19 July 2022

Rethinking Connection at Work: A Premise

Heather Gilmartin Adams
Research Lead

TL;DR

  • We’re studying connection in the workplace
  • Connection is critical to employee engagement and organizational performance
  • There’s a connection crisis in many organizations
  • We want to know: How can organizations can most effectively foster the connections that matter to them?

Why talk about connection at work?

You've probably heard that connection is important to humans—that we are social creatures. That for our ancestors, social isolation could be deadly.

So you may not be surprised that connection at work is important, too. It may not be a matter of life or death as it was for our ancestors, but feeling connected—to others and to the organization—has a huge effect on employees. Connection typically improves an employee’s experience at work and allows them to do better work.

More specifically, connection at work is critical to things like employee engagement, sense of belonging and well-being, individual performance, collaboration, and innovation:

  • Gallup’s research has established a link between employee engagement and having a best friend at work.
  • Research in organizational network analysis (ONA)—for example, by Rob Cross and Michael Arena—shows how employee connections affect their teams’ ability to openly share ideas, communicate, and innovate.
  • RedThread’s research found that connection has become a critical component of performance management since the pandemic started.

In other words: connection is good for employees and for the organization.

But connection at work isn’t what it used to be.

We’re in a connection crisis

The last few years have upended how people connect at work. First there was a forced, mass move to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A settling-in to new routines. Then some stop-and-go progress toward hybrid work. All this in an environment of economic uncertainty as well as social and political tension in many places and on many topics.

During the pandemic, professional networks shrunk dramatically—by 16%, according to researchers King and Kovacs. As a result, many people feel less connected to their colleagues and organizations.

This connection crisis is an increasingly hot topic, particularly as research reveals the extent of the problem. We’re seeing an uptick in published articles and discussions about how employees and leaders can (re)build and strengthen connections in their organizations.

As organizations move from pandemic to post-pandemic, we think it’s worth considering how they can not only rebuild relationships that were lost during the pandemic, but establish ways of connecting that will set them up for the future. That’s why we’re launching new research focused on rethinking connection in organizations.

What we’ll research

As we launch this research, our overarching question is:

How can organizations most effectively foster the connections that matter to them?

In particular, we'll be looking at 2 areas:

  • The types of connections that matter in organizations
  • The ways organizations can enable connection

We think there are more types of connections and more ways to enable connection than are featured in the current conversation. A broader understanding of connection may help organizations more effectively address the connection crisis.

At RedThread, we believe in “doing research out loud” by opening our research process to practitioners across the community. It makes us smarter and helps everyone gather ideas from a wider pool of people. To participate in the roundtable and / or interviews for this and other RedThread research projects, please reach out!

 

 

 

 

Heather Gilmartin Adams

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