Apparently, it does, but then again it may well be another myth that needs some busting when talking about the impact of remote / distributed work in shifting plenty of our mental models, behaviours and habits in terms of how work does happen nowadays. You see? Small talk hasn’t always had a good reputation. In fact, quite the contrary, it’s been considered a bit of a drag, to the point of having its own issues, specially, in this so-called hybrid workplace environment in which we are, literally, working from anywhere. So, why the fuss then, you may be wondering, right?
Why, all of a sudden, over the course of nearly three years now, certain people have been telling us, through different means, mostly mainstream news outlets and media interviews of high profile executives, they are truly missing the small talk while at the office. You know, the chit chat that usually happens just before that meeting starts, or while you are waiting to grab a cup of coffee / tea, or perhaps at the canteen, or even while walking down the corridor for your next appointment. All of that while, in reality, they just keep suffering from the 11th floor syndrome.
Do we miss small talk then? Apparently, we do. However, I beg to differ. We miss the fact we no longer converse with our colleagues, as we have moved away from the traditional office. Before we used to do it via osmosis, of all things, nowadays, we are terrified of intentionally reaching out to different folks, you know, to just have a chat. Oh dear. What’s happening to us and our deep conversations? Where did they go? Where did we go?
What’s wrong, seriously? I mean, small talk has got many benefits, according to different pieces of research, but at the same time it looks like we keep failing at identifying what we really mean with such informal exchanges of information, knowledge and experiences. It’s just as if we can only have small talk when we are all physically co-located, when, if you have been working long enough, either remotely or distributedly, you know that this is definitely not the case.
Worth noting for virtual work: office small talk really does matter. Causal, dull chitchat fosters connection & increases well-being at work, even though it is often distracting as well. Even people who prefer solitude can benefit. It is worth making time for small talk virtually pic.twitter.com/KaWNQ1LzEw
— Ethan Mollick (@emollick)
Like I was saying, small talk does have a massive business value proposition, from helping you build your own social capital and trust skills within (and beyond!) the organisation, to building incredibly powerful networks of both strong and weak ties. One conversation at a time. Yet, we keep getting trapped by the same false narratives, again, instigated by certain people, that try to undermine this brave new-normal of working distributedly that we’ve now both embraced and adapted to.
Whether you’re working from anywhere, or at the traditional office, the truth is we all need small talk. No matter how long, or how short, we all benefit from it. To the point where I have always strongly believed it’s one of the most powerful tools we have in our possession to help us strengthen our (personal business) relationships . Yet, why do we keep associating those informal exchanges as only exclusively available at a physical space, usually, an office, even for socialising?
Take, for instance, this recent article published at HBR under the heading ‘To Get People Back in the Office, Make It Social’ with a rather provocative question I thought was while reproducing over here:
‘[…] So, the question becomes, what is a compelling reason to come into the office? When asked what would motivate them to come into the office, employees had a resounding answer: social time with coworkers.’ [Emphasis mine]
Oh, hold on, it gets better. Much better:
‘Our latest research at Microsoft reveals the answer may lie in what I believe should be front and center for every leader: reconnecting employees.‘
Oh, you didn’t have enough with that one? Let me add another one then, please, if I may:
‘It’s simple: People care about people.‘
Can I cry now? Maybe not. At least, not yet. Perhaps we would need to go through these statements first from the same article:
- ‘85% of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds.
- 84% of employees would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize with coworkers.
- 74% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their “work friends” were there.
- 73% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there.’
Oh, dear, I am done. I can start crying now, ok?
Where the h*ck have people been the last 18 years? I mean, in what other planet have knowledge (Web) workers been living in during all of those years after Web 2.0 (2004), then Enterprise 2.0 (2006), then Social Business (2009) took the business world by storm? Am I the one who has been living in another planet and I just didn’t know it? Really?
Gosh, I am starting to wonder …
But wait, don’t rush into despair just yet, there is still more coming out of that article:
‘Leaders need to intentionally use the office to rebuild social capital: the value workers get from their networks, like getting new ideas and inspiration, being able to ask for help or advice, or finding new career growth opportunities. Social capital isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s crucial so that employees can do their best work and organizations can keep innovating. […]’
You know where I am heading, don’t you? You know exactly what has been missing so far everyone seems to have been ignoring right from the start. What I haven’t mentioned just yet, what plenty of other people, specially, senior leaders / managers didn’t even seem to have in their vocabulary, right from the very beginning, because you know, why bother when we all know it will all disappear in just a couple of years from now (=then).
I don’t know about you, but I am about to burst into tears just thinking about all of those wonderful wasted years, while those same executives / senior leaders offer us kindly three ways to lure us all back in the office to get back to work and re-build our social capital:
- ‘Strip away busywork
- Create new in-person rituals
- Whatever you do, do it with authenticity’
Well, allow me then to share an additional way of how we can thrive with our orchestrated (=facilitated) serendipitous knowledge discoveries, small talk, social capital, building stronger personal business relationships, and what not; collaborating, cooperating, innovating, co-creating, learning, sharing more effectively, while we continue to work from anywhere, thank you very much:
- Starting using an Enterprise Social Networking platform (ESN).
(You are already 16 years too late! About time you talk AND do Social. And mean it.)
Oooh, and, please, Yammer (or MSFT VIVA Engage) doesn’t count, I’m afraid. It’s just an Activity Stream of sorts. You’d need a proper ESN to work the magic. To properly understand what it is like becoming a Distributed, Socially Integrated Enterprise.