Camaraderie and connection are essential components of the employee experience. As companies continue to work from home, new and improved ways of communication are being deployed to help encourage communication between coworkers. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are being utilized more than ever to help bring employees together virtually. As we continue to work from home at MarketScale, our opportunity was to find a way to take advantage of these tools to encourage random conversations between employees. A conversation born not out of necessity, but as a vehicle to garner creativity and connection.
Proximity and Serendipity
In psychology, the proximity principle is the tendency for individuals to form interpersonal relations with those who are close by. The modern office setting naturally encourages and stimulates conversation between coworkers based on proximity alone. From the break room to the water cooler, these connections just happen instinctively and can lead to new discoveries and ideas.
When Steve Jobs was building the Pixar office in East Bay, he called this proximity principle, serendipity. He thought that by having an open floor plan, and encouraging employees to collaborate, that chance encounters between colleagues would lead to the formation of new and creative ideas. So how do you keep those random conversations between colleagues going when you take proximity and serendipity out of the equation?
As a way to conjure these random conversations virtually, we created “Coworker Conversations”. Every Wednesday we connect two employees randomly, who would not usually cross paths virtually, and encourage a conversation between the two over a video chat or call.
We provide relevant work and non-work related topics to get the employees talking about themselves, their work and challenges they face. These topics provide a way for employees to learn about other departments, while also sparking new ideas and solutions for challenges between the two departments. Conversations that may have happened in-office randomly, are now happening virtually.
After the call, employees share with the company what they have learned about the other person, spreading the knowledge that was acquired even further and enlightening HR and Managers on challenges and opportunities happening amongst the workforce.
I challenge you to start a new initiative within your company to get people talking and having those random connections. You never know what innovations or new ideas could be sparked from these conversations.
Coworker Conversations has been well-received amongst our employees, and people were eager to speak with colleagues they have not spoken to since work from home started in mid-March.
Our Creative Producer, Denis McInerny, told me after our first week of the initiative, “Coworker Conversations are really cool because in a time where we are feeling more isolated, it's a nice opportunity to get to connect with team members that we don't usually get to have a more meaningful conversation with.”
I am excited to see where these conversations take us and how it continues to develop our employee relationships outside of the office environment.