How to Build a Community in the Hybrid Workplace // Future Work #2

How to Build Community in the Hybrid Workplace? Today, I'll write about another critical issue hybrid companies face: employee engagement.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
August 26, 2022
min read

In last week's article, I discussed what physical changes offices should undergo in the future of work.

However, what happens within the office may be even more important than what that office looks like. Today I'll write about another critical issue companies face, especially in the hybrid workplace: employee engagement (or the lack thereof.)  

Why's that?

Introducing: the Hybrid Paradox.

According to Ben Hamley, a work futurist at JLL, technology allows us to be hyperconnected, enabling remote work from anywhere in the world.

These advances bring significant benefits:

  • employees are now more engaged and committed to working;
  • they have a clearer sense of purpose;
  • they are empowered, supported, and encouraged to take initiatives;
  • and they are enthusiastic about changes.
  • they give us deeply cherished autonomy at work.

On the other hand, the lack of face-to-face interactions and increased work-from-home loneliness has made employees feel less connected to their coworkers than ever before, bringing about substantial mental burdens.

Or, in Ben's words: "the 'more hybrid' someone's work pattern is, the more they reported feeling overwhelmed by a huge mental burden and isolated, lacking strong connections with colleagues."

Employee Engagement in Hybrid Workplace

Recent Microsoft research tells the same story about remote teams. In their study, only half of employees have strong relationships with their direct teams, while even less (42%) have such relationships with other teams.

From research conducted by Humu, with the shift towards more hybrid and part-time workplaces, a growing majority of employees say that relationships with colleagues, collaboration, and communication with teammates are the three most challenging aspects of hybrid work, even more so than relationships with their managers.  

How to Create Connections in the Hybrid Workplace

Human connection is easy to achieve in a traditional office.

For example, running into and saying hello to coworkers in the elevator, having small talk in the kitchen or pantry, etc. Lunches or coffee breaks are quickly and informally organized and can happen across departments.

While these interactions seem unrelated to work, they have been proven to spark creativity, fuel great ideas, kindle a sense of fellowship, and most importantly, a sense of belonging to a shared community.

So how to achieve this when people only spend 2-3 days in the office and often on different days due to differing hybrid work schedule?

Building a strong hybrid culture is one of the key topics in our "Hybrid Work Starter Kit."

In the Starter Kit, we suggest a few strategies companies can foster to create connection and a sense of community at work even if people don't work in a physical office together.  

  • First, collect relevant data on your employees' interests and passions. Who are they? What do they want to do next? What would make it meaningful to them if you'd organize a cool event? Just brainstorming wild ideas goes against employee engagement best practices.
  • Second, find communities of like-minded employees within your wide employee base. These could be teams, departments, project groups, or even small circles such as people with similar interests or in similar life stages.
  • Once you've found these "tribes," create community-specific content like events and activities. Understand what your community needs to thrive and tailor to those needs. At each one of these events, like-minded people will connect to others with similar interests or passions, and grow their roots further into the company. Note: smaller weekly events catering to specific niche topics such as creativity and well-being often trump big monthly gatherings in their effectiveness to engage people meaningfully.

It's a big and daunting task for HR and Employee Experience leaders, but I'm convinced it's what needs to get done to engage your teams in an age where the office has become appointment-based. Our hybrid work white paper provides additional context and ideas if you're curious.

Tapping into managers

In hybrid workplaces, the manager becomes even more critical. In many ways, it's how individual employees experience the company. What can managers do to create and sustain connections in the workplace? Humu offers a few suggestions for them as well.

  • Make small changes with large impacts, such as providing predictable schedules and shared expectations about communication.
  • Offer frequent development opportunities. For example, you can identify and schedule one opportunity for growth every month for each employee, namely leadership meetings, informal job-shadowing, etc.  
  • Promote cohesion by bringing attention to work that has flown under the radar. Give shout-outs to members and their underrated accomplishments during meetings and actively ask your team leaders for recommendations regularly.

In summary, make your employees feel seen, heard, and acknowledged.

Employee Engagement in the Hybrid Workplace

As workplaces are going hybrid, we need to realize genuine human connections are and will remain essential.

And that they will require more work to create and foster – beyond just a good hybrid work policy.

These connections among employees must be a top priority for People Leaders and managers to keep in mind while building their workplaces. With our efforts, employee engagement will flourish even in a more fragmented world of work.

Employee Engagement in Hybrid Workplace
A recent team event with our Dreamplex team. Even though we all work on different schedules and in different locations, we know how to find each other!

See you next week for another look at our future of work!

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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.