In today's macroeconomic environment, companies are being more prudent about spending and that often means reconsidering team outings and travel. But scaling back on these expenses shouldn't come at the expense of your company culture. When companies face uncertainty -- whether due to an economic downturn, global pandemic, or a shift in market realities -- your approach to culture and connection can be the difference between success and failure. 

Studies have shown that social connection is a major contributing factor to employee happiness and engagement. Yet, a connection doesn't have to come at a high cost. Truth is, most of my favorite things about our company culture are free -- and the return is exponential. Here are five ways to cultivate strong connections across your organization, without busting your budget:

Create a repository of connection resources

Great company culture is one where every person feels empowered to bring their whole self to work. That requires a focus on fostering safe spaces and prioritizing diversity, inclusion, and belonging. One simple and scalable way that our team practices this is through "discussion kits." Every month, we provide managers with resources that help them lead conversations on important topics ranging from addressing ableism and understanding gender identity to practicing sustainability and supporting working parents. We're not only creating psychologically safe spaces but building stronger bonds between teams because of it.

Take the time to check-in

Brené Brown is one of my favorite people to learn from and one of her best pieces of advice is to start meetings with a two-word check-in. When I do this with my team, I try and challenge them to use more descriptive adjectives than just "fine," "okay" or "good." This way, we're going beyond surface-level interactions, really getting a pulse on how they're feeling, and what we can do as a team to support one another. 

Leverage the technology you're already using

There's a sense of nostalgia for the ease with which we used to connect in an office. Now, employees are looking to their companies to create those opportunities for connection. Thanks to a great idea from an employee on the engineering team, we introduced the MixHub program, a HubSpot-built Slack app that randomly pairs or groups folks within a channel to meet informally. In the absence of in-person "watercooler moments," MixHub is actively used across more than 50 Slack channels creating connections across various teams and regions in an automated, scalable way. There are a few free apps out there that do this, and I'd highly recommend checking them out for an easy, automated way to build cross-team camaraderie. 

Make the space for connections

Over the last 2 years, folks have missed the spontaneous co-worker connections that have historically taken place in the office and helped spark collaboration and innovation. But in this new hybrid world, we need to be more intentional about how we enable those kinds of interactions -- both in-person and virtually. 

For employees that work in our global offices, we're currently experimenting with what we affectionately call "Connect For" areas which include designated community tables with conversation starters, games, activities, and prompts that help facilitates spontaneous conversations. But we're also looking for ways to solve for spontaneity for our hybrid and remote employees. For example, we have a true crime podcast club that hosts a monthly discussion on a podcast series or episode series. Regardless of what topic brings your team together, finding new opportunities to connect on topics outside of work can be invaluable.

Listen (or read!) and learn together 

One of my favorite and our earliest perks at HubSpot is the Free Books Program where employees can request one e-book or audiobook per month, enabling learning and growth easy and simple for anyone, anywhere. The program gives employees access to books that are intersectional, such as reading lists focusing on sustainability, disability alliance, and being anti-racist.  

A company's biggest asset is its people. That's why when times are challenging, the most successful companies long-term won't deprioritize culture and employee connection, but instead, get creative. Shifting focus from slashing budgets to building programs that create meaningful interactions will cost your company almost nothing, but make your organization better today and in the future.