Keeping Up with the Connections

Keeping Up with the Connections
  • Written by
  • Dyani Van Basten Batenburg

Sustaining an engaged workforce when home and away

The working-from-home-economy has spawned beyond the pandemic and lockdowns globally. Here in New Zealand, remote working was a whole new ball game for 38% of us when COVID-19 struck last year, with a further 36% of us having worked from home every now and again, according to Otago University’s Remote Working Survey conducted at Alert Level 3, and as reported in their Working Futures report.

This meant 74% of Kiwis had no regular experience of the work-from-home environment before coronavirus arrived on our shores. Despite being thrown in the deep end, we mostly embraced this new phenomenon – and want it to continue – affirms the report. With the majority of the 2,560 respondents (67%) indicating they’d prefer a mix of working remotely a few times a week or month. The reality for many businesses, across many industries, is that the working-from home-economy is now a main stayer – and links with both the ‘information economy’ and ‘gig economy’ we navigate. In the US alone, 42% of their labour force now works from home full-time and almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work, reports Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom in his article, Stanford Research Provides a Snapshot of a New Working-from-home Economy.

With flexi-working on the cards for the foreseeable future, keeping a workforce connected needs to go beyond standard incentivising and Friday night drinks around the water cooler, and incorporate measures that meet our demands and resolve the key challenges many of us face when distanced from our co-workers. A third of participants in the Otago University Remote Working study found collaboration and communication with their co-workers harder, with the report also highlighting where there is room for improvement is in well-being and health and safety support, and that one of the main top challenges participants iterated in the working-from-home environment was lack of organisational support.

So, how to stay unified as a team, share and feel the love, and keep communication pathways open, all whilst keeping our distance? We create rings of reciprocation, we start gaming and we invite our colleagues to learn more about the ‘real me’.

A little give and take

According to Wayne Baker, one of the world’s foremost experts on building and strengthening connections – who serves as faculty director of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan – the idea behind reciprocity is “I help you and you help someone else, and maybe that person will end up helping me (or someone else) sometime in the future.” He and his wife famously developed the ‘Reciprocity Ring’ exercise in 2001, with his research showcasing that when reciprocity is widespread in businesses and organisations it can promote learning, improve employee productivity and build a climate of trust. And, most importantly, it can help to strengthen ‘social capital’ – a term coined by Baker, “how willing people are to help others in their social network” – even when we’re working from home or remotely.

So, what is a Reciprocity Ring all about and how does it ignite greater togetherness in a business’ workforce? A Reciprocity Ring is built around asking for and giving help and the key to making the ring work is personal engagement, centring on the collective knowledge, networks and energy of a group to meet each person’s request.

Reciprocity Ring exercises gift the opportunity for everyone – employees, managers, directors – to make a request and fulfil the request of another participant. With everyone encouraged to be not just givers or takers but striving for an equal balance of giving and receiving.

According to author Adam Grant in his book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, here’s how a Reciprocity Ring plays out: Each person presents a request to their group – something they cannot achieve or obtain on their own, it could be personal or professional life. Then the group members make contributions by matching up – bringing together – a solution, using their knowledge, resources, and/or connections with others. They must then connect, conduct discourse – both givers and takers – on how each will follow up with fulfilment of the request. Whoever is in charge of leading the session must debrief the group at the end and tune into the emotions which presented throughout the session.

As a group tool, the Reciprocity Ring can dually exercise the pay-it-forward code and also work to strengthen connections – energising a team and building lasting relationships. Fortunately, creating a Reciprocity Ring isn’t bound to one industry or organisation type cast. It can be applied to all – and can even be conducted remotely. For example, the Givitas tech platform – created by Wayne Baker and Adam Grant – facilitates this giving process. It is easy and simple to implement, and participate in, slotting seamlessly into a company’s daily, weekly or monthly routine.

Speak up and share some

Establishing a Reciprocity Ring within an organisation is not the only tool we can bind to, to sustain a greater workplace connection. Individually, we can pro-actively carve better pathways forward for ourselves and our peers by taking time out to share and share alike. Chris Allaire, founder of Averity – a team-based software recruiting firm – shares in his Forbes Six Tips for Staying Connected with Your Team While Working Remotely, that regularly scheduling in 15-minute chats with your peers keeps connections fresh and relationships well-rounded.

