Not only has flexible work changed the ways in which we do our jobs day-to-day, it’s also changed the way we communicate. Meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams and online chats on solutions like Google Hangouts are replacing those ad hoc, informal conversations that we would have in the office without thinking. But could this be a bad thing?
What are informal work conversations?
Casual communication between employees. Not necessarily about work or tasks/projects. Unofficial in nature and is based in informal, social relationships that are formed in a workplace, outside of the normal hierarchy. Involves the casual exchange of information/ideas that can foster and strengthen relationships between employees.
Why do these conversations matter?
You might not realize it, but all those little conversations actually play a part in helping employees become better at their jobs, integrating into a business better, and even in furthering their careers. In this blog post, we’ll look at five reasons why informal work conversations can’t afford to be neglected even as the world moves towards a much more flexible future.
Think back to the early days of your career when you were trying to get opportunities. Chances are that you’ve benefited from spontaneous conversations with managers or other contacts, generating opportunities to climb the ladder or explore new roles and projects. Now think about how hard it must be to open those doors virtually. Using email or collaboration tools to try and build a relationship with a key decision-maker is almost the work equivalent of cold calling.
Build a strong team
Remember all those Friday night drink socials that you had over Microsoft Teams during lockdown? Well, they were the best that we could do at the time, but in hindsight they weren’t exactly great, were they? Creating personal relationships and connections between employees is possible virtually, but the effectiveness of it only goes so far. It’s much harder to have a free-flowing conversation over video calls, not to mention that it becomes almost impossible to read body language and nuance. This is one of the in which there really is no substitute for an in-person.
More organic learning
Increasingly, employees are coming to realize that there must be a balance between working from the office and working from home. Research conducted by Microsoft has found that while over 70% of workers want flexible work arrangements to continue, 65% also want more face-to-face contact with their co-workers. Part of this is down to the organic learning process that every employee – and especially younger ones – undertake every day in the office. Whether they’re talking to their managers, or overhearing conversations between others, they can absorb vital experience and to do their jobs better.
A better company culture
Lots of companies like to proclaim their forward-thinking, progressive values, and how they foster enjoyable places to work with a strong collective community spirit. But that doesn’t necessarily work in practice when individual employees are isolated in a home office or on their couch every day. For employees to build that emotional bond with their co-workers and with their employer, they need to be able to see and feel the experience in person, rather than from the distance of computer screen. Those informal conversations have a major part to play in instilling values into employees and giving them a sense of belonging.
Perhaps the most practical benefit of informal work conversations is being able to get quick and direct answers to questions and solutions to problems. Why should anyone have to wait for an email or chat response or go through the formal structure of arranging a virtual meeting, when sometimes all it takes is a 30-second chat or a knock on an office door. And even in a more flexible workplace, these conversations between team members can be made easy. Through workspace management software, co-workers can ensure that they book workspaces near each other, so they can easily converse on the days that they’re in the office.