The Tan, in Melbourne, has always been a fashion catwalk for hundreds of people every day. It may have, however, started to evolve into a new kind of meeting place – the outdoor boardroom. A destination where clandestine work meetings, under the artifice of fitness and exercise, can proceed when a video conference just won’t do. Psychologically, its proximity to the Melbourne CBD is likely no accident. Job interviews, team meetings, project briefs, and feedback sessions all occurring, wrapped in lycra and framed by figs. 

The ever-changing legalities of this behaviour aside [the author does neither encourage nor condemn] – are we, by necessity, seeing the emergence of a new kind of workplace culture? A natural companion to offset the lack of chemistry that can be communicated and achieved through a monitor? Managers are now in a position where this type of practice may need consideration to help build an organisational environment that can both attract and maintain a workforce.

The persistent dilemma, now with a whole new set of challenges: what creates a meaningful and focussed culture in an organisation? And how do managers create and compel a direction with the tyranny of separation and uncertainty?

It may at first seem curious that a large percentage of the “50 Best Places to Work in Australia: 2020” are tech or IT companies. Isn’t technology meant to be the antithet to genuine connection and synergy – both historical hallmarks of perceived wellness in a work environment. Perhaps not. It would seem more likely that these firms represent the progressive mindset that is essential to devise a workplace culture that is worthy of, and harmonious with, a digital age.

Elon Musk advocates no large meetings: no more than four to six people. The team at Canva, however, have lunch together every day. Whilst the ASMR of a colleague eating a Poke bowl through your screen is probably not desirable, it does beg the question of what the alternatives are in 2020 and beyond.

How can people be both separated and connected?

Millions of teenagers around the world are socialising and collaborating, literally fighting as one, to achieve a common goal through Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Maybe the Peloton™ (or local competitor) workout will be the Australian adult equivalent of this: the new corporate fun run.

Food, exercise, laser tag, escape rooms have all been admirable stand-ins for firms and managers sometimes unsure as how to foster unity within their ranks. Even in small business, trying to find a frame of reference or common denominator other than work and to unify a diverse workforce is a challenge. Throw in remote work and a 1.5 metre of thin air and all of a sudden, those trust exercises go straight out the window and that unfortunate colleague goes crashing to the floor. Jokes aside, an increasingly anxious population is hardly conducive to the three-legged race on family day.

That leaves us where exactly – Zoom trivia and living room dance parties? Certainly, these are the antecedents to new innovation that managers will be obliged to contemplate as we navigate a new landscape with regard to a sense of community and belonging. With community events such as the arts sector and large-scale sporting events being severely compromised, it will be even more important to foster connection in a workplace context.

Many people rely on their vocation as a core part of their identity and perception of purpose. And many people, unconsciously or otherwise, recognise that fundamental to this is the interaction with other people. The water-cooler affect.

Yes, we have, and will continue to become more comfortable with discussing sports, news and TV and the like via online portals. But evolution is a gradual process, and sometimes we’re going to want to don our runners, risk conversing slightly out of breath, and walk up a hill together. That’s okay… our culture depends on it.