Unlike most years, 2020 has left many people wary of making predictions or setting out resolutions for the upcoming months. The innumerable bouts of upheaval combined with the ongoing anxiety and uncertainty have left even those in best-case scenarios hesitant to venture any expectations about what the new year will bring. Most of us have had our sense of security irrevocably shaken by the events of 2020, between the health and financial threats, the ongoing scourge of racism and social injustice, and the fact that all of our lives changed completely, virtually overnight. We’re not without cause for hope though, as we welcome the first days of 2021.
As we mentioned last week, we’ll hopefully see a large swath of the developed world get vaccinated before the end of the year, and ideally we’ll expand that access to countries not currently at the front of the line as well. Within a few weeks, the U.S. will have confirmation on who will control the Senate for the next term, and we’ll finally put the presidential election to rest by welcoming a new president to the White House. We’ll hopefully see economies around the world bounce back as well, with the vaccine giving us the ability to work, travel, and socialize in a way we haven’t been safely able to since early in 2020. With all this potential positivity on the horizon, let’s focus on building more of what we missed into our work lives this year, by making 2021 the year of colleague connection and collaboration.
The importance of connection & collaboration in business & in life
If we learned nothing else from the pandemic, it’s that the fabric of our lives is woven from social connections. Everything from our schools to our economy to how we eat depends on our ability to connect and interact with each other, which made it all the more painful when COVID-19 robbed us of that ability. The overwhelming majority of leisure providers are struggling today because so much of what we like to do is predicated upon being able to gather and move around freely. Being isolated takes a heavy toll on people’s mental and physical health. A review of 148 studies with a total of more than 300,000 participants found that individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. In fact, loneliness is as damaging to a person’s health as smoking a whole pack of cigarettes every day.
Successful, sustained team collaboration is similarly crucial to success. A study by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School found that highly collaborative organizations saw significant bottom line benefits including more engaged employees, attracting more top talent and retaining them longer, increased velocity, and higher profitability. That’s a lot of benefits. Harvard Business Review also reports that a culture driven by team collaboration and professionalism is at the root of improving employee wellness. Researchers at Stanford found that even participants who simply believed that they were working collaboratively with a peer performed vastly better on an assigned task than those who believed they were working alone. Another recent study also found that companies that promote collaboration are five times more likely to be high-performing.
How you can encourage your company towards connection & collaboration in 2021
Both connection and collaboration suffered hits in 2020 as a significant subset of businesses shifted to work from home without robust supports in place. While we all suffered through more than our fair share of video calls in efforts to stay in touch, no one can deny that the Zoom fatigue is real. Accordingly, as we dive head first into 2021, here’s a shortlist of recommendations for ensuring your team can capitalize on the full benefits of collaboration and connection:
- Make use of specialized tools. You can’t leave the water cooler in charge of company culture any more. You need to invest in software that can help your team stay in sync and in touch no matter where they’re based, in-office or at home. There is an array of tools available to you, from chat apps, to Slack bots, to our personal favorite, full engagement and culture management suites like Workrowd. This is no longer an area where can afford to cut corners, so do your due diligence and select a solution that will support your team to do their best work.
- Set aside dedicated time for supporting your colleagues. Burnout is on the rise amidst the myriad struggles of the last year, so don’t underestimate the power of listening. Set a strong example of how to champion connection and collaboration for every team member by making time for non-work discussions and truly asking how people are doing rather than immediately diving into action items at the start of every meeting. You may be surprised by what a difference authenticity can make.
- Connect your team to outside resources. Don’t limit your thinking to the boundaries of your company. There are plenty of resources available through outside networks that will connect your team members to crucial learning and development opportunities beyond the scope of what you can provide in-house. The Global ERG Network is one example where you can leverage the knowledge and experience of other companies to supercharge your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and accelerate your progress. Be open to sharing, rather than cagey and concerned about competitors, and you’ll reap the benefits.
If nothing else, the year ahead of us promises to be an eventful one. We can only hope it will be less devastating than the one that preceded it, but regardless of what happens, the odds are strong that your team will need as much support as they can get. There is already talk of a ‘tsunami’ of mental health needs as we begin to ascend from the depths of the pandemic, so plan your time and efforts accordingly. If you’re interested in learning more about one or both of the solutions we mentioned above, either our in-house employee engagement and company culture management system, or the Global ERG Network to help you take your DEI work to the next level, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy new year, all; we look forward to connecting and collaborating with you in 2021.