For some time, I’ve been looking for one “source” that curates modern takes on HR Tech, perspectives from the people who build it, and its impact on enterprise — something that’s tailor-made by professionals for decision-makers.
I never found it — so I decided to build it.
Every week, I’ll be sharing fresh insights on tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.
This week, we’re joined by guest author EJ Amobi.
My name is EJ Amobi. I am a consultant at our SEI Philadelphia office, and I am thrilled to be stepping in as this week’s guest author of Exit Interview!
As I was writing, the theme of this newsletter quickly became clear: connection. Not just “circling back” or “touching base,” but finding the ways, value, and meaning to connect authentically in a hybrid world. In addition to my roles in client delivery, I am heavily involved in SEI Philadelphia’s business development efforts. Outside of the many wonderful elements of work culture we experience as consultants, it’s undoubtedly the best part of my job. Meeting new people, challenging our ways of thinking, and deepening professional skill sets are all byproducts of connection — and I want to use this as an opportunity to dive deeper into these topics.
I hope you enjoy, and if you have any thoughts or want to talk more, I’m all ears.
Tech Innovation at Work
Casual human connection in the workplace is essential, and the transition to remote work has done away with nearly all the ways we used to engage socially with coworkers over non-work issues. (Even if employees are back in the office, simple things like a water cooler, once a beacon for workers to gather around and shoot the breeze, is now more likely to be seen as an unnecessary transmission risk than a place for camaraderie.)
Fully remote workers are most at risk of suffering from a lack of connection at work, especially in a hybrid environment. It’s not easy to log onto a virtual meeting and see two or three heads crammed into a single screen, smiling and chatting just inches from each other in real life.
Recognizing and combating feelings of isolation is a much more relevant and pressing job for leaders than it was just a few years ago. Without social relationships at work, employees are more likely to feel disengaged and disconnected, primed to become another statistic of the Great Resignation at the expense of you and your teams. And while starting each meeting with a few minutes of small talk is a great start, I believe we can and should take a more “hair of the dog” approach. Technology may be the catalyst enabling workers to feel more isolated, but it can help reverse it, too — and even make it better than before.
Wisq is a company doing just that. It is a startup that caught my eye recently with an announcement of their $20 million Series A funding round that they’ll be putting towards their mission of making work more social. Regardless of whether a company is in-person, remote, or hybrid, people are most likely to form connections with those closest to them, keeping relationships mainly within teams or departments. Wisq is like an HR-approved dating app for work friends. There’s the traditional profile and bio, but instead of career history or rhetoric about what their role in the organization includes, Wisq pushes employees to showcase their life outside of work. Suddenly, realizing you share an interest with someone you don’t overlap with in day-to-day tasks isn’t limited to overhearing their conversation at a holiday party.
In this way, digital tools can foster social connections even better than a water cooler can. It’s an important lesson, especially for leaders who are digging in their heels and losing talent who aren’t willing to return to the office: being together and promoting a sense of togetherness don’t always go hand in hand.
The Changing Workplace
That’s my take on forming connections with people you work with, but what about people you want to work with? Networking: besides the water cooler, it’s probably the most prominent loss in the new world of work, with the prevalence of mixers and in-person events severely decreased this year.
As a result, many people feel that networking is becoming a sort of lost art. Gen Z has clearly indicated they are perfectly comfortable seeking out and forming professional connections online. But what about us — those who still enjoy and value in-person interactions? As my colleague, Herve, explained in his recent Exit Interview about augmented intelligence, people are socially-minded. And, even though we now realize we have the capabilities to operate a professional environment virtually, it’s not a crime to prefer in-person experiences.
Still, just as the way we work and live has shifted, so must our understanding of and strategies for networking. And so, the last thing I’ll offer you all are the four biggest things I’ve come to find are vital for networking in the new normal:
- Seek opportunities to make connections everywhere. For better or worse, it’s true that personal and professional lives are overlapping more and more. And with remote work reducing our chances for serendipitous meetings in the office, coffee shop, or subway, mixing business and pleasure has become more important than it was before. Some of my best professional opportunities have come from being open to meeting people within my philanthropic work and getting to know other parents through my sons’ many extracurriculars.
- Listen actively. Have you ever addressed someone in a virtual meeting and had to repeat your input or question for a colleague that clearly wasn’t paying attention to what you were saying? Active listening is an oft-discussed, minimally-implemented skill important to all interactions and connections. Listening actively conveys that you are engaged in what someone is saying through verbal and nonverbal cues. In networking, it can help you identify potential pain points that could become opportunities to further a professional relationship, but it also holds the benefit of building your own empathy.
- Find joy in the connection, and opportunities will come in due time. This type of networking can, should, and will take much longer than other methods of prospecting, and, above all, you should genuinely enjoy spending time with those you’re hoping will one day offer promising business dealings. For this reason, it’s expected that not every connection you seek will work out.
- Offer advice rather than try to solve their problems. When that connection does become a meaningful social connection, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by being too salesy. The easiest way to implement this strategy is to allow them to bring up a problem rather than trying to identify one for them. Not only is it tactless, but it can quickly damage what is first and foremost some level of meaningful connection. Because you’ve built a genuine connection with this person, whatever pitch you may have should sound and feel more like you’re offering advice to a friend.
Click here to subscribe to Exit Interview, a weekly email about tech platforms, design, data, and the future of work — straight to your inbox.