Understanding inter-office blind dates (hint: there’s no romance involved)

Employee engagement Inter-office blind dates

Scaling culture in a growing small business is a challenge. Mere months ago, you might have been able to eat lunch together as a full group, or chat easily with members of any team – because they all sat a few feet away from you.

Now, as the team doubles and triples, things get trickier. Sales has no idea what technology is up to, and marketing hasn’t spoken to finance in weeks. It can be a challenge to keep the office connected and collaborating as employees know fewer and fewer of their compatriots’ names.

But there’s one trick that startups and small businesses are using to get back that collaborative atmosphere: blind dates.

What they are

No, companies aren’t trying to pair off employees into romantic relationships. They’re sending randomly-paired employees on coffee or lunch dates to help them connect with team members outside their core department. The idea is for employees to get to know each other better, and to foster a more collaborative environment across the company as a whole.

Toronto accounting firm Freshbooks, for example, has already connected nearly 100 employees through its voluntary blind date program.

“As FreshBooks has grown over the years, I noticed more and more people didn’t know each other’s names anymore,” says Grace Antonio, FreshBooks’ support operations manager, in an interview with Fast Company.

FreshBooks isn’t alone. Warby Parker reportedly does “lunch roulette” where each week two groups of four employees are randomly selected to go to lunch (with the company footing the bill).

HubSpot has an “Unlimited Free Meals Program,” where any employee can take another employee out to lunch to learn from them. “Expense it. No approval needed,” says the company’s culture code.

Why you should implement them

There are a several benefits to arranging these office pair-ups. For one, it gives employees a better big-picture look at the company. “Getting to know people from all different backgrounds, roles, and departments is a great way to develop empathy and have a better bird’s eye view of the business,” Antonio told Fast Company.

It also fosters new office friendships, which research has shown is crucial to engagement and productivity. LinkedIn research found that 46 per cent of professionals believe that work friends are important to their happiness.

“When employees possess a deep sense of affiliation with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business – actions they may not otherwise even consider,” writes Gallup in its 2017 State of the American Workforce.

Another hope is that bringing together people from different departments will encourage brainstorming and big-picture ideas to emerge – or simply find ways to make current projects better.

How to do inter-office blind dates at your company

For some companies, it’s as simple as a weekly draw at the all-hands meeting. Others use online randomizers to ensure that the set-ups are pairing employees that otherwise wouldn’t have any interactions with each other.

There are also a range of tools emerging to help facilitate these kinds of meetings. Lunchmates, for example, is a platform that uses algorithms to assign four team members to a lunch date once a week.

Or, Slack’s Donut app introduces employees that don’t know each other well and invites them to have coffee or lunch – or, of course, donuts. And who would say no to that?

See also:
Going with the flow: 5 simple ways to improve employee engagement
Alternatives to beer cart Fridays

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