Hybrid and remote work give much-needed autonomy and agency to our people.
Still, social isolation can creep in, and people can feel disconnected and isolated from their colleagues.
As a manager, building continuous engagement and fostering a community that allows employees to stay connected, no matter where they work is essential.
What is community in the workplace?
In the workplace, community refers to a sense of belonging and connection among employees, fostering a supportive and collaborative environment. Building and maintaining this community, especially in hybrid and remote work setups, is essential as it helps combat social isolation and strengthens relationships among team members.
Why community at work is important
According to JLL's work futurist Ben Hamley, the lack of face-to-face interactions in hybrid work has made employees feel less connected to their coworkers.
He shares that "the 'more hybrid' someone's work pattern is, the more they report feeling overwhelmed by a huge mental burden and isolated, lacking strong connections with colleagues."
Microsoft research backs this up. Only half of remote employees maintain thriving relationships with their direct teams, and even fewer (42%) have a strong relationship with those outside their immediate team.
A community at work is important because being an active member of a workplace community enables employees to recognize the significance of their individual contributions within the broader organizational context.
This understanding fosters a heightened sense of responsibility towards the team and company’s goals and motivates them to deliver higher-quality work in greater quantities.
Communities can also drive people back together for in-person gatherings. Our research shows that 67% of hybrid workers would be motivated to come to the office for social, creative, wellbeing, and training workshops, especially when those workshops are for small groups of like-minded colleagues.
Get-togethers like team lunches, coffee breaks, co-working sessions, and other group activities organized by managers (53%) closely follow workshops.
The power of community
Employees who come to the office engage with little effort. Small talk and quick sidebars happen naturally in the elevator, the kitchen, and between. Lunches or drinks after work are quickly and informally organized.
These encounters, which often reach across departments, fuel many great ideas, a sense of fellowship, and the feeling that we're part of something bigger – a community.
Communities allow like-minded employees to connect and stay connected while further growing their company roots. These communities can become a crucial retention effort and a substantial competitive advantage.
When people don't connect and bond simply by being in the office simultaneously, connections between coworkers must be created and sustained more purposefully and programmatically.
Besides great in-office days, focus on building continuous engagement between your team members no matter where they are. Plan out your weeks and build opportunities for people to connect beyond just the work. Kick off the week with purpose and humanity, and keep offering ways for people to keep in touch.
Icebreakers can be a great way to start days in the right spirit and address specific opportunities. Examples of such opportunities include:
- Team building: our team loves the Photo Collage icebreaker or Winning the Lottery.
- Recognition & Motivation: try the Kudo Wall.
- Learning & Development: try TED Together; we did this last week with intense satisfaction.
- Wellbeing: we love the Body Scan.
- Better Communication: we had a lot of fun with Favorite Emoji.
“Building relationships in a hybrid world takes intentional effort. At Hubspot, we host monthly community lunches centered around a theme to get conversations going and spark new ideas as a group. It’s such a nice way for the community to come together, and share their thoughts with much vulnerability.” – Andee Chua, Community & Culture Builder, HubSpot & LinkedIn Top Voices 2022
What are the types of workplace communities?
In the workplace, several types of communities can be based on various factors and shared interests. Some common types of workplace communities include:
- Departmental or Team Communities: These communities are formed based on the different departments or teams within the organization. Employees within a specific team or department collaborate closely to achieve common goals.
- Project-Based Communities: Employees who work on specific projects or initiatives form project-based communities. These communities may involve members from different departments working towards a common project objective.
- Affinity or Interest Groups: These communities bring together individuals who share common interests, hobbies, or passions outside of work. Examples may include sports teams, book clubs, or social responsibility groups.
- Diversity and Inclusion Communities: These communities promote diversity and inclusion within the workplace. They bring together individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities to foster understanding and mutual respect.
- Learning and Development Communities: Employees seeking professional development and growth may join learning communities facilitating knowledge-sharing, training, and skill development.
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that address specific interests or demographics, such as gender, ethnicity, or LGBTQ+ issues, and provide a supportive network.
- Social and Wellness Communities: These communities promote employee well-being and organize social activities to foster a positive work environment.
- Remote or Hybrid Work Communities: With the rise of remote and hybrid work, employees may join virtual communities to maintain connections, collaborate, and engage with colleagues from different locations.
- Alumni or Retiree Communities: Some organizations maintain communities for former employees or retirees to stay connected and share experiences.
- Leadership or Mentorship Communities: These communities focus on leadership development and mentoring programs to support the growth of future leaders within the organization.
How to build community at work
So how to build community at work? We can get started in three simple steps by collecting data, finding micro-communities, and activating them:
- 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?
- 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 life stages.
- Third, 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 in 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 in engaging people meaningfully.
Keep people connected beyond your immediate team.
According to recent Humu research, employees say relationships with colleagues, collaboration, and communication with teammates are the three most challenging aspects of hybrid work.
Microsoft's Work Index study tells the same story about remote teams. According to their research, only half of the employees have strong relationships with their direct teams, while even fewer (42%) have such relationships with other teams.
Done well, managers can add to the sense of Office FOMO (Fear of Missing Out.) Our research shows that 60% of employees say they have experienced FOMO about what's happening in the office when working remotely. For the 35-44-year-old range, this number even goes up to 69%.
"Recognize the need to feel connected and part of a community. Even if you're an introvert and need less of this, know some level of belonging is critical to your emotional, physical and cognitive health. You may not even have collaborative work to do, but you can gain momentum just by being around other people. Coordinate with friends and teammates for when you'll be onsite together." – Tracy Brower, Author, The Secrets to Happiness at Work.
Let’s build community at work
Without forcing anything, because no one likes forced ‘fun,’ keep people connected by building communities in the workplace. Following the simple steps above will make work much more enjoyable and human.