Forging Human Connections in a Hybrid Setting

Four local leaders describe how their teammates engage with each other through a combination of in-person and virtual interactions.

Written by Olivia McClure
Published on May. 12, 2022
Forging Human Connections in a Hybrid Setting
Illustration of a diverse group of people giving high fives
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The key to genuine human connection in a remote work setting isn’t recreating traditional in-person interactions. Rather, it’s about cultivating meaningful moments conducive to a hybrid setting. 

While that might look like in-person brainstorming and training sessions at some companies, it can also take the form of adventurous off-site gatherings for relationship building. Head of Talent Acquisition and People Partner Donata Garliauskaitė said one particular Wix outing in Colorado Springs and nearby Pikes Peak significantly boosted morale among her and her teammates by shedding light on their common interests. 

“It filled us with happiness and gave us a better sense of who we are, enabling us to build powerful bonds,” she said. 

Yet hosting fun activities and taking part in in-office collaboration aren’t the only ways to get people talking. According to Sendoso Chief People Officer Alexis Kavazanjian, recognizing employees’ achievements plays a large role in cultivating a sense of community, which is why the company draws a random employee’s name during every monthly all-hands meeting to receive a gift of their choice. 

Regardless of the approach taken, cultivating human connections in a remote world is entirely possible — and beneficial — for teams. Built In San Francisco caught up with Garliauskaitė, Kavazanjian and two other local leaders to learn how they facilitate relationship-building in a hybrid setting. 

 

Wix team members at the top of a red rock mountain
Wix

 

Donata Garliauskaitė
Head of Talent Acquisition and People Partner • Wix

 

Wix’s platform enables its users to create, design, manage and develop websites. 

 

Whats the key to creating human connection in the remote workplace?

The past two years have shown that every department, team and individual has its own working style and needs. Our duty is to create an inclusive and collaborative environment, in which a culture of candor, trust, freedom and purpose can thrive. This connects to organizational values and how they’re implemented during the remote era. We apply a people-first approach at Wix, as people are at the heart of everything we do. We see our employees as individuals, and we provide them with the flexibility they need. The company encourages us to get to know each other on a personal level, have informal conversations, and bring up our most outrageous ideas. We believe that mixing authentic human connections with work relationships creates a stronger environment.

 

Whats the most successful initiative youve employed to facilitate those kinds of connections?

We have brought back in-person experiences. Creating great office experiences, throwing a party or hosting a bingo night are all small things that can serve as a setting for meaningful connections. Most importantly, we listen to our people. When we see smiles on their faces, we know that we got it right. When I was building out a distributed team of 10 individuals during the pandemic, I asked my colleagues what they thought we were missing as a team. Everyone agreed that we needed in-person experiences, so we took part in an in-person offsite gathering. We enjoyed Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak while chatting, singing, laughing and uncovering countless similarities. 

Our duty is to create an inclusive and collaborative environment, in which a culture of candor, trust, freedom and purpose can thrive.”

 

What impact has this initiative had on your workforce?

The most important outcome of this offsite is that it showed us how much better it is to work together, what makes us happy, and how we can all benefit from connection. This experience taught us that organizations don’t need to schedule an agenda or ask everyone to work in a particular way, because every team is unique. If they’re given the right support and opportunities, they can self-organize and come up with the best solutions for themselves. We strongly believe that trust, ownership, purpose and strong personal bonds are the most important elements for a successful team. 

 

 

Isha Hamdani
Director of People Operations • Taskrabbit

 

Taskrabbit’s platform connects property owners with nearby home repair and maintenance professionals.  

 

What's the key to creating human connection in the remote workplace?

Many initial efforts to build human connection remotely were grounded in replicating touch points we had shared in person, such as water cooler chats and happy hours. Eventually, we started hearing less about human connection and more about Zoom fatigue. Over the past two years, I’ve learned that the key to genuine human connection is not replicating in-person interactions, but creating meaningful connections in the environments we have. Most employees want to feel a sense of belonging in the workplace, yet this feeling of community is different for everyone. One of our core values is “care deeply,” and we offer our employees many ways to interact, offering outlets to suit their comfort levels. We’ve recently redefined what connection means in order to go beyond surface-level gatherings. True connection means providing employees with what they need for themselves and their families while cultivating an environment in which inclusion drives interaction.

 

What's the most successful initiative you've employed to facilitate those kinds of connections?

Considering we’re a remote-first company, we’ve prioritized virtual work and remote participation. Our playbook serves as our North Star and provides guidelines regarding when and how to work, emphasizing autonomy and asynchronous work. Individuals work best when they’re in control of how they work and live, and our remote-first playbook bolsters this idea. We offer opportunities for teammates to interact during “team weeks,” which enable employees to come together in person to brainstorm, train, engage in cross-functional meetings or simply bond. There’s a sense of nostalgia and belonging associated with shared experiences, and our goal is to provide outlets for our people to connect authentically. 

True connection means providing employees with what they need for themselves and their families.”

 

What impact has this initiative had on your workforce?

