Bridging the Divide: Creating Connection in Our Workplaces Today

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

Maybe the issue with hybrid work has nothing to do with the fact that people are physically working in different places; rather, it’s their emotional disconnection from each other and the organization’s purpose. One of the best parts of work is the sense of community and connection, but in fact, people may be lonely, and they may feel work just feels like a series of meetings, tasks, projects, spreadsheets, and targets.

What We Need From Work

image of 4 coworkers standing at a water cooler having a conversation and creating connectionRemember water cooler conversations? Or was that just a thing we said we did but didn’t actually do? We all get the concept, though. There were places where folks would naturally find themselves, where there were these spontaneous points of connection, and there was no “agenda” other than two humans that needed water to survive!

The problem isn’t hybrid work. It’s what we’re missing—the one thing we all need: connection. We don’t need water coolers, in-person meetings, or physical offices per se; we need to attend to each other, look each other in the eye (in person or digitally), and truly see the person. We need to understand the person. We need to know the person beyond the projects they’re working on, the title they have, or the department they belong to.

If we cannot see that someone has kids who play baseball because we don’t see that photo on their desk, we miss the chance to say, “Hey, did you play too as a kid?” And that comment gets you thinking, hey, maybe what will bring us together is to start a baseball team and compete against finance or the other division or that sister company or on Friday nights because they have a non-competitive league for adults. Or maybe your kids play (or played) ball, so you realize you have something new in common. Or maybe you find yourself with the idea that the company could sponsor a team of underprivileged children to have sports equipment. Seeing a picture can spark connection and contribution. 

The problem is not the lack of framed photos on desks, water coolers, or of people occupying their offices with people there Monday to Friday. The problem is that we’re not intentionally finding ways of seeing, hearing, knowing and paying attention to each other as people.

One of the best parts of work is something we didn’t realize how precious it was until we lost it during COVID: an opportunity to connect on a human-to-human level every day with people working toward a common purpose.

The Cubicle Conundrum

I was recently speaking with a talented professional who said that she’s so grateful that she has the flexibility of working from home. She also enjoys the connection she has with her colleagues from going into the office. For her, flexible work were net gains: convenience, deep work, flexibility, connection, community, and collaboration. 

image of 3 people working in cubicles beside each other showing lack of connectionAnd then, the cubicles were introduced…

You see, someone thought there would be more focused work, less bad behaviour (of others, not her), and more productivity if walls were erected.

Wait, what?

So, let me get this straight: Folks aren’t together for half the week, and when they are, there are physical barriers to make them separated all over again. Why not have everyone just work from home? Or perhaps more importantly, why not deal with the root of the problem rather than make everyone suffer and become more disengaged, distrustful, and disconnected?

As a diehard ‘carbivore’ with a major sweet tooth, let me offer you this metaphor: If you know that there is dessert, but the fridge is locked, aren’t you more disappointed you can’t eat the cake than if you didn’t know it was there in the first place?

Disconnection at work is the locked fridge. And actually, it’s worse than that. We not only want to matter to someone else – personally and professionally – we need to.

Creating a Culture of Connection

Connection is cultural cake. Whatever, whenever and however you work, we need to remove barriers, not erect them, complain about them or dispute them. We need to tear them down.




image of many coworkers with their hands in the centre creating connectionConnection can happen, and it’s not a mystery as to how:

  • Every time you ask a colleague for help, you offer it.
  • Every time you notice something’s not right, you ask if someone is okay.
  • Every time you notice someone has energy, you acknowledge it.
  • Every time you compliment.
  • Every time you say something kind.
  • Every time you smile.

Connection is the easiest thing we know how to do as humans. It’s what we needed to do to survive. We learned to smile when we were three months old, and it’s what bonded us to our caregivers; similing literally an evolutionary survival mechanism. So, if it’s that hardwired into us, and it’s that essential for survival, would it not be essential for thrival too?

If you crave connection, you’re not alone.

Fight for it. Nurture it. Build it. And don’t make excuses for why it doesn’t exist. It starts with you. 

One compliment right now will bridge the emotional, physical, digital, or social divide.

Want to connect with us? I would love to hear from you, and so would our whole team—Tami (queen of events), Mallory (goddess of development), Monica (diva of details), Dorina (hero of finances), and me. We love our clients, we love our readers, and we love great, kind, movement-making humans like you. Stay connected to us, our friends, and tell us how we can stay connected to you.

Here’s a quick video on how you can create connection:

Take a bite of these scrumptious blog posts for more ideas on creating connection:

Disclaimer/Humble Brag Moment: 100% of this content was human-generated (by us folks here at Greatness Magnified). We are committed to authorship integrity and will inform you what percent, if any, is AI-generated.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve