A number of recent studies have found employee burnout is hampering worker productivity, motivation and well-being. Related research also shows that hybrid and remote workers still report feeling disconnected from one another and many miss the camaraderie they had with co-workers before the pandemic hit.
One way some HR and business line managers are addressing these troubling trends is by introducing new technology platforms that can foster not only collaboration but also employee connections, helping workers re-establish lost relationships and take lighthearted breaks from the daily grind of work.
By boosting morale and espirit de corps, organizations hope to see improvements in productivity, performance and employee retention.
Microsoft's New Community-Building App
Helping employees reconnect across the organization is among the reasons Microsoft created its soon-to-be-released Viva Engage product. The app builds on the foundation created by its Yammer platform to help foster community and camaraderie in organizations and give employees a way to make connections beyond everyday business interactions by providing tools for personal expression.
Dan Holme, product lead for Viva Engage, said Microsoft's research pointed to a strong need for such a product. A recent study by the technology giant found that 43 percent of leaders believe that relationship building is the greatest challenge of hybrid and remote work.
"As we talked to our clients, they told us that connections across different groups and functions in their companies—the social fabric of the organization—had taken a hit during the pandemic," Holme said. "Our own data also showed that relationships across business siloes had frayed. While people had been connecting virtually for work meetings, all of the other types of relationships typically formed in the office were disappearing."
Viva Engage is designed in part to be the "digital twin" of public spaces and the venerable watercooler found in physical offices, Holme said. "It's where people meet, form or strengthen social bonds, and exchange ideas and knowledge on the fly," he explained. Engage is designed to be used in the flow of employees' daily work, meaning it's integrated with frequently used productivity and communication platforms and users don't have to log in to a different app to get the benefit of the tool.
Holme said there are four areas where Microsoft believes Engage can help companies:
- Fostering community building, or creating a broad social fabric of employees coming together and building a sense of belonging and inclusion.
- Sparking more-effective engagement and relationships between leaders and employees by humanizing leaders and shaping culture.
- Helping employees build stronger personal networks across the entire organization, which can aid in their career advancement.
- Facilitating the sharing and distribution of knowledge in companies.
A feature in the app called Storyline allows employees to share their unique perspectives, passions and experiences at scale, Holme said. "We think it will help workers build and enhance their personal networks across companies," he noted.
The Engage app also enables leaders to share news and strategy with employees, facilitate two-way discussions, and help workers feel more heard and included, according to Holme. Preview users of the app report using Engage to share weekly updates with their staffs via video or to amplify cultural moments like Black History Month.
"It's been well-received because it's personal and you hear things in leaders' own unique voices, which lands differently with employees than does more formal communication on similar topics," Holme said.
Using Games to Connect Hybrid Teams
Some HR leaders have turned to more-creative methods to build camaraderie and create a stronger sense of connection on hybrid and remote work teams. Jennifer Zacks, people operations lead for Avise, a financial software company in Boston, uses a games platform from New York City-based vendor Luna Park to help build team spirit among distributed workers while also giving them a break from the daily routine.
Employees log on to the Luna Park platform for hourlong sessions where they play up to 10 interactive mini-games facilitated by a professional host. The games can include everything from wordplay to trivia to arcade-style contests, encouraging participants to collaborate and engage in friendly competition with co-workers who they may not ordinarily interact with.
"The Luna Park platform provides an innovative way for our team members to connect, interact with each other outside of routine meetings and have fun," Zacks said. "We believe creating stronger relationships among employees also contributes to more productivity and improved collaboration."
Arlen Marmel and Ben Anderson, co-founders of the Luna Park platform, said they created the concept to help hybrid and remote teams make stronger interpersonal connections, boost morale and even help teammates build problem-solving skills together during the games. "We wanted to create a greater scope of social connection across companies," Marmel said.
The platform can accommodate up to 300 players, and games can be customized to client desires. Cost to participate is $500 for teams of up to 100 people, and there's also an on-demand version of the games as well as the live concept.
Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing company in Minneapolis.