Creating a compelling connections program in your workplace is critical for employee engagement and organizational health — both increasing productivity and decreasing risk. That’s why, especially during this moment of social disconnection and remote work, the best performing teams are facilitating, strengthening, and amplifying new ways for teammates to connect.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Natasha Vo, who manages Global Employee Experience at Okta, and Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu, who leads Facilitation at LifeLabs Learning, on a webinar to learn more about their connections programs. We learned how they’re ideating, structuring, and measuring their programs — and how Donut is supporting these efforts — and they shared more ideas for ways to deepen bonds and engagement when employees are distributed, even around the world. (PS: if you’d like to try their programs out for yourself, you can launch these programs with one click and check out other plug-and-play Donut programs from companies like Buffer and InVision, here).
Vaneeta and Natasha left us with the elements of a successful connections program, and best practices for program success:
- Name it: whether your program is running through Donut or somewhere else, naming makes it an artifact of your culture that’s more referenceable.
- Set a cadence: the most common option is monthly, but you can survey employees to ask what works best for them. With increased workforce changes, people are wanting more opportunities for meetups.
- Give clear instructions: the less confusion about the purpose and means, the more attendance you’ll see. In the kickoff or invite, share why it’s happening, how (and when) assignments are made, meeting structure. When people are left to their own devices, and uncertain about what to expect, they’re more likely to avoid trying something new.
- Share prompts to break the ice: having somewhere to start increases the likelihood that the conversation will happen, and that people will get into it when they do!
- Promote the program: “effective frequency” is the number of times we have to hear a message before we can recall it from memory; research shows we need 6-20 repetitions. You can expect to see a spike in engagement when you promote it, and it’s ok to do so on a recurring basis.
- Encourage executive participation: executive support is critical for any program, but executive participation in a connections program will lead to your best participation from the team — whether it’s reminder messages from the leadership team, or a CEO lottery connections program like Okta!
The DNA of a Connections Program: Purpose, Means, Measurement
When setting up a connections program, it’s important to keep in mind the building blocks of Purpose, Means, and Measurement.
- Purpose: Identify a reason for making this connection. E.g., Why should these teammates be meeting, and why is now the right time? What should they discuss?
- Means: Provide a structure for the meeting. E.g., Should meetings happen IRL or via Zoom? Should they be 30 or 60 minutes? Can they expense coffee?
- Measurement: Keep a pulse on whether meetings occur and your teammates’ feedback. E.g., How many folks are meeting regularly? Has that meeting rate changed? Are they deriving value?
By clearly and succinctly articulating why and how people should be connecting, you will give team members permission and clarity to engage, and minimize the friction of actually meeting. By measuring results, you’ll get an understanding of what is working, so you can iterate and make improvements moving forward.
Here’s how Okta and LifeLabs apply these frameworks and best practices to their own programming:
Okta’s Virtual Coffees
Purpose: Create non-office-based ways for employees to build and strengthen relationships. They want to ensure they’re providing equitable experiences to all employees regardless of where they’re working.
Means: 30 minute virtual coffee, every 2 weeks. How? Pairings are randomized and global. Secret weapon? Donut’s Zoom integration makes for easy, 1-click scheduling.
Measurement: Okta asks the following questions:
Are new people joining in the program? Since they’ve launched Donut, there has been a consistent flow of people joining our coffee pairings channel..
Are people meeting? Donut makes it easy to see if people are meeting!
Is it a positive experience? There has been an overwhelming amount of good feedback from employees, and they keep using Donut to meet!
LifeLabs Learning’s Manager Meetups
Purpose: Support the 4R learning retention framework (ideally but not necessarily) post-training.
1. Role model: help leadership habits stick through social learning.
2. Repeat: nudge practice by creating a space to review tools and skills.
3. Reflect: prompt self-awareness and developmental goal setting.
4. Reinforce: create positive pressure to stay accountable to growth.
Means: 60-minute meetup, monthly. There are two options:
A. Connect a new group of 3-4 different managers for each meetup.
Easy to run, sparks new connections.
B. Establish consistent cohort of 6-10 participants.
Deeper relationships, greater sense of accountability.
Measurement: Check in to see if managers are meeting consistently.
“On a scale of 0-10, how supported do you feel in your development as a manager? What would move your score up by 1 point?”
Other Connections Program Purposes
- Change management
- Employee learning
- CEO lottery
- Connections for new hires
- Virtual socials