The Reality (and Importance) of Day-to-Day Conversation

By Howie Outerbridge

In today’s digital workplace, we use technology to quickly communicate with each other on a daily basis; for many, this is the preferred way of connecting. However, people still yearn for, and need, day-to-day conversations with their senior leaders and each other. In this article we’ll examine the reality, importance, and the benefit of having face-to-face (F2F) conversations with colleagues and direct reports.

The Reality: Technology is Pretty Great
The reality is that F2F faces stiff competition when it can be so much easier and faster to just send a Slack/ WhatsApp message or an email. The technology is cost-effective, readily available, thoroughly embraced by most and is brilliantly efficient. Moreover, it is versatile with multiple options. Need to send a message out about the corporate holiday party? Post pictures from your trip to Nicaragua? Send an update to all staff regarding a position that has recently been filled? There are tech tools available to do this in an appropriate and well-received manner. In short, technology allows us to get more accomplished during a busy “every” day at the office.

Not only do the tools exist, but our society has also fully embraced a new era of communication, fueled by touch screens and apps. The research firm DScout, specializing in consumer reactions to products, recently reported that the average smart phone user touches (defined as typing, tapping, and/or swiping the phone’s screen) his/her phone over 2500 times a day.

We use apps at home to plan our meals, program our thermostats, register for spin and yoga classes, so why wouldn’t we carry this reliance on technology to make our lives more efficient into the workplace? The answer is that we do, and that we have all realized that using technology to send a message means one less F2F meeting, which equates to more time to service a client or attend a board meeting; in certain situations, or with certain employees, technology provides a shortcut that can save valuable time. With technology providing us with so many options, is there still a need for day-to-day (D2D) conversations in the workplace?

The Importance: Voice, Visibility and Value
I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a CPHR BC & Yukon small business panel with Greg Smith, co-founder & CEO at Thinkific, and Marcie Ellison-Outerbridge, vice-president at Ellison Travel and Tours. Both have placed an emphasis on engaging in D2D conversations with their employees.

For Greg, this takes the form of a daily, 15-minute, morning huddle (one component of the Rockefeller habits) to check in with staff, map out the day and make sure everyone has what they need. It seems counterintuitive to add another meeting to everyone’s busy schedule, but the positive impact is well-documented in the engagement literature.

Marcie’s approach is slightly different due to the smaller, open concept layout of her office. From her desk she can hear the buzz in the office and readily engage in conversations with her staff on a range of topics.

Norm Baillie-David, SVP of employee engagement at TalentMap, recommends “breaking bread together” as a way for leaders to be more accessible to their teams and more visible on the floor. The art of breaking bread together brings people together like nothing else, he explains. “Grab a coffee with employees by the vending machine. Have impromptu lunches with people in the cafeteria.” These kinds of informal conversations with staff sends a strong message, “there is nothing more important to the success of this company than you.”

Greg, Marcie and Norm all make an effort to engage with their staff in different ways, but at the heart of all three business leader’s efforts lies recognizing that employees need a forum to voice their opinion to feel valued and connected to the organization.

Making it Matter for Millennials
Providing opportunities for staff to engage in D2D conversations with leadership may be most valuable to Millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce. Millennials grew up with much more access to leaders in their lives than previous generations: parents, teachers, mentors, coaches.

More than previous generations, Millennials are used to sharing their thoughts and feelings, and, more importantly, being asked what they think. Being an engaged employee for a Millennial means having a line of sight to the direction the organization is headed, as well as a connection to the leaders who are driving the bus. In the workplace they expect the same level of access to leadership and providing opportunities for D2D conversations is an easy, no-cost way to meet this need to shared benefit.

The Benefits: Trust, Engagement, Innovation
Clearly, there are benefits to engaging in D2D conversations with your employees. Opportunities for regular, F2F conversations increase engagement and retention by making employees feel connected and listened to; they feel their opinions are valued, that they have a voice and that someone hears them.

This may be particularly important during difficult times for an organization, such as during layoffs, office moves, or any other situation involving change. An open and ongoing dialogue with employees builds trust, and trust is directly correlated with employee loyalty. If we don’t engage with staff and ask them what they think, they may walk across the street.

Another benefit of D2D conversations is an increased incidence of innovation. Employees need a chance to interact and share their ideas in a variety of settings. Google strives to promote “serendipitous interaction” between their staff in several ways. For example, Googlers are intentionally made to wait in line for their free lunch longer than necessary to stimulate casual conversation.

Another example is David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president of real estate, insisting on a building layout that maximizes what Radcliffe called “casual collisions of the work force.” From his perspective, “You can’t schedule innovation, and we want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

Four D2D Tips to Practice
Inspiring as that is, we are not all fortunate enough to have input into office design, so what are some easy, low-cost ways of driving engagement and innovation through D2D conversations?

  • Keep your door open, and spend time every day managing by walking around. It is important for leaders to be accessible and for employees to be heard.
  • Create opportunities for staff to sign up for F2F meetings with senior leaders in the company. This could be coffee and a muffin with a senior leader (“Muffins with Marcie”), or weekly, hosted lunches in the cafeteria.
  • Put daily huddles into the calendar. As per the Rockefeller Habits, daily huddles and weekly, team meetings are essential parts of establishing a communication rhythm to “move information through the organization accurately and quickly.”
  • Promote casual collisions. This might not mean making your employees wait in the lunch line, but perhaps it means replacing the small tables in the cafeteria with several long communal tables?

Stay Social: #getF2FD2D
As Jay Miranda, a principal at Chipman Design Architecture, says “People clamour for more interaction in their daily lives,” so why not give them this opportunity at work?

The reality is that we are social creatures and crave opportunities to interact with each other. Organizations with the highest engagement levels recognize this and weave opportunities for F2F conversations on a D2D basis not only into the fabric of their culture, but also into their cafeteria line-ups.

Howie Outerbridge is vice president of client solutions with LoganHR, a full-service career transition, compensation and talent management firm and member of VF Career Management. For more information, visit LoganHR.com.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2017)

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