As the battle between working from home and working from the office rumbles on (along with its quieter, COV-ID era sibling the “4-day-week-for-5-days-pay”), are we actually missing a bigger shift in work relationships that’s happening since the heady days of 2020-2021?

I’ve always held this cracking piece of insight as an example of how work relationships shifted during the pandemic. I paraphrase (slightly), but my sincere thanks to the individual who left me with their wisdom:

“It’s funny, you know. Before the pandemic I would never have ever said hello to [that individual] in the lift.  But for the past 5 months I’ve been happily chatting away to them via Zoom, while they’re sitting in their kitchen with a coffee.”

That throw-away comment contains such incredible richness about the way working relationships have changed. It beautifully articulates how relationships have formed not through power dressing, glass atriums and post-it notes, but against a backdrop of barking dogs, interrupting kids, Amazon deliveries, questionable leisure wear and fascinating decor.  

We all opened a window into our personal lives because we had to. And through the practicalities of staying connected (and an inability to find the background blur function in Zoom), we have experienced greater levels of intimacy in our work relationships than ever before.

Now, I recognise that intimacy is not a word we often reach for when we describe our experiences with teams and colleagues. But intimacy is a huge driver of trust.  Along with credibility (you know what you’re talking about) and reliability (you do what you say you’ll do), it is a fundamental building block in creating successful and productive relationships.  There’s a robust school of thought around this to back me up. 

Feedback from Glint, the research arm of LinkedIn learning, has looked at data from over 600 global firms and found that people working remotely are 14% more likely to feel safe to speak their mind.  9%  are more likely to rate their leaders for being inclusive and able to recognise and involve different opinions. These are people working in healthy, trust-filled environments, which don’t necessarily require an ID badge to get in.  

Within the past few days, the move from the Government to change flexible working rules has confirmed that flexible working IS the way to continue. Recent BBC research has shown that 56% of females said their job opportunities had been boosted due to more flexibility on childcare arrangements and 65% of managers think working from home helps advance women’s careers.

But having inadvertently found ourselves in a healthier emotional space with work, and with the doors open to continue as such, we are still at risk of going backwards. Top-down management mandates to return to the building, a re-professionalising of the employee experience signal an almost defeatist approach to making long-distance working relationships work.  The pushback from some senior business leaders for flexibility, notably the headline grabbing actions of Elon Musk and Sir James Dyson, shows just how emotive this subject continues to be.

As social creatures we need to be together to learn and grow, and physical connectivity cannot (yet) be fully replicated in a virtual world. But emotional connectivity can be recreated if we focus on intimacy – a connection to why you do what you do (as an individual and a business), a connection to customers and to colleagues. 

Who in these challenging times doesn’t want to feel part of something, to be surrounded by people who support them, challenge them, speak up and speak out?  It’s what we expect of our friends, so why not our work colleagues too? 

A five minute Teams call offers the opportunity for more authenticity and insight into what is happening in an individuals’ world than a 60 minute ‘get to know you’ session in the office could ever achieve.  

So please, let’s not go back to the silence in the lift.  Let’s remember the kitchens, the piles of washing, the cluttered bookshelves and tasteful lounges.  And let’s remember how easily we offered up who we are, and how good it has felt to be us.

For more information about how Kin&Co can help you create and sustain trust, intimacy and authenticity through a connection to purpose and what matters, email (link to info@)  or call us for a chat on +44 (0)20 3745 1529.