Posted: 09 Sep. 2021 5 min. read

What will matter most when screen time becomes face time again?

The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters. – Sue Monk Kidd

As many of us have been preparing to move from a virtual-first working model to a hybrid one, there's been much discussion about what we can't wait to get back once we can spend more time with colleagues and clients in person: hallway chats, after-work drinks, and eye contact. There's also been a lot of talk about what lessons and benefits we might try to hang on to from our time spent together virtually. Kim Christfort, my colleague and coauthor of Business Chemistry, recently wrote in Fast Company about how we can keep the gifts of virtual even as working models shift. A paradox among those gifts is the richer relationships that have resulted, perhaps surprisingly, from relating through our screens. Turning on our cameras granted us a view into each other’s personal lives that didn’t come as naturally in office spaces. And dropping our commutes to work from our dining rooms has made us rethink age-old questions about how we mix work and life. "As work and home lives blended—as kids, dogs, home decor, life, and errands integrated into the workday—many people formed tighter, deeper, and more authentic connections," Kim says.

I, too, have noticed this gift, and I've written previously about how the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual-first approach to work brought more humanity to how we relate to one another. It's as if we needed a strong jolt to the system to remind us that the people we work with are, in fact, people. Their lives outside the office matter to them as much, or likely even more, than their lives inside the office.

When people are together again away from our homes and families, it may be easy to get caught up in the tasks that need to be completed, the problems that need to be solved, and the barriers that need to be overcome. If we interact only in the office, we may lose some of that sense of humanity and forget what’s most important to people. We may neglect to pay attention to what people need to perform at their best and do all of that completing, solving, and overcoming. As more and more of us turn off our video cameras and resume our commutes, our relationships may begin to erode if we don’t keep top of mind what people care most about.

What do they care about? A basic tenet of Business Chemistry is that we don't all place the same value on the same things, and our relationships can be stronger when we understand and accommodate these differences. So, we asked more than 3,000 professionals what's most important to them in work and in life, then analyzed their written responses to that open-ended question. We identified common themes across Business Chemistry types, as well as differences among them.

Across Business Chemistry types, we found respondents most often use the words people, family, and balance. Their responses look like this:

"The most important thing for me is my family and the people that are close to me." (Pioneer)

"Balance is important to me. I want to excel in a career, but I also value spending time with family and friends. I want to establish personal relationships with the people that I work with." (Guardian)

"I love my family and friends, and I believe balance is very important, along with taking the proper time off to recharge and rewind." (Driver)

"Finding things that make me happy and feel like I have a purpose are also extremely important. From work and life, I want to make connections with as many people as possible and develop strong relationships that make both work and life more enjoyable." (Integrator)

While we may all put lots of energy toward completing tasks, solving problems, and overcoming barriers, it's the people in our lives that many of us are thinking most about. And attaining the balance we need to spend time with those important people is high on the priority list. To be able to acknowledge that with colleagues can be a powerful trust-builder. On the other hand, when it seems that what’s most important to us has fallen out of people’s awareness, trust and relationships can begin to degrade.

As we start to return to offices, consider how to keep each other’s important people part of the conversation. Just because they aren’t wandering through your line of sight in the background doesn’t mean they’re not in the forefront of a colleague’s mind. Moreover, work together to find ways to keep a sense of balance now that commuters are being added back into the mix, and yoga is not as easily done in between meetings.

Other common words across the types are help, learn, grow, success, happy, and enjoy. How can we provide each other with opportunities to help others, to learn, and grow? How can we learn more about what work and nonwork activities each of us enjoy? What can we find out about what makes our colleagues and clients happy and what makes them feel they’re succeeding? Getting curious about each other can keep our relationships rich even as we return to the office.

Brene Brown defines trust as “choosing to make something valuable to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.” Viewed through the lens of Business Chemistry, this definition begs the question: What’s most valuable to each type? Considering what words they each use provides clues as to where their attention might be and where our best trust-building opportunities may lie.

Pioneers

More than other types, Pioneers use words like create, meaning, impact, world, difference, ideas, contribute and solve (also used regularly by Drivers). Their unique responses to our question about what’s important in work and life look like this:

"To be able to contribute a lasting legacy to the world, to be able to improve and help and solve difficulties, to hold a meaningful job and be able to experience new things."

Make a difference, add value, create a better future.”

"I want a good balance of work and time to discover new things. I tend to thrive when I have time to fool around, try new ideas, learn by doing, and generally be creative."

