Whether we realize it or not, people practice rituals at work. Have you noticed how people connect about the weather before a meeting? Humans are physical creatures and our shared experience (or not) is the surrounding physical environment. Weather is a way to connect and show empathy for someone’s physical being. It’s a neutral way for people to connect. In pre-Covid times, you might have heard a colleague say something like, “Sorry I am late. I just came from another meeting.” This explanation is about the person’s changing experience of place and the words are a common expression of respect for others’ time. It is also a roundabout way of saying, “Please give me a moment of your patience while I settle my mind and body into this next workflow.”
There is an ancient connection between ritual and human behavior. At work they have become gateways between contexts, but they can also be used to set the stage for behavior that is yet to come. Covid has disrupted much of what we used to experience together, and it has forced us into new work/life circumstances. There is a new and urgent importance for company cultures to be preserved and adapted into the online form. Organizational as well as individual employee health, resilience and happiness is at stake.
Culture and Employee Retention
As the use of collaboration tools and technologies has skyrocketed this year, many companies are playing culture catch-up as they try to adapt formerly in-person rituals and behavior to the new setting online. Not being able to be physically present erodes how we connect and communicate. When 70 – 93% of all communication is non-verbal, virtual meetings are a less than ideal replacement, and company culture is at risk.
Culture has been found to be the context that affects the relationship between job satisfaction and employee intent to leave an organization. A Columbia University study found that companies with high performing cultures “produce excellent results, attract, motivate, and retain talented employees, and adapt readily to change.” Those companies with high culture had a 13.9% probability of employee turnover as opposed to 48.4% probability among employees in companies with low culture.
One of the best mediums for perpetuating company values and spreading culture through behavior and ritual is to shift communications into an employee social network.
Employee Social Networks, a Virtual Meeting Alternative
As the global pandemic has worn on, people are reaching personal breaking points after months of forced adaptation to the totally online work experience; many feel “Zoomed out” and exhausted. Employee social networks (ESNs) present many possibilities in the form of bi-directional and social communication. They are anti-email and offer an antidote to virtual meetings because they provide way for employees to convene digitally, but don’t require sustained visual communication. For more than a decade, Talk Social to Me has been helping companies use their investments in employee social networks to improve organizational health and operations. Using hosted discussion events and “Ask Me Anything,” or open question and answer events, employee social networks can help rebuild how employees, their managers, and most critically how executives connect with their workforces.
One Talk Social to Me customer CHRO shared that her daily ritual was to engage in the company’s Yammer social network to get in touch with the pulse of what employees were saying, thinking, and expressing. She said looking into the social network was a ritual she practiced daily, engaging in the platform along with her morning coffee. Among TSTM clients, we’ve also found Groups of Interest to be enormously important for people who are still building their comfort with online engagement. Groups of interest offer a virtual social and/or “rest and recreation spaces” to help replace some of the lost personal interaction employees used to have in physical workplaces. They are also invaluable for people to make interest-based connections with people outside their immediate teams, groups, or business divisions.
Awareness Building Rituals
“Today I want to always acknowledge that I am sitting on the traditional, ancestral and un-ceded territory of the Eastern band of Cherokee people where I’m teaching and working and learning from today — in Asheville, North Carolina.” – Desiree Adaway, Principal, The Adaway Group
In response to current racial justice events, the Talk Social to Me team committed to attending an educational webinar series called Whiteness at Work to collectively examine bias and bias perpetration in our work with client organizations. The Adaway Group’s four educational webinars includes an introduction ritual where speakers state their name, the organization they are from, and their preferred gender pronouns. Most powerfully, introductions close with each person taking time to acknowledge the land s/he/they are currently occupying as they present.
What is interesting to note here is that even in the physical context of a virtual webinar, this ritual grounds us in where our physical selves are located in the moment as we are attending the webinar. It also normalizes acknowledging the historical context of place and inspires people to learn and integrate in a knowledge of history.
Ritual and Culture are Functional
In almost every sector, notably medicine, energy and manufacturing, ritual serves critical functions. Rituals and culture are often key components for the preservation of safe work environments. At United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, Talk Social was able to integrate mobile adoption and use of a collaboration platform into a corporate culture that already had strong rituals and practices dedicated to keeping employees safe. In medicine the Hippocratic oath is famous. Earlier this year New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, digitally convened the taking of the oath in order to bring more medical students into the practice sooner in response to the overwhelming needs created by Covid-19.
Among Talk Social to Me clients, most rituals we find are among teams and divisions. They are important ways to operationalize change and are most often shared among people who are physically together. We observe and try to emulate these aspects of each company’s unique culture when we coach and help launch programs to create meaningful and business-relevant engagement. It’s worth considering for your own company: a global pandemic can be a terrible time for organizational change. On the other hand, if your company culture is at risk, maybe a global pandemic is great time to re-birth rituals and culture needed to adapt.
If you’re looking to leverage your organization’s employee social network to improve organizational health and operations, Talk Social to Me can help. Contact us.