How to connect with coworkers in your workplace

Amir Palmen - Workplace Unplugged

Amir Palmen, CEO and Founder of Workbond, talks about the importance of workplace connections and how his platform is strengthening them.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. You’ve been at a company for a couple years and it’s going really well. You enjoy the work you do, but have trouble connecting with your coworkers. In fact, in the couple years you’ve been there, you’ve barely even talked to anyone outside your immediate department and the company is still steadily growing with new faces showing up all the time.

Amir Palmen saw this problem in the workplace firsthand and decided to do something about it. His platform was created in an attempt to nurture meaningful workplace connections, which in turn create happier and healthier environments that are simultaneously more productive. The result was Workbond, an internal social app that connects employees with shared interests, matches them with like-minded groups, and makes onboarding more fun for new hires. 

How did you come up with the initial concept behind Workbond, and how close was the finished product to the original vision?

Palmen: We’re excited about the progress we’ve been making and are getting closer to the app we envisioned. The main vision was that the workplace should be fun. People should enjoy the environment, co-workers, and collaboration. We felt there needed to be some way to break down barriers and help people at work get to know each other in a deeper way.

Coming from an ice hockey background where I was part of a team sport, I’ve always enjoyed that camaraderie along with trying new hobbies, traveling, meeting new people, and learning from people around me. I founded a previous startup that was essentially Facebook for sports, a consumer platform. 

Workbond was created from the lessons we learned from those consumers. We offered a B2B solution for corporate wellness in the previous platform, but we realized that culture and people are so much more than just sports and wellness. We took a step back and wanted to define what culture means at work. We interviewed a lot of people and realized that there are so many different people from diverse backgrounds and we wanted to create a platform that doesn’t recognize people based on looks, age, title, or seniority—it just looks at who they are in and out of work.

team bonding

It’s interesting that the Workbond platform does not include any job titles or age. Why was that distinction important to include? Do you think including things like job titles and age would make it more difficult for coworkers to connect?

Palmen: Obviously titles and seniority set boundaries. Workbond is trying to break those boundaries. It doesn’t matter if you’re a junior employee coming out of college or you’ve been with the company for 20 years. You both might enjoy playing golf and talking about the US Open. 

As a junior employee, you might be a little more careful with what you say and who you say it to. I think culture is sparked by leadership. It starts with senior people in the company creating an environment where everyone can be themselves, a place where ideas and values are respected. 

If you look at the effectiveness of an organization, it can be highly effective if everyone feels like it’s natural to share their ideas regarding their company’s products, strategies, or whatever it might be. From a leader’s point-of-view, if they’re using Workbond, they can still learn something from “lower-level” employees who can teach them a lot about the company, what is working, how it’s struggling, and where it should be going. 

It’s really about trying to fill those gaps and create a sense of community and communication within the workplace, which has been traditionally blocked by different departments and biases. Working in accounting or marketing shouldn’t define you as a person.

socializing

Employee experience can be very difficult to measure. What ideally happens in a workplace when the Workbond platform is running at its full potential?

Palmen: We measure positive impact by tracking participation in activities like grabbing a coffee or going on a walk for lunch with colleagues that you don’t necessarily know yet or you’ve seen in the hallway but never actually talked to. 

A lot of engagement platforms and performance management tools focus on online reports or tasks that are tracked. We actually track offline meetings. You have to step away from your conference room, go meet someone new, and interact with other departments. 

We can then give all this data to the leaders of the company. For example, you have an engineering team and they’re all good engineers. Through Workbond, we can see that there’s two people on the team that are really great at organizing activities and happy hours so that the team is really effective. These two people also have a really positive impact when it comes to onboarding new employees and other approaches to workplace engagement. Not only do we recognize and reward those employees, we can also provide important data to the CEO or HR.

organizing activities with coworkers

There seems to be an assumption that platforms like this are mostly embraced by tech companies or Silicon Valley. What’s the adoption of Workbond like in more “traditional” industries?

Palmen: We haven’t focused on one specific industry. All companies in any business should use a platform like this. The workplace is a community where you share a lot of common time and space.

Using a coffee shop as an example, say you work at one location that is one or two miles away from another location, but you’ve never met the other people working in that other coffee shop. Why couldn’t the company create a workplace community where these people can network, learn from each other, and share experiences? Even if they’re suffering from burnout or stress, maybe they can talk to each other and have that peer support from people who are doing the same jobs in different locations.

In office jobs, it’s not unusual for someone to feel siloed on the fifth floor and never know anyone on the sixth floor in the exact same space who is also a huge fan of fishing. We want to break down those barriers and allow people to learn and grow within the workplace community.

coworkers hanging out

There is an increasing onus on building positive workplace cultures throughout a number of industries today. Why do you think this shift is happening in the workplace right now?

Palmen: I think people, especially in younger generations, are looking for meaningful work and environments. If you look at all the environmental causes and other issues in the world today, people want to work for a company they deeply believe in. They need to believe in the values and mission of that company. Salary and benefits matter, but at the end of the day we spend so many hours in a week at the office that you have to enjoy it and everyone should feel respected no matter what they do.

Find out more about how Workbond can help your organization strengthen workplace connections at their website. You can also follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Have you ever had difficulty connecting with coworkers? Join the conversation and leave us a comment below.

Photos: Pexels, Pedro Sandrini, Blackmachinex, Jopwell