You don't come to work to socialise. These words still ring in my ears 15 years since I heard them from my then MD, in a previous events agency. As a young graduate in my first events job, I knew that I would need to take these words seriously if I wanted to make a good impression. Ultimately though, adopting this attitude just didn't feel right. To keep Work Janina and Sociable Janina completely separate was a tough ask. Fast-forward a decade and a switch into a different events agency and much has changed, not only in my own personal role (and life) but in the workplace as a whole.
Firstly, I am no longer operational which means I seldom go on-site for events. If you are an event manager reading this, I'm sure you'll agree that the on-site delivery of an event is one of the reasons we all love this industry. Yes, we like to witness all the months of hard work come to life and to see a smile on the client's face when the audience breaks into applause after the closing plenary, or to wave a cheery goodbye to the delegates having spent a week catamaran-cruising and whale-watching with them during a memorable incentive programme. But, in my opinion, the satisfaction also comes from spending time with your fellow team members in the on-site bubble - overcoming challenges, seeking out on-the-spot solutions, working to a common goal, dining together, laughing (and crying) together and, at times, sharing bedrooms and hair-straighteners. Taking part in the whole experience with your colleagues makes for a serendipitous team-bonding exercise. If you didn't know your team very well before the trip, by the end of the event you are likely to have learned much of their life stories.
But what happens when you're back at HQ? Or what if, like me, you are one of the support teams? How do you replicate the on-site camaraderie? You don't, is the short answer. Let's be clear - the working dynamic on-site is unique - it's the USP of the events industry. However, what we can do is take inspiration from it and bring that sense of collaboration, fun, laughter and team spirit into the office environment. To do this, we need to engage our social side. Cue an area in the office with a table tennis or pool table and funky-coloured bean bags, right? Not necessarily. Ok, it might be cool to have access to such things but it doesn't mean that offering such activities is the key to enhanced team collaboration or that fun is guaranteed. It's about people - simple as that. And being sociable will mean different things to different people.
For me, it is to come together with others, to share ideas, stories and opinions, establish common interests and create meaningful connections that go beyond the world of work. Such connections are proven to contribute to overall employee satisfaction along with a positive outlook, a loyal and engaged workforce, improved morale, trust and - ultimately - increased productivity.
There are many ways in which you can connect people which do not involve table-top games. Picture the scene - a team of five girls and one guy all aged between 20 and 40 at their desks, engaged in a conversation about which is their favourite Madonna song. Before we know it, the conversation (and a quick listen to a few tunes) has sparked ideas and a new initiative is born. Friday Faves is our weekly pre-weekend wind-down - or, you might say, wind-up. Requests are made via our intranet site according to the chosen theme and the DJ (one of the team) will load the tunes onto a playlist and off we go! Not content with simply having the idea, we then documented it, taking our connections to a new level. Last year, our memory jar – which was full of moments in time that we had collected – was opened one lunchtime to re-live said experiences and remind ourselves of the words, phrases, jokes, occasions and milestones that we had all shared during the course of a regular office day.
Feeling comfortable enough to express yourself, share your thoughts and ideas - even the crazy ones - is a good sign. It shows empathy, it shows that you're at ease with the group of people you're with, which, when you need to stay late to work on a project together, means it is a far less arduous task and instead, becomes a moment for the memory jar.
My previous MD has since retired but, given the significant change in attitudes towards employee engagement, I sometimes wonder if she would still think that work is not a place in which to be sociable or if she has changed her outlook. What's important now is that all leaders, whatever the industry, see the benefits of being sociable at work. While I have your attention, what is your favourite Madonna song?
This blog was first featured in C&IT's Summer 2018 Edition.