Aquent Off Hours
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Aquent Off Hours

Rituals: The missing link in the hybrid workplace.

Employees are craving something more than just better meetings. Creating rituals will give it to them.

Let’s skip the part about whether or not workers need to return to the office. Having hosted over 170 roundtables with senior design leaders during this pandemic, I know for a fact there’s no clear answer to that one. But, I’ve also learned this: workers today are craving connection, meaning, and purpose. And when they don’t get it, they leave.

Given that a record 4.5 million US employees quit their jobs in March and there are now two job openings for every unemployed person, companies clearly haven’t figured out how to provide those crucial elements at work. That leaves managers with the heavy lift of solving the problem while continuing to hire, onboard, innovate, and deliver results. Exhausting.

A powerful way to engage teams: create team rituals. In “Rituals at Work: Teams That Play Together Stay Together,” researchers found that performing a group bonding activity led to a “16 percent increase in how meaningful employees judged their work to be…” which also improved motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity. Sounds great, right? But before you go out and institute a Walmart Cheer of your own, you’ve got to figure out what your team would actually go for — and find valuable.

And so, in our most recent roundtables, leaders in our InsideOut Design Leader Community brainstormed ways to create meaningful rituals that connect their remote and hybrid teams. Some of their suggestions are best for onsite, and some are fabulous for boosting remote relationships. To create a more inclusive culture, leaders agreed that the best approach is a mix of both in-person and virtual options.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, successful rituals share three traits: relevance, intention, and authenticity. Hope these real-world examples from some brilliant senior leaders spark ideas for new rituals that you can explore with your own team!

RELEVANCE

Instead of creating rituals that seem fun but have little or nothing to do with the work, consider creating rituals that tie into their actual job and enhance your team’s skills.

Mystery Guest. One senior leader hosts a weekly virtual call on Fridays that introduces her team to others around the organization in a clever way. She brings a mystery guest to their virtual call (with the camera off, muted, and name disguised), and the staff gets to ask personal questions, which the guest answers in chat, to figure out who it is!

Feedback Loop. Feedback is a gift and one that shouldn’t be reserved for annual performance reviews. Create a ritual that encourages your team to share their kudos and critiques on a regular basis. One leader uses Kudoboard to capture and share accolades easily. Another uses a Miro board with everyone’s name on it, asking team members to pick five people to write something nice about and connect those comments with their own name. A third uses their retrospectives to solicit peer reviews of the work.

Tool Tip Day. Technology can be a friend or foe, but few workers have time to sift through demos and trainings to improve their skills. One brilliant ops leader hosts a weekly call to share tips on how to use their most important tools, and to improve engagement. He promotes his session with playful language in a Slack channel that draws staff in for a fun event.

Flex Creative Muscles. Most designers enjoy using their creative skills both inside and outside of work. To foster those interests, look for moments like internal gift exchanges to encourage creativity in gift-giving or even gift wrapping. One leader uses a digital whiteboard for their employees to co-design a custom pattern for a onesie that they give to new parents. What a fabulous way to celebrate future team members!

INTENTION

Rituals are a terrific way to show your company’s commitment to your staff’s wellbeing and go beyond lip service, encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work.

Meditation Mondays. One in-tune leader kicks off the week with a brief guided meditation with her team to set the tone before jumping right into work. They start the call with cameras on to connect and check in, then turn off cameras to meditate. There are lots of great resources (many free!) that offer short meditations and make it easy to give this idea a try.

Wellness Moments. On the recommendation of one of her staff, one leader carved out time in standing meetings to give their team space to talk about wellness. A simple breathing exercise with one staff member led to others sharing their learnings from personal journeys to overcome issues, bringing them together in human ways that helped them find common ground.

Connect on Brand Values. There’s a reason (beyond money) your team chose your company and shows up every day. Look for ways to bring core values to life by creating rituals that show your team their impact or how they can use those same values to enrich their own lives. For example, several outdoor lifestyle companies carve out time from work for their employees to experience the very activities they support. If your mission statement encourages freedom, find ways to show your team that their freedom is equally important.

AUTHENTICITY

Any ritual you propose or support should be genuine. If not, your team will know. Tapping into the outside interests of your team can create unique experiences that bond your staff.

Cool Questions. We are so much more than our work. Any existing meeting can be enhanced by adding questions that uncover personal preferences and interests, creating a simple ritual to kick off or close it. A couple of awesome questions from our recent roundtable: “What did you collect when you were a kid?” or “What’s a toy you wanted as a kid that you didn’t get?” Either of these can uncover hidden passions and help staff find things in common.

Keep it Simple. Maybe physical activity resonates with your group? If so, use that. One leader brought their team together to do ten push-ups on a regular basis, which ultimately led to them doing 100! Another worked up to holding a 3-minute plank. If you’ve got a bunch of foodies, have them share a picture of something they cooked last week — anything. The leader whose team did that ended up sharing recipes and learning new techniques. And for in-person connections, consider Taste Test Tuesday, where someone brings four different flavors of a food item (think potato chips), then conducts a blind taste test to identify them.

Lead the Way. Rituals don’t have to be structured activities to have an impact. Leaders have an opportunity to normalize authentic sharing by being open about their own challenges, like caretaker issues. By openly blocking time on their calendars for self-care and meals, they send the message to their teams that it’s not only okay, but important.

If you really want to craft rituals that stick, draw ideas from your team and give them the time, space, and budget to run it themselves. And always explain the WHY behind whatever you choose, which is a powerful way to reinforce team norms that drive culture. Besides, there’s nothing worse than giving your team just another meaningless activity to do, together or not.

One last note about rituals: they create consistency, which can be an anchor during constant change, and equally important, they create shared experiences and memories. By doing that, you provide a more meaningful structure for your team. This is so important, since we humans are lonelier than ever and crave deeper connections.

Not convinced that rituals should be an integral, immediate part of your team interactions? There are tons of studies, like the robust 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index, that clearly illustrate how very disconnected and confused employees feel — and how that is leading to their decisions to find other roles that have meaning. Engage your team today to uncover opportunities to connect them to one another with rituals that resonate.

Why do I care? My mission is to connect leaders to find solutions. If you’re a senior design, experience, or operations leader of an in-house team and want to connect to others who share your unique challenges, let’s talk. Our InsideOut community hosts virtual roundtables to support the learning, growth, and sanity of our members, and I’m honored to facilitate those discussions. You can find more learnings from our group on our InsideOut blog. Let’s keep learning together!

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Aquent Off Hours / Reflections after a hard day’s work.

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Susie Hall

Susie Hall

I connect design, experience & ops leaders through live roundtables that build networks & solve real-world problems faster. Join us: aquent.com/insideout

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