Leadership Advice

Managers: Take a few minutes to talk about nothing special

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

A recent New York Times article struck me as truly sad. “If you never met your co-workers in person, did you even work there?” shares stories of people who started remote jobs during the pandemic, never made deep personal connections, and quit.

One of my favorite leadership scholars sums it up neatly:

“If you’re in a workplace or a job where there is not the emphasis on attachment, it’s easier to change jobs, emotionally,” said Bob Sutton, an organizational psychologist and a professor at Stanford University.

Communication connects us to others. Distance makes that more difficult.

Remote work requires us to make appointments to talk with colleagues outside of scheduled meetings. We may presume that’s a burden to others — one more Zoom chat on a too-full day — and that our outreach should involve truly important or urgent topics.

We may lose the small talk that isn’t really that small at all. 

Casual chats are windows into what makes us tick. They’re an opportunity to clarify what we might otherwise misperceive. Or thank yous delivered face-to-face with a heartfelt tone that texts can lack. Or a “you okay?” moment that opens us to candor. Or a shared armchair analysis of why “Ted Lasso” is such a tonic for managers.

In journalism, some of our best work friendships have always been built in the trenches. They grew out of assignments where we fended off frostbite or sunburn, took turns picking which fast food outlet to endure, or whose playlist would air during a drive. They took root in the newsroom — where we debated an edit, ate pizza on election nights (and mornings), and walked out of meetings together buzzing about what was really going on in there. They happened in hallways, break rooms, and even bathrooms as we chatted about families, shopping finds, and holiday plans.

We didn’t make appointments to talk about these little things, these “nothing special” things, when we shared the same workspaces.

In our remote environments, we need to, because relationships are built on these everyday exchanges. Let’s not walk away from them, because it can make it all too easy to walk away from each other. 

Managers, please let your remote team members know that you always have a few minutes for them — to talk about nothing special at all.


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