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Small talk, big impact

Pascal Rotteveel, Executive Creative Director, Western Europe at VIRTUE introduces a new digital app designed to recreate random moments of office social interaction to maintain company culture.

Pascal Rotteveel, VIRTUE

Executive Creative Director, Western Europe

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COVID has taught me many things. The adaptability of human beings, the ache of my kitchen table chairs, the asperity of our unequal society and the underestimation of water coolers and coffee machines impact on company culture.

Whether it serves Kopi Luwak, Jamaican Blue Mountain or instant coffee, it’s the conversations around the coffee machine that matter. A study by the University of Michigan showed small talk enhances executive functioning, a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. In other words, small talk made people better at their job, in both social and non-social activities. Another study by the Academy of Management showed that small talk promotes wellbeing and mental health, contributes to positive emotions of employees and fosters good workplace citizenship.

So, that seemingly insignificant chit chat about weekend benders, vegan recipes or cross fit scores are worth more than the occasional raised eyebrow. They’re a driving force behind innovation, collaboration and efficiency. An invisible machine that propels company performance forward, and ‘rona pulled the plug on this invisible machine.

Having a dedicated space that encourages social interaction for the sake of social interaction, is something that the efficiency-focused, agenda-packed video meetings don’t deliver.

Pascal Rotteveel

Maintaining the company culture

Halfway in 2019 we rolled out a new company structure that enabled us to work as one team scattered across 21 different countries. An exciting way of working as we can now easily tap into resources from all around the world, building custom teams based on client needs. For a global campaign we can have a Creative Director from Shanghai team up with a creative from Paris and New York, have an Account Manager from London and a Designer from Amsterdam, ensuring you get the best creative quality that resonates in every market.

One of the challenges in this way of working is maintaining your company culture. How do you make someone that sits on the other side of the world, feel as close to you as the people that sit next to you at the office? A question we were thinking about, before a raging pandemic changed life as we know it.

We had set up multiple initiatives to bring people closer together, from new brainstorming tools, work processes and reporting structures. Once COVID hit, this new way of working got a baptism of fire even though it was far from finished. We were set up for remote working, but having an entire company work from home in 21 different countries all at once had a side effect we hadn’t thought about yet. What a lot of people might recognise is that we weren’t taking breaks anymore. We were being as efficient and productive as possible to ensure we were actually working despite being at home. This meant meetings became more practical and efficient but less social, which can be harmful to any company's cultural fabric.

Have a Chit Chat

In order to stimulate the culture and protect our people we created Chit Chat. A small talk enabling Slack tool that connects people to random colleagues from around the world for five minutes, after which they automatically get connected to someone else. If the conversations are great you can extend it and you can get talking points if you run into awkward silences. The tool worked so well, that we thought of giving it away for the world to use for free.

The best way to use it is to plan set moments in people's calendars, like you would have a 10am coffee break, an after-lunch ciggy or Friday afternoon drinks. That way you ensure that there’s always someone to talk to. The responses so far have been very positive, and we’ve seen it bring people closer together, build team spirit, collaboration and it makes people take a little break more often.

Sure, Chit Chat can’t beat meeting your colleagues face to face over a mediocre cup of coffee. However, having a dedicated space that encourages social interaction for the sake of social interaction, is something that the efficiency-focussed, agenda-packed video meetings don’t deliver. Something we shouldn’t underestimate.

We’ve been able to find surprising solutions to problems we were experiencing all around the world in 2020.

Pascal Rotteveel

Bringing social interaction back

Because, although efficiency and performance focussed teams sound great, multiple studies including from Queen's University Centre for Business Venturing and the Journal of Organizational Behaviour have shown that a focus on organisational culture yields better results than focussing on performance on almost any front. From employee retention, to customer satisfaction and even productivity. So, it takes no genius to understand that having your entire workforce separated with minimal social interactions, isn’t a recipe for greatness when it comes to culture and performance.

When I came back to work – read, my desk at home - after the holidays I was full of energy ready to take on a new year, only to realise that the pandemic hasn’t been too intimidated by the arrival of 2021. Nothing more crushing than the realisation that besides the last number in a year, nothing much has changed. Yet another reason to bring more of those social interactions back into the digital workplace as much as we can. It will help battle Blue Monday, hit the Q1 results and maybe even bring fun back into our future.

We’ve been able to find surprising solutions to problems we were experiencing all around the world in 2020. If only I can find an ergonomically responsible office chair that fits the aesthetics of my living room in 2021.

Guest Author

Pascal Rotteveel, VIRTUE

Executive Creative Director, Western Europe,

About

As the Executive Creative Director of VIRTUE in Western Europe, Pascal Rotteveel leads a team of creatives scattered across five countries, with whom he’s created global campaigns for brands like Nike, L’Oréal Paris, Booking.com and KLM to name a few. In his personal life he pursues his passion for design and writing in creating books and prints.

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