I recently returned from GuideStar’s largest office in Williamsburg, Virginia, for our annual All Staff event. This is our version of an “all hands” meeting – the one time of year when employees from all three offices and the ever-expanding list of remote locations gather together in one place. We spent two days in the William and Mary Alumni house learning from our leadership, listening to external speakers and touching base with colleagues that we only see during this valuable time.
Each All Staff, I am reminded why I love working for GuideStar: our people! It’s fantastic to connect in person to those you’ve only ever spoken with via email. I find that you can build real, lasting relationships that go beyond office. In Williamsburg, I discussed Outlander (my newest guilty pleasure) with a vice president and my upcoming wedding with a colleague who works remotely from Hawaii, two conversations that I’d never have the opportunity to bring up in our daily work routine!
However, as the post-All Staff work days roll around, I find myself back at my computer and off of the giddy “high” these conferences so often spark. As one or two frustrating emails inevitably come in, I try to recapture that feeling from All Staff, and remember how to work well with colleagues I don’t see every day. Here are a few quick tips that have helped me so far:
Before / During All Staff – What should you do in preparation to connect better?
Schedule Unstructured Time
At an organization like GuideStar, All Staffs are the only time we all see each other. Therefore, agenda planners such as myself are temped to try to pack the event full of learning opportunities– speakers, breakouts, and other work-related sessions. While these are important of course, don’t undervalue the unstructured time needed to build personal connections. Schedule in lunches, fun activities such as walking tours, ice cream, or the ever-popular happy hour for some non-work related interactive social time. This year, a group of colleagues and I took a “high-intensity” workout class. In between the crazy lunges and planks, I got to chat with wonderful friends who I don’t usually connect with. Social time always has high returns such as lowered stress, so build it into your events!
Build the Bridge
We all have that one colleague. You see an email from that person, and without reading the message, you are immediately on guard. I’m probably that colleague for at least three people (so don’t think you’re immune!) I want you to target that person, and make a connection with them.
This doesn’t mean you have to go out to dinner with them or even sit next to them at an event. But make the effort to have one non-work related conversation. Ask about their families, plans for the summer, or book or movie recommendations. Try to build some kind of bridge between you both. Then, during the next tying time, try to remember that moment, and see if it doesn’t help lower your guard!
Hang out After Hours
As an introvert, the long days of All Staff are exhausting. After spending ten hours together with the entire staff, all I want to do is get a Wawa hoagie, curl up in the hotel and watch Outlander. And while this is a completely valuable thing to do, I urge you to fight through that feeling. Go to the local bar where the rest of the staff is (Applebees, anyone?) or grab dinner with someone you don’t usually see. You may be exhausted when you get home, but those bonding moments are truly invaluable!
After All Staff – You’re back to your home office… now what?
If you made a personal connection with someone, even six months ago, it will be a lot easier to deal with frustrating emails. I guarantee that you’ll see them in a new light – even if their actions haven’t changed. If you’re in a really tense situation with colleagues, bring up old memories. Break the ice with a commonly shared experience, and you’ll instantly be able to relate with them more.
When in doubt, Skype it out
I’ve written about the importance of using video call in the past, and I’ll reiterate: face to face is the best way to communicate, but video call is the second best. If an email chain is getting too tense or complicated, use video chat, and solve the problem together.
Do you have any tips for maintaining the post All-Staff high? Let us know below!
Anisha Singh is Manager of Strategy at GuideStar. She splits her time between the Strategy Team, Finance Team, and Office of the President/CEO. Anisha is a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in International Studies and Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding the best restaurants in town, and annoying her brother with her philanthropy chatter. You can reach Anisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.