Even if your company's day-to-day work hasn't changed, everyone's lives are changing in unimaginable ways. Your team may be feeling isolated or struggling with anxiety. How can you reach out to your team and show them support?

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant says there are small steps we can take to create more meaningful connections with our colleagues -- yes, even through laptop screens and virtual meetings.

Grant recently interviewed another psychology professor, Jane Dutton, about addressing workplace loneliness during a pandemic. It was published on the TED Ideas blog. Here are takeaways from their conversation about how to bond with co-workers over Zoom.

Huge team meeting? Utilize the Zoom chat. 

Brené Brown kicks off her team meetings by doing a two-word feeling check-in. This can be time consuming if your team is too large. 

Dutton recently had a Zoom call with 70 people, so she tried using the chat. At the start, she asked everyone to write in the Zoom chat one word about what they were feeling at that very moment. Then she put one minute on the clock and asked everyone to read through all the responses. 

"It was a way that we could be present to each other right from the beginning," Dutton explains. "First moments matter anytime we come together."

Replace "How are you doing?" with a more genuine question.

Asking "How are you doing"' is getting old. And people don't usually answer it honestly anyway. 

A better question is in order. Dutton recommends trying a more positive framing with your check-in question. You're likely to get a more genuine response. 

Here are some of her favorites:

  • What did you do this week that you loved?

  • Tell me a highlight of your day.

  • What's gone well for you today?

This isn't to say that the negative emotions and experiences should be ignored. Dutton also participated in a meeting where the roundtable question was to share a story of a silver-lining experience from the past week.

She explains that talking about silver linings acknowledges that something negative has happened, but it also touches on the positive that you've made of it or that you've understood something positive coming out of it. It also helped the people on the Zoom call better get to know one another. 

To help people buy in, give them context. 

If you plan to introduce a new team norm to help build team connection, be sure to explain to everyone your rationale. Otherwise, people might find it a bit silly that you're suddenly asking these questions or starting meetings differently.

"I find that people buy into them more if you explain the logic for why it's being done," Dutton says. "Explain that this is about trying to build better connective tissue so that our group will be better and more capable." It also empowers your team to improvise ways to build connection points between themselves.

Adjusting those first few minutes of your team meetings can help employees feel less isolated. Living and working while pandemic drastically redefines what's normal. That human connection is more important than ever.