Fostering Authentic Connections in the Modern Office

5 min read
Authentic Connections

Have you ever felt the paradox of craving authentic connections at work, yet finding mandatory office gatherings utterly uninspiring? As a recently-promoted manager, you’re not alone in facing this challenge, especially in the era of teams returning to the office.

The Paradox of Forced Socializing

Imagine this: You’re back in the office, surrounded by your team. There’s an air of expectation for reconnecting, for reigniting those workplace bonds that ostensibly fuel collaboration and innovation. Yet, beneath this surface, there’s an undercurrent of discomfort, a silent protest against the very act of being mandatorily corralled into a physical space. This is the paradox of forced socializing.

At its heart, the Eptura Workplace Index, involving an analysis of 2.6 million desks across 8,000 companies and responses from 6,714 employees, captures this dilemma vividly. For many non-managerial staff, socializing emerges as the primary draw to the office. This preference for proximity to their teams (47% favoring this setup) underscores the value of voluntary rather than enforced interactions for authentic connections.

Employees, on the one hand, express a desire for connection, ranking socializing with colleagues as a top priority. Yet, paradoxically, when this socializing is mandated through enforced office attendance, it often breeds resentment rather than fostering the desired connection. It’s a classic case of a well-intentioned strategy missing its mark, akin to inviting friends to a party only to find out they came out of obligation rather than desire.

Why does this happen? The answer lies in the nuanced nature of human relationships and the value we place on autonomy. When individuals choose to engage socially, it’s often under conditions they find comfortable and environments they deem conducive. Forced social settings, especially in a professional context, strip away this sense of choice, making interactions feel less genuine and more like a chore.

The Danger of Mandatory Team Bonding

Research by Uziel & Schmidt-Barad (2022) in the Journal of Happiness Studies illuminates the importance of choice in social interactions. They conducted an experiment putting participants through a 10-day simulation of real world social scenarios. Individuals experienced four distinct social settings: electing solitude, choosing companionship, mandatory group activities, and forced isolation.

The results revealed that freely chosen socialization was most beneficial for elevating mood and subjective well-being. On the flip side, obligatory group time against one’s wishes proved the most detrimental to positivity and enjoyment. Forced isolation also dampened spirits but to a less extreme degree than coerced company. Ultimately, the takeaway is that agency and autonomy in sculpting one’s social landscape are pivotal to emotional prosperity. Whether mingling or reflecting solo, having control over that decision makes all the difference.

BBC reported on a major shift in how we view work and, by extension, work-related socializing. The sudden and extended shift to remote working meant that traditional office-based social activities were no longer feasible. Virtual alternatives like Zoom happy hours or online team-building activities emerged, but they couldn’t fully replicate the in-person experience and, in some cases, added to the Zoom fatigue.

As companies gradually call employees back to the office, the nature of “fun” at work is being re-evaluated. In today’s hybrid work environment, where some team members may be in the office while others are remote, organizing inclusive and genuinely appealing events has become more challenging. Moreover, the pandemic has prompted many to realign their priorities, often placing greater value on personal and family time over workplace socialization.

The concept of “mandatory fun” is being replaced with a more nuanced approach. There’s a growing recognition that team bonding and social events should be things that employees genuinely want to attend – not because they feel coerced or fear being labeled “not a team player.” This shift represents a broader movement towards respecting individual preferences and acknowledging that forced socialization can often be counterproductive.

Smart managers are now focusing on identifying types of “fun” that resonate with their employees. These might include more relaxed, informal gatherings, events tied to shared interests, or opportunities for volunteering and community engagement. The goal is to create spaces and events where employees feel naturally inclined to participate, fostering authentic connections and a sense of community.

This evolution away from mandatory fun towards more authentic, employee-driven socializing reflects a deeper understanding of what truly motivates and engages people. It’s about creating a workplace culture that values the individual, offers flexibility, and recognizes that the best kind of team spirit is the one that’s voluntarily and enthusiastically embraced.

Adam Waytz, a professor of management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, offers insights into creating more genuine bonding opportunities. He highlights the effectiveness of casual, unforced socializing spaces, like a do-it-yourself coffee station. Such initiatives encourage spontaneous interaction without the pressure of structured social events.

Strategies for New Managers

As a newly-promoted manager in the new post-pandemic work environment, steering your team through the nuances of office dynamics, particularly in terms of socializing and team-building, can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. Here are strategies I advise managers to pursue to help you navigate these waters effectively.

