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Cultivating small talk when there’s no office

FCW: “Before Covid-19 and social distancing, small talk was a daily workplace ritual for most of us. We exchanged hellos with colleagues on our way in from the parking lot, chatted about our weekends while waiting for meetings to begin, and swapped stories about our families with our cube mates. Though these encounters probably lasted only minutes, they played a crucial role in making us feel emotionally connected at work. “Small talk is important to us in other ways, putting us at ease and helping us transition to more serious topics like negotiations, job interviews, and performance evaluations. The tidbits we learn about our colleagues — for instance, that they play guitar or love dogs — build rapport and deepen trust. Research even suggests that chance encounters and spontaneous conversations with our coworkers can spark collaboration, improving our creativity, innovation, and performance.” So begins an article by Professors Jessica Methot, Allison Gabriel, Patrick Downes, and Emily Rosado-Solomon in the Daily Alert published by Harvard Business Review. Yet small talk also has its critics, who accuse it of spreading gossip, being inauthentic and wasting time. Some make a habit of arriving at meetings at the last moment to avoid small talk. The four professors thus did what professors do, which is to conduct some research. They spoke with 150 fulltime employees three times a day for 15 days about their participation in small talk and the impacts on their sense of well-being, their willingness to help others, and their job focus. They found that those who participated more in small talk increased their sense of well-being and willingness to help others, yet also reduced their job focus…”

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