colorful paper people culture

Culture Summit San Diego 2023 Recap – Connection Matters

I headed down to San Diego to nerd out on culture at the Culture Summit conference. Here’s what I saw.

Companies are worried about and focused on how to help their employees with burnout, loneliness, and connection. While soaking in the speakers, conversations, panels, and workshops at Culture Summit in San Diego, I could see connection and burnout surfacing repeatedly. It’s all wrapped up in the latest HR catchphrase of “employee wellbeing”(or wholebeing).

The puzzle of employee engagement isn’t new but every couple of years the HR gods reframe the conversation with new terms. This year the reframed big solve was how to stem the tide of disengagement ie quiet quitting in the workplace. Previously it was employee engagement, but if we look at that definition as “this is how I feel about how we do things around here” it doesn’t come close to addressing the nuance that is a human being. It’s only natural that a new term has evolved attempts to look at the whole person not just how they feel about work.

Here are some of my highlights from Culture Summit

Employee Wellbeing

As I mentioned above companies are trying to take a broader view of employees that choose to work with them. Leah Smart took the stage and warned us about pursuing happiness as a goal. In her research, and she had the references to support this, pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy. Instead Leah presented a path to well being based on Tal Ben-Shahar’s research called SPIRE. It stands for Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational, and Emotional. This framework can be used to self evaluate yourself personally. OR you can view it at the organizational level and question whether you are provided support in each of the five areas for the employees in your care. If you’d like to read more about SPIRE, Leah says it best here. Happiness as it turns out should be a practice not an endpoint.

Employee Connection

All roads and every statistic shared by the presenters at Culture Summit elevates the gravity of ignoring connection. One study that was referenced often was the Attorney General’s findings on what has been called a loneliness epidemic. To quote the study’s opening statement “Our relationships and interactions with family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors are just some of what create social connection. Our connection with others and our community is also informed by our neighborhoods, digital environments, schools, and workplaces. Social connection— the structure, function, and quality of our relationships with others—is a critical and under-appreciated contributor to individual and population health, community safety, resilience, and prosperity.” This reinforces for me why why the team building activities we do at FireFly Team Events are so important. We created them to help foster new and reinforce existing connections within teams and organizations.

One of the places that feels especially starved for connection is the distributed workforce ie virtual. As I spoke with other attendees they were often starved for new ideas for their remote teams because you only play bingo so many times. Beyond the fun stuff they were devouring any tips and tricks that could help them feel a little more connected to their team members from a distance. Make Believe Works and Anthym both demoed some fun and interesting solutions to helping virtual teams connect.

Creativity is the new Productivity

I loved listening to Mirit Cohen from Adobe speak about the work that Adobe is doing with their Lab 82 program. They’re experimenting with not only workspace design but also the fabric of teams covering virtual, hybrid, and in person variants. Part of her message revolved around how to design for connection. Based on her findings at Adobe, you should invest in a workplace experience design connection, include connection in the purpose of any gathering, and ensure connection is led, hosted and supported by senior leaders. They found in their experiments that when come into the office it’s usually tied to these 4 reasons: socializing with colleagues, scheduled in person meetings with colleagues, impromptu face-to-face collaboration, attending large events, or to sit with their team. Notice anything similar about all of those reasons?

Their program Lab 82 is in their words a human centric experimentation engine. The engine focuses on environment, technology, ways of working, and experience programs to create the future of how they work at Adobe.

  • Environment – is the place we work fit for purpose?
  • Technology – are we leveraging data to guide our designs?
  • Ways of Working – Are these intentional and flexible?
  • Experience Programs – designed to promote connection

It was a fascinating peek into the culture that Adobe is creating and I can’t wait to more insights fromLab82 program.

Employee Perk? Give Your Team a Big Ole Shared Break!

Shared time off is not a new concept because companies often give holidays off to the entire team. Companies also have PTO that employees can take whenever they want to. However, someone raised the idea on a panel of choosing a non-holiday block of time that everyone takes off at the same time. What I love about this is that when people take PTO it’s solo. They come back jazzed and happy to share about their time off but everyone else is still grinding.

If I think about our winter break everyone is gone and when they return there is a palpable energy and readiness to start kicking butt. So what if we took a couple of bonus all team breaks throughout the year to reset? It’s not a retreat or an incentive trip, it’s a mental health holiday we all share that has everyone coming back excited to share stories and reconnect with their teams. Aren’t we all trying to find ways to strengthen or build connection? I’ve already spoken with my cofounder and we’re definitely exploring this for 2024.

This is the End
Culture Conference was mellow, informative, and cozy. I met lots of delightful humans and got to hangout with my favorite competitor (Hi Julie!). It definitely seemed like every speaker referenced the same stats from either Gallup, Deloitte & Touche, or the Attorney General. And all the stats show connection and engagement are in decline and engagement is down. The good news is that the pandemic has focused a spotlight on the power of choice, flexibility and autonomy when designing for employee wholebeing. Even if your company can’t go fully remote the ability to give an employee the grace of flexibility allows them to leave happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives.

Don’t forget to look beyond engagement and focus on the wholebeing of the beautiful humans that have opted to navigate our crazy world with you.

As a San Diego team building company we love that this conference was close enough to drive to. If you’re in the area looking for San Diego team building activities look us up.

James Bennett
CEO, Firefly Team Events

book los angeles team building