  • Embrace Flexibility and Diversity in Work Styles: Recognize and respect the diverse work styles and preferences within your team. Some members may thrive in a bustling office environment, while others may do their best work in quieter, more solitary settings. Offer a mix of optional social activities and more structured team-building events. This approach allows team members to engage at a level that feels comfortable to them, thereby fostering a more inclusive and productive work environment.
  • Foster Organic and Informal Interactions: Create opportunities for informal interactions that can lead to natural and authentic connections among team members. This could be as simple as setting up a casual coffee corner or organizing impromptu lunch gatherings. These casual settings often lead to more genuine conversations and can strengthen team bonds without the pressure of formalized events. As an example, set up a weekly “Coffee and Chat” hour in a common area where team members can gather informally. No structured agenda, just coffee and conversation. This setup encourages spontaneous discussions and strengthens interpersonal relationships.
  • Utilize Digital Tools: With the rise of hybrid work models, ensure that remote team members feel included and valued. Utilize digital communication tools to bridge the physical gap. This could involve regular virtual catch-ups, digital team-building games, or even virtual coffee breaks where remote and in-office team members can mingle and chat. You can also use a digital platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams to create a virtual “water cooler” channel. This space can be used for team members to share personal news, interesting articles, or light-hearted content, ensuring remote members feel as much a part of the team as those in the office.
  • Personalize Team Events: Understand your team’s interests and hobbies. Organizing events around shared interests can be a powerful way to bring the team together. This could range from a book club for the readers in your team to a sports day for the more athletically inclined. Tailoring events to the team’s preferences can lead to higher engagement and enjoyment. Conduct a survey to gauge interests and plan events accordingly. If a significant number enjoy hiking, organize a weekend team hike. For those interested in culinary arts, consider a group cooking class. Tailoring events to shared interests can boost participation and enjoyment.
  • Empower Team Members: Give your team members the autonomy to take the lead in organizing social events. This not only instills a sense of ownership but also ensures that the activities are more aligned with what the team actually enjoys. It can also be a great opportunity for team members to showcase their leadership and organizational skills. To do so, rotate the responsibility of organizing team events among members. This could include planning monthly team lunches or coordinating volunteer activities. It gives everyone a chance to lead and showcases different team members’ interests and skills.
  • Seek and Act on Feedback: Regularly solicit feedback from your team on social initiatives and activities. Understanding what works and what doesn’t can help you fine-tune your approach and ensure that the social aspects of your team are genuinely enriching their work experience. A good approach involves, after each team event, sending out a quick anonymous survey asking for feedback on what they liked and what could be improved. Use this feedback to shape future activities, showing the team that their opinions are valued and acted upon.
  • Lead by Example: Your participation and enthusiasm in team activities can set a positive tone. Leading by example shows your commitment to building a strong team culture and can encourage others to participate more actively. Thus, you should actively participate in team events and casual gatherings. Share your own stories during “Coffee and Chat” hours or be the first to post on the virtual water cooler. Your engagement encourages others to do the same.
  • Balance Professional and Personal: While fostering a sense of community is important, respect the boundaries between professional and personal lives. Encourage socializing but also recognize the importance of downtime and personal space. While encouraging team activities, you can also champion “quiet hours” during the workday where no meetings are scheduled. This respects everyone’s need for uninterrupted work time and shows that you value productivity and personal space.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Recognize and celebrate milestones, both big and small. Acknowledging team achievements and individual contributions can be a great way to boost morale and foster a sense of belonging. A great way to do so: create a “Kudos” board in a common area or an online platform where team members can publicly acknowledge each other’s successes and contributions. This not only celebrates achievements but also builds a culture of appreciation and recognition.
  • Promote Inclusivity: Ensure that all team members, regardless of their location or working arrangements, are included in social activities. This can involve planning events that are accessible to both remote and in-office staff or finding creative ways to involve everyone in team celebrations. For instance, if organizing a team-building workshop, stream it live for remote members, and ensure they can actively participate through digital means.


As a new manager, your role is to cultivate an environment where social connections can flourish naturally. By balancing the need for structured and unstructured socializing opportunities, respecting individual preferences, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and flexibility, you can help your team thrive in this new era of work. Remember, the key to successful team-building lies in understanding the unique dynamics of your team and adapting your approach accordingly.

Key Take-Away

Forced socializing undermines authentic connections. New managers should prioritize voluntary, inclusive, and personalized social activities to foster genuine team bonds. Click To Tweet

Image credit: Visual Tag Mx/pexels

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at