To be able to share new ideas and constantly learn. Find alternative solutions to problems.”

"I think it is important for one to be better than yesterday. The common theme is ‘finding meaning’ in what one does. I would like to leave a positive impact on my family, people I work with, and the world as a whole."

"Work has to be meaningful! It has to be dynamic and challenging, continually asking us to rethink the norm in favor of new approaches, efficiencies or ideas."

Do you know any Pioneers with whom you’d like to build more trust? How can you help them find meaning in their work or position them to create, contribute, and make a difference in the world? Might you be able to solve problems, exchange ideas, or make an impact together?

Guardians

Guardians, in particular, use the words goals (also used often by Drivers), as well as career, give, stability, and strive. They (along with Integrators) also use the word balance more than Pioneers and Drivers do. This is how they describe what’s important:

"I think what I want from work and life is to better myself so that I can help others. I want to develop a strong foundation for myself. After I am stable, I want to be able to use my resources to help others improve their lives."

I think having a career and being in a role that you love is incredibly important. Most of our adult lives are spent working, so finding a fulfilling role is a huge priority for me.”

Family stability and success in my career. I love challenges and can't wait to have opportunities to thrive.”

"Striving to be the best version of myself is what is most important to me. I also have always had the mindset of giving something my all if I'm going to spend my time doing it."

I want to work at a place that aligns with my goals, builds up my skill set, keeps me financially independent, and, along with that, helps me to have a happy personal lifestyle.”

I want clarity and stability in both work and life.”

Is there a Guardian with whom you’d like to have a better work relationship? How might you help them meet their career goals and their desire to give back? Can you contribute to providing them a stable foundation from which to strive for more? Can you help them find the balance they seek?

Drivers

Drivers, like Guardians, often use the word goals and, like Pioneers, the word solve. They also favor challenges and skills more than others. Here’s how they write about what’s important to them:

"I want to be challenged and to bring others with me on the journey to solve those challenges.”

From work, I want a rewarding career that will enable me to attain my personal and professional goals.”

"My life is driven by learning, which allows me to apply knowledge and skills to problem-solve."

"I love to learn and take on new challenges in both work and life. I enjoy problem-solving and working with others."

I want to feel like I'm part of a team with shared goals and where my input and experience add value to the overall mission."

In terms of work, I value high levels of mental stimulation that really test my brain to think and solve problems.”

Is there a Driver whose trust you hope to earn? Can you identify opportunities for them to solve challenging problems? What might you do to help them improve their skills and meet their goals?

Integrators

Integrators use the words family, happy, and help even more than other types, and along with Guardians, they use balance more than Pioneers and Drivers. They also use the words love, friends, team, value, fulfillment, and relationship. Their responses about what matters look like this:

To be good at what I do and be happy.”

"I find that making an impact in my career means helping others as well as myself meet our potential. For my life, I hope to do the same and value the relationships that I build and cultivate, as those bring new perspectives that help me grow as a person."

Happiness. A sense of providing real value and purpose to others, whether personal or in business.”

I want to work somewhere where I am valued for what I do every day while at work, but that respects that I am also a mother and a wife. Work/life balance is a must for me.”

"To find love, beauty, laughter, and fulfillment. To enjoy what I do. To continue to learn all the time. But most importantly, to help others to do the same.”

When I think about work/life balance, relationships come to mind. In a work setting, having friendships with my coworkers will directly impact my mood toward projects. I also want to be able to maintain relationships outside of work.

Do you have an Integrator on your team? How might you key into what they value and find fulfilling? Can you identify opportunities for them to help others while making friends, prioritizing relationships, and building teams? How can you infuse work experiences with happiness, joy, and love while leaving space for balance and family too?

~

As people return to offices, work and life may become more separate again, which could be good news in many ways. But we could also start to forget just how much people have going on at home and in their lives outside the office. We may underestimate how important it is to understand and acknowledge people’s nonwork selves. We might be lulled into thinking our relationships will take care of themselves when we can once more look each other in the eye. Instead, stay curious about your colleagues and clients. Strengthen relationships by getting to know professionals as people. And build trust by asking people what’s important to them in work and in life. You just may be surprised by where the conversation leads.

Note: During the period of 3/3/20 to 9/30/20 all respondents completing the online Business Chemistry assessment were also presented with the open-ended question “What is most important to you in work and in life?”

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.