Around the time of March 2020 when workforces went home en masse and meetings and other work-interactions went virtual, a marked shift in the way colleagues would communicate occurred. After initial struggles with unfamiliar meeting application functions (some to continue – “You’re on mute.”), various frustrations with limitations to the ability to communicate, real or imagined, and various long-held beliefs about how-to-do-business being challenged (“You need to see the whites of their eyes – Sales is a Contact-Sport!”), workers adapted, business continued – even thrived in many cases – and we began to see virtual meetings as something potentially beneficial, rather than an impediment.

The fact is that virtual meetings, conferences and other business practices taking place in the online world have become, if not the new normal, at least a new normal. Even without the hand being forced by pandemics, lockdowns, and so on – it’s hard to see them ever going away now. Interfaces have become easier, more user-friendly and there is plenty of data to suggest efficiency and outcomes can in fact improve when people are working remotely and connecting virtually, sometimes several times a day. An elephant in the room is also that some workers might, well, y’know, prefer things this way. (More time with family, greater work-life balance, less ‘boss-over-your-shoulder’, etc. etc.)

However, if this is the case, which it seemingly is, there is now a challenge for HR teams and social committees in these same businesses. How do you get your team, colleagues, work-mates, to connect in a social or team-building way? A danger of the log-on, log-off model of working from home is that workers might feel a sense of disconnect from the people they work with, and miss the social aspect of working together in an office. Team-building days, company quiz nights, even good ol’ Friday afternoon drinks – these are some things that are obviously more challenging in the working-from-home world. Even now, with smaller offices, desk rosters and people opting for a mixed 2 x office days/3 x working from home days or similar, the challenges are obvious. Sure, you could insist everyone make their way from home to the office for this Friday at 4pm, put on platters and drinks, and have everyone small-talk their way to 5:30 – 6pm before making their way back home. But surely, with the opportunities presented by this online-meeting trend, there is a better way.

Online team-building events have become extremely popular since 2020. Events companies had to act swiftly when COVID hit and offer workforces something which used the online platforms to find a way to still connect, socialise, team-build and have some fun! Online Game Shows, Online Trivia Nights, even Online Friday Night Drinks have become a surprisingly easy and effective way for businesses to still have their various teams get-together and get that all important social interaction and connection. Some businesses even opt, either by choice or through necessity, to have entire conferences virtually. And allocating time for an online social activity has proved vital and extremely popular. Other online social event options companies have chosen to do, particularly for larger Christmas-Party or EOFY events, is rather than dropping $5000 behind a bar in the CBD, send everyone a hamper to be enjoyed at home during some kind of interactive and fun online event. Uber Eats vouchers and Gift Packs easily ordered online are just a couple of examples of simple and enjoyable (and at the end of the day, relatively more cost-effective) ways of sprucing up and catering for an online social event. Ensuring a fun and memorable experience for those participating.

The point of all of this, however, is of course more fundamental. How you choose to connect virtually is less important than the act itself. Connection – that is the point. It is perhaps the greatest challenge of the online world that one of our most primal needs, the need for connection, is by definition impeded by working remotely. To counter this, however, through all the evidence gathered during the last 2+ years of widespread lockdowns and increased working from home, is the fact that connection is STILL possible. On a personal level, professional level and even especially on a social level for businesses. Various studies have shown that having a sense of connected-ness from an individual’s point-of-view to a company or a business produces positive outcomes on nearly every measure: efficiency, loyalty, productivity and in finding creative solutions. Finding ways to stay connected, and even increase a feeling of connection not in-spite of but because of new online ways of communicating, will no-doubt be a key factor in future business success.