Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel says if your team no longer feels like a team after 16 months of remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, that should come as no surprise. But it doesn't mean your culture is broken for good.
For some, the work-from-home period, with carefully scheduled Zoom meetings and a lack of office bustle, may have been a boost to certain employees' productivity. But it may have been at the expense of teamwork and relationships. A company's culture is not nurtured through well-labeled Slack channels or completed Asana tasks.
"The problem with the communication we've had over the past year and a half is that it is all predictable and controlled," says Perel, who is based in New York. "You get on a Zoom call to discuss something specific. There is no happenstance, there are no free-flowing ideas, or things that people suddenly share that take you into a whole new direction."
The dearth of meaningful personal interactions is detrimental to company culture. Over time, employees can begin to feel not seen or valued --especially when individuals' experiences and challenges over the course of the pandemic have been both intense and varied. "There is a sense that your life is completely different from mine, you couldn't possibly understand my challenges," Perel says, describing how employees may think of their managers or company executives.
Perel, who hosts the How's Work? podcast, has been thinking deeply about group dynamics in a Covid-recovering world. During quarantine, she began pondering an antidote to the seriousness and stress of managing life in isolation -- a way to infuse spontaneity and playfulness back into interactions. She came up with a game that poses questions and structures for storytelling for a group. It's called Where Should We Begin: A Game of Stories and launched on July 7.
While Where Should We Begin is office-appropriate, Perel notes it doesn't take a structured game to begin rebuilding bonds -- or rekindling in-person serendipity and interpersonal relationships.
Before returning to the office, she says, leaders should open up to share their own frustrations and struggles with their team to foster "the search for the common experience and for the shared sense of reality." Everyone has been through trauma during the pandemic, even if it has looked very different for each person, she says.
"The shared resilience and the collective resilience can then help people go back. The conversations that need to happen in this moment are, 'This is not normal,' " she says.
And once back in the workplace, leaders should take necessary time to allow teams to regroup and find their footing socially, not just to move projects forward.
Sit down with your team. Instead of instantly talking about the project at hand, ask:
- What is something that stood out for you in this past year?
- Where do you feel that the team came through best?
- Where you could really rely on each other?
- What are the cracks in the team that you noticed?
By identifying the cracks in the system, you can start to repair. Perel quotes Leonard Cohen: "There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."