It’s time to re-connect

by Emily Petty

Humans have a basic need to connect – to be loved. Maslow’s hierarchy of need places love and belonging as the third human need after basic physiological needs and safety. However, studies on infants have shown that if you leave an infant with no physical contact but make sure they are fed and clean they fail to thrive, develop or grow.

Like infants we need to feel connected to those around us if we are going to succeed and thrive at work.

Sadly, we are feeling more disconnected than ever. Take the open plan office, the theory is that by having everyone working in one space you are instantly connected with your colleagues. And yet studies have shown that the open plan office decreases connection and increases stress. An article in Arch Daily ‘Why open plan offices don’t work and some alternatives that do’ said of a test of open plan working “The employees suffered according to every measure, the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and instead of feeling closer, co-workers felt distant, dissatisfied and resentful.”

Remote working is on the rise – which is a good thing. But having managed a remote team, I know the challenges and opportunities this brings. When teams creating connection is all the more important. Often really small things can become big barriers. For example, if you have regular conference calls it is important to notice if someone isn’t contributing and ask if there is a problem. It might be that they feel un prepared, perhaps they don’t have the agenda or they don’t know who else is in the room. Small things that often get overlooked can increase the sense of isolation and loneliness.


Loneliness is directly related to stress, anxiety and exhaustion. In ‘Dare to Lead’ Brené Brown shares the story of Colonel DeDe Halfhill who is Director of innovation, analysis and leadership development for Air Force Global Strike Command made up of 33,000 officers and enlisted and civilian airmen. At a presentation she opened the floor to questions, an airman asked if the work was going to slow down because everyone was really tired. As she explored the issue with the group it soon became clear that the group were actually lonely – they had no connection and that was causing them to become burnt out.

If staff do not feel connected, they do not feel safe or able to speak up when things are going wrong, no one wants to be the dissenting voice. Trust breaks down and there is a lack of psychological safety.


Here are a few thoughts and ideas. I’ve tried some of these sometimes they have worked sometimes they haven’t. But if we don’t try, we will never really open ourselves up to those around us.

Starts with the leader – You can’t expect your team to build connection if you do not model the behaviour in the daily life of your team. Creating connection is about building trust. Building trust takes time and is about the small, seemingly insignificant actions that complied together make a strong bond. John Gottman from University of California says. “Trust is built in very small moments, which I call ‘Sliding doors’ moments.” That might be the opportunity to quickly thank someone for their contribution in a meeting as you walk back to your desks or being available for people to feedback or mention a new idea to you – it is the compounding effect of those moments that build connection.

Create physical or virtual space for teams to connect – I don’t have the answer to the open plan office and working from home challenges but it is really important to be conscious of making space for people to both interact and get deep work done. Have a think about

  • The space in your office for staff to relax and spend time together.
  • Where is the kettle or water cooler? Could they be in a place that helps different teams interact in new ways?
  • How are you using virtual tools? Why not create a quick and simple virtual check in system with your remote team so each day you are asking how people are and if they have any challenges?

Create moments to connect – some of these ideas might seem cheesy but it is also true that sometimes we have to deliberately encourage connection.

  • Start a meeting with success sharing – encourage people to share what they are pleased about and why.
  • Play the sit-down game – see my previous blog
  • Try a classic team building game like the marshmallow and spaghetti game. Make sure you allow time for the group to reflect on what it felt like, what they learnt etc.
  • Lego Model Game – Sometimes it is a big ask to ask people to share how they are feeling. The Lego Model game gives the group lots of broken up Lego people. Ask the group to create their Lego model to reflect how they feel today. It gives people the space to have a cow girl head and a surfer body and explain why.
  • Have regular feedback sessions – regularly asking the team to simply reflect on What Went Well and what could have been Even Better If opens dialogue and encourages a culture of feedback and learning from failure.

I challenge you to try at least one of these ideas and see how things change – then keep going. Building any relationship takes time, connecting is made due to a series of small actions.


Emily Petty, is a culture and fundraising consultant. She is passionate about helping charities build a relationship led approach to fundraising and supporting them to unlock potential and manage change. You can find her on Twitter @EmilyPetty1 and on LinkedIn.


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