As we held “team weeks” throughout the last few months, we’ve seen incredible attendance and a spike in employee happiness. There is a closer relationship between leaders and their teams and greater synergy among teammates. We’ve seen an increase in new ideas and projects as a result of off-site gatherings and brainstorming sessions. An increasing number of employees feel like they’re truly a part of a team and are more deeply connected to our mission, values and each other. Local gatherings are happening more often and organically. 

 

 

Collage of Sendoso team members and office
Sendoso

 

Alexis Kavazanjian
Chief People Officer • Sendoso

 

Sendoso’s platform enables organizations to engage with their customers by sending direct mail and personalized gifts.  

 

Whats the key to creating human connection in the remote workplace?

It isn’t as simple as hosting a happy hour or game night or sending gift cards. Rather, creating human connection requires making employees feel connected with each other from the moment they open their laptops in the morning. We’ve always strived to enable our employees to bring their best selves to work each day. Despite having team members spread across the globe, we’re all still able to connect with each other with the click of a button. From the CEO to the newest employee, everyone has access to our initiatives, programs and activities, which are either virtual or in-person. We’ve promised our employees that we will ensure they feel connected to their teammates and colleagues in other departments. 

 

Whats the most successful initiative you've employed to facilitate those kinds of connections?

Gift-giving is our love language, and we’re continuously finding more passionate people who love our company and understand our commitment to cultivating an inclusive virtual environment. We’ve increased our employee size in the past year, reaching more than 600 team members earlier this month. Given this rapid growth, we want to ensure our community never feels too big. Every employee plays an integral role in our success and helps us execute our OKRs each quarter. We have several Slack channels dedicated to acknowledging the great work our employees do every day as well as our monthly “dream raffle.” Each employee has their “dream gift” they share on their first day during new hire orientation. And during our all-hands meeting each month, we draw a random team member’s name to receive that gift. These are just some of the initiatives we’ve put in place to continually ensure that our employees are recognized for the incredible work they do. 

We want to ensure our community never feels too big.”

 

What impact has this initiative had on your workforce?

We send out an annual employee health survey in order to understand how to create an inclusive environment. This year, we received record-high responses and an overall employee happiness score of 89 percent. The initiatives that my team continues to put in place are dependent on the feedback we receive from our employees, who help us ensure we continually increase the employee happiness score. 

 

 

Nicole Gouig
HR Director • Sparrow

 

Sparrow’s software guides organizations throughout the employee leave management process, from auditing and establishing compliant policies to automation and administration of paperwork. 

 

Whats the key to creating human connection in the remote workplace?

We consider work-life balance a top priority, considering flexibility is a highly sought-after company perk. Even though more companies are returning to the office, we will continue to support remote work by implementing several different strategies to foster virtual connection and collaboration. Technology plays a significant role in creating an effective work-from-home culture, yet companies need more than the best HR tech stack. Organizations need employee participation, which is why we’ve combined technology and people and embedded this union into our business model. This concept is reflected in our culture and our ability to forge connections with each other remotely. 

 

Whats the most successful initiative youve employed to facilitate those kinds of connections?

We have several strategies in place to elevate the remote employee experience. Monthly fireside chats and team gatherings enable team members to connect. “Feel Good Fridays” enable employees to acknowledge accomplishments and recognize their colleagues for great performance. Additionally, we’ve scheduled virtual and in-person events for the entire company, such as virtual painting. Our chief executives participate in these virtual events, which is arguably the most important aspect of cultivating culture. 

We consider work-life balance a top priority.”

 

What impact has this initiative had on your workforce?

We bring truth to the phrase, “happy employees equal happy customers.” Our efforts to drive virtual connection have had a significant impact on our culture, which is reflected in our 99 percent client retention rate. Our customer’s employees often send baby pictures from their recent birthing leave that we helped manage. This illustrates our ability to connect with both internal colleagues and customers and helps drive satisfaction and retention, which directly impacts the success of our business goals. While hybrid working models offer employees great opportunities to engage in person, remote work still renders human connection attainable. Flexibility will continue to be top of mind for employers, so companies must consider new ways to improve the remote employee experience. 

 

 

Lattice colleagues having a team huddle looking at laptops
Lattice

 

Dave Carhart
Vice President of People • Lattice

 

Lattice’s people management software offers assistance with various aspects of HR, from performance reviews and engagement surveys to OKR-tracking and analytics. 

 

Whats the key to creating human connection in the remote workplace, and whats the most successful initiative youve employed to facilitate those kinds of connections?

We’ve launched a few new initiatives to bring human connection to the forefront of the employee experience, including spearheading a number of people-focused campaigns to keep employees engaged and connected. Over the past 18 months, the company has grown three times its original size while remaining committed to its values and mission, strengthening our employee-centric culture, and helping team members navigate the challenges of the pandemic. 

The company has grown three times its original size while remaining committed to its values and mission.” 

 

As we strive to foster transparency, employees have known from the beginning that we would make every effort to keep the team updated in real time while mapping out our hybrid approach, sharing the options under consideration as well as the complexities we faced. This process highlighted our commitment to our values and level of trust in the organization. 

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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