In his +11 years of global experience, Jesús has led a vast number of strategy, change and digital transformation programs across regions and industries. He has brought value on multiple engagements by managing change initiatives from change governance, stakeholder management, communications, change capability, and user adoption. He’s passionate about supporting our clients on navigating change and the challenges that intrinsically come with it, while helping leaders focus on the most important KPI: Keep People Inspired.

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