“These calls don’t need to have an agenda but can help people feel less isolated and more in touch, as they give the opportunity to connect in the same way you might if you asked someone to join you on a coffee run. These types of calls also don’t need to only occur between manager and employee. Reach out to your peers or colleagues in other parts of the organisation,” writes Chris. “With a little forethought and effort, this can be a feel-good moment for some and a real lifeline for others.”

And, when you do instigate an impromptu phone call, team chat or at-the-desk conversation, allowing yourself to speak up and share beyond a working subject line, is a winning ticket to building genuine connections, explains Chris. “When you open up about your situation and interests outside of work, people learn more about who you genuinely are. Sparking quick ‘non-business’ conversations over video can have surprising results. The opportunities for conversations of a more intimate nature do exist, especially in one-on-one meetings,” he writes. “The key is to maintain interest, curiosity and focus so the exchanges are genuine and without distraction.”

It’s game on

Alongside a greater-focus on the up-close-and-personal, upping your gameplay as a team can keep you engaged and sustainably building connections – especially for those sales-centric businesses. It’s as easy as putting a new spin on a game of old – gamification. Sales gamification is focused on incorporating gaming elements into a non-gaming context to improve engagement levels. Think of the leader boards in the old arcade games: the flashing, motivating lights and sound of the pinball machines, and all the stunning visual elements, all built into modern engagement solutions – scores, coaching, visual stimulus, reward point stores. Gamification software is fast rolling its way to popularity globally, including New Zealand – one such example is the coalescing of Spinify’s gamification software and sales agency, Leading Edge.

“As Head of Customer Experience at Leading Edge NZ, I’m continually looking for ways we can up our performance stakes. Our company ethos is all about doing sales better than everyone else – so we have to maintain a high calibre of workmanship,” explains Jonathan. “Spinify’s gamification software – with its lively leader boards – really fits with what we are trying to achieve as a company. We want to establish sustainable means for encouraging, inspiring and rewarding our employees – not running the gauntlet with highly complex monthly campaigns that may have no positive long-term sales impact. I firmly believe it’s the core of gamification – consistently motivating and rewarding – that lends itself to a healthier workplace and ethic for all.”

So, how does gamification bring a workforce closer? Think leaderboards with live-tracked targets to motivate and encourage, gaming elements – points, badges, levels on an achievement ladder – that gift daily, weekly and monthly rewards, a points rewards store – flexible rewards that fit an employee’s wants i.e. a day off or a pressie, and data-centric dashboards in the real-time to keep everyone motivated – even when they’re working from home. And, it’s all packaged up in an easy to implement, cost-effective software solution, which integrates seamlessly with all major platforms.

“What gamification does is serve a more dynamic and responsive approach to achieving business goals,” says Jonathan. “For example, we can quickly change things up to focus on a new product launch, tactical initiatives or additional monthly sales goals. On top of this Spinify is flexible enough to allow a broad range of rewards. We see this as a huge plus because we’re conscious money isn’t the only thing spurring our employees into action.”

Spinify’s gamification software has also proven a great tool for driving wellbeing at Leading Edge.

“We’re big on monitoring health and wellness because we know that stress can dominate in high pressure roles. Spinify helps us hit the big targets whilst ensuring our employees have fun and don’t burn out.”

Simultaneously, gamification is proving valuable for the Leading Edge team beyond leaderboard action. It’s encouraging hands-on interaction amongst them and strengthening comradery. The positive spin-off from instantly showcasing a team member’s success up on screen – for example, closing a big sales deal – is that as a collective, they can now go to that member’s desk and give them a pat on the back, have a chat or bring them a coffee. Whereas, without sales gamification, it might have been two or three days before news of a big deal was passed around. Now, they can celebrate wins as they happen.

“And, for those days we’re not all in the office to give someone a physical high-five (the majority of the Leading Edge team work from home Tuesdays and Thursdays) our gamification platform feeds into our Microsoft Teams so we can keep those virtual thumbs up and comments rolling in,” explains Jonathan. “We’re just starting out on our Spinify journey, we’re already seeing big gains. We’d highly recommend to it any business who is focused on strengthening and motivating their team better ways forward.”



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