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Now you’re talking: why conversation in the workplace matters

For internal communications professionals, using everyday conversations to drive employee engagement can be a powerful tool. It sounds simple, but in my experience talking doesn't come naturally to everyone, for lots of reasons: they're too busy. They're shy. They may not be used to interacting with people outside their own team, or they may just be new to the business.

Encouraging people to talk to each other more isn't rocket science, but that's the point – regardless of team size or budget restraints it's something every internal comms team can do, and it's worth reminding ourselves of that.

Talking is the best way to connect with other people. Research shows us how feeling connected in the workplace leads to successful employee engagement:

  • Employees with a best friend at work can be up to twice as engaged with the business as those without one.
  • One of the keys to wellness in the workplace is helping employees feel like they're part of a community.
  • Modern technology is shaping a culture where we spend more time connected to our workplace than ever and it's where many of our social interactions happen. So modern workers, especially millennials, want time to meaningfully engage with each other.

Once it's part of your employee engagement strategy, there are lots of opportunities for us to create the time and space for people to talk. It doesn't really matter what the conversation is about, but the only objective should be having a chat and getting to know the other person.

For instance, whenever I design an event I always work in some time for conversations. You can facilitate these through a structured ice breaker, or if you want a lighter touch I like to welcome people into the room by saying: 'Please talk among yourselves for a minute while we get set up. Does everyone know the person sitting next to you?'. That way you've given the group the opportunity to talk without the pressure of a formal networking session.

Another way to drive workplace conversations is to think about channels. Does your company have a social networking platform where people can talk and share what they're up to? If you don't and there's no prospect of one, is your office kitchen a nice space for people to stop for a natter at lunchtime? Make encouraging that part of your company culture. Consider putting up print materials or leaving copies of your newsletter there as talking points (I once worked in a company where there were crosswords left in the canteen every day for people to work on in groups).

If you have a social committee or wellbeing team they should be your number one advocates. Find out how you can help them in reaching broader audiences or creating content that gives people a reason to talk. If managers are reluctant to have their teams making small talk during busy working hours, encourage them to still get involved in the lunchtime chats and social media conversations. Remind them that having more conversations can drive team building, which leads to positive employee experiences, which lead to improvements in business productivity.

Finally, you may also find that by creating more occasions for informal conversation you're doing yourself a favour too. Internal communications teams are often small, and our roles can be lonely. It's important for us to stay engaged wherever we can. For business reasons we want to keep our finger on the pulse to know what's happening in the organisation. But it also matters for our wellbeing – when thinking about the engagement levels of everyone else you can forget that it's just as important for you to feel a genuine connection to your own colleagues and workplace community.​

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