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Staffing industry recruiting news, advice and thought leadership.

XPG Insights

Staffing industry recruiting news, advice and thought leadership.

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A Return to the Office Rebuilds Relationships

Meetings are where things get done. Decisions are made, assignments delegated, big announcements get shared. But nothing much would get done in formal meetings if it weren’t for the informal hallway chats that build trust. 

Casual chats at work build friendships, teamwork, and help us test ideas before they’re ready for a formal presentation. “Hey – you know what I’ve been thinking about the problem we’re having with….?” They help us trust each other, speak freely, and work better together.  

Hallway and informal chats are equalizers; they break down barriers like rank and function. Because we’re seeing and speaking to each person-to-person, these talks help us make decisions quicker and boost productivity.  

We’ve always believed in the power of informal communication to strengthen team bonds, fuel creativity, and foster a happier, more productive workplace. 

Agile coach Brian Link calls it “The Magic of Hallway Conversations” in an article for Medium. He recalls when his team got to work at a client site which mostly consisted of a big open space. When people ran into one another, he says, “the conversations around those tables would mostly be small talk. But you’d learn something about these people without even trying. Our friendships deepened and trust grew as well as a result.” You learned little things you might not know about someone you didn’t work with or see often.  

Better yet, you’d learn things that let you connect one person with another for advice, resources, or simply so they could get to know one another. “And bam, a magic connection was made, and it happened when it never would have happened otherwise.” 

Remote work is planned and scheduled, which makes it efficient. In-person work leads to unscheduled, messy conversations with no agenda. And you’d be amazed at the progress you can make or the breakthroughs you can have when people sit together in an informal setting. The break room, the gym, the small conference room with the great light in the afternoon – the common element is people, taking a few minutes to connect like…. well, people! 

Malcolm Gladwell coined the term “connectors” in his book The Tipping Point. Connectors have a gift for making acquaintances, friends, and building networks. They’re essential to spreading new ideas and generating enthusiasm. According to Gladwell, Connectors tend to be connected to many communities — whether through interests and hobbies, jobs that cause them to work with people in other fields, or other experiences. Their strength is in occupying many different worlds and bringing them together.  

Needless to say, they thrive in offices, where they can see real-time reactions and feel the energy. If you have connectors on your team, they’re almost certainly yearning to get back to in-person work. Young people are also very interested in at least some weekly office hours. Many surveys of college graduates report that this generation wants the community, learning opportunities, and engagement that in-person work can provide  

Link says that his team returned to the office full time for a couple of “glorious weeks” before COVID scattered them all back to remote work. But he remembers all the small conversations that made a difference in his outcomes and his relationships. “These small conversations may not seem like they amount to much. But I’m sure over time, as they did for my first year working on my client site, it adds up to an awful lot of magic.” 

The Relentless Resolution Challenge:  
At your next meeting, look around the room and notice the body language at the beginning of the meeting, in the middle of the meeting, and at the end of the meeting and make note of what you see.  Was there a consistent theme from the group or did it differ by individual? Did the body language change throughout the meeting, and if it did, why?  Let us know what you discover.

Excerpt from the book:

COMMUNICATION: The value of informal meetings

Meetings are an important way to communicate, and they can take many forms. Most people only consider meetings to be those prearranged times set aside where two or more parties gather to review or discuss issues at hand. However, that is what I call a formal meeting (planned, with an agenda).   

Equally important, if not more, are informal meetings—those meetings that happen on the fly or in a setting that may not even be a conference room or office. These meetings might not even be recalled as meetings—they may seem like a random discussion or casual conversation. They happen because you hear someone having a challenging call and you poke your head in and offer some help. Or you hear someone talking about closing a deal and you join the conversation to help celebrate the success. Those types of meetings are needed every bit as much as formal meetings and, over time, become the foundation of deeper relationships. Informal meetings are the present-day water-cooler moments that help your team establish connections that make communication more open and more frequent.  

Another type of informal meeting is a text exchange. It may seem like a stretch to think of a quick text as a meeting, but many text messages share information about clients, sales calls, project details, vendors, future dates, and details about other meetings. A text is a meeting, just one that is simply arranged differently—split into little tidbits and delivered in pieces over a period of time. Usually, within those work descriptions, teammates share meaningful or humorous events along with some inside jokes that further strengthen relationships.  

Group texts can help bring a team together as well. We have a group text for our work team of fifteen where we share successes, letdowns, embarrassing moments, and funny comments and cheer each other on. We wish someone a happy birthday or celebrate an anniversary. We have long-standing jokes and catchphrases that are repeated time and again. Because six of the fifteen team members live in other states and work remotely, it’s a way to help us overcome the distance and keep us all connected. 

Informal meetings should feel natural. If you find informal meetings difficult, then you must ask yourself if you are close enough to your team. If an informal interaction is a challenge, then you have some work to do to bridge that gap. You may want to consider increasing the frequency of your formal meetings and dedicate more time to personal connection while in those meetings. You may also want to schedule times when you reach out with texts or calls to engage with employees and the business at hand. Ideally, those interactions are more spontaneous, but there is nothing wrong with scheduling them on your end if informal meetings don’t seem to occur naturally for you. If you have an office, walk around and see what people are doing. (If this is a new behavior for you, expect some awkwardness until your team gets used to you. Early mornings and late afternoons are good times to start the habit in my experience.) If you are virtual, drop your team a text both as individuals and as a group. Be consistent in this communication so that you are creating strong pathways of communication and enhancing your connections.  

About the Author of Relentless:

Rich Thompson, CEO of XPG Recruit, is an expert on staffing, human resources, training and leadership development.  He is also a former All-Big Ten football player for the University of Wisconsin.  XPG Recruit provides recruiting for staffing companies.  The XPG Recruit Athlete division places former athletes into business careers and works closely with universities through its sister company, Podium X.