Like a lot of workplaces around the world, ThoughtFarmer turned hybrid during the pandemic and never looked back.
For those of us who have opted to work from home it has been fantastic. No lengthy commutes, jarring fluorescent lighting, or inconsistent air conditioning.
Of course, it hasn’t been all positive. While productivity itself has been successful in a hybrid model, the community has suffered.
Community has been a hot topic over the last few years as the pandemic has left people longing for human connection. A study on the psychological impact of the pandemic showed that loneliness was one of the factors with the greatest psychological impact on health. Companies lacking a healthy community are also likely to see high turnover rates, lower morale, and unnecessary power struggles.
Community will be essential to the success of blended work environments. But what does community really mean? And how can workplaces better develop communities for the benefit of both the employee and employer?
What is community?
Community is defined as a group of people with something in common. That shared factor could be family, geography, faith, race, or life stage. It could also be an overlapping interest, passion, or profession.
Strong communities are essential because they deliver social connection and a sense of belonging. Participating in a community bonded by values, beliefs, and goals is a critical ingredient to enjoying a fulfilling life.
For a community to be successful Individuals must also feel a shared sense of trust, connection, and caring for one another. Communities are about relationships with others and a feeling of connectedness. Without community, people may feel more isolated and lonely.
How can organizations foster community in a hybrid workplace?
Remote and hybrid work settings have forced organizations to rethink what community is, and how to best achieve it. Here are some real world examples of how to create and grow your workplace community.
Our desire and need for community is part of being human. However, sometimes within the workplace this can be easy to forget. We often get so deep in the weeds with our daily tasks that we neglect the personal connections we need to thrive.
Publishing company PCI never loses sight of their people or their culture and because of this, they have built and sustained an incredible community. They have a section on their intranet called Victory Vault, where associates are encouraged to share difficult times they have endured. The myriad stories contained within this section share a common purpose: that their story will help, heal, or inspire a fellow associate who may be going through a similar scenario, and that regardless of the circumstance, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Make connection easy (RFTA)
Some roles and jobs make it more challenging to feel connected to colleagues—like bus drivers.
At RFTA (Roaring Fork Transit Authority), this was something their bus drivers were accustomed to. Because their jobs were often isolating, with social connection happening occasionally, and only in a break room, their drivers felt disconnected to the rest of the company.
When they deployed a new intranet with a mobile version, this changed. All employees, including their frontline workers, were able to use their intranet’s mobile app to connect with each other, and to learn about company news, therefore fostering community. When connection is simple, community can thrive.
Host in-person events
The pandemic (especially in the early days) canceled the majority of in-person events. Fortunately, we are now in a much better place.
Earlier this year we hosted our first company-wide in-person get together in over two years. While we won’t say it was worth the wait, seeing everyone together in person was an incredible feeling, and helped to reinforce our culture and connections to each other.
Since then we have hosted a few other events, including attending a baseball game, as well as an family picnic.
Whatever the future holds, we have learned the significance and strength of connecting in person.
Incorporate workplace community into new employee onboarding
When organizations around the world were forced to work from home, very few were prepared for the large-scale transition of onboarding new employees remotely.
This left thousands of employees without the resources they needed to be productive, and informed. But more importantly, it also left employees without a deep connection to their new culture and colleagues.
Many of our customers have transformed their intranets into onboarding hubs. From an employee's first day on the job they can feel connected and engaged to their new workplace.
An employee resource group (ERG) is an employee-led group that fosters inclusivity and builds community. ERGs help create safe and supportive spaces for underrepresented employees who share a common identity. They may be organized by certain shared characteristics like gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or age.
FirstBank, the third largest Tennessee-headquartered bank, is a leader when it comes to DEI (Diversity, equity, and inclusion). Through their intranet they have created several ERGs. Each ERG has a subpage that includes a description and upcoming events. FirstBank plans on growing the ERG subpages to include memberships, photo galleries and more.
Create volunteer opportunities
Few activities unite employees as deeply as volunteer work. Volunteering helps build community, boosts self esteem, and can help ward off loneliness, depression, and anger.
At ThoughtFarmer we often engage in group volunteer events, and have found it an excellent way for employees (especially new employees) to interact and work together for a greater purpose.
Use adversity for the greater good
From the pandemic, to escalating racial tension, to ongoing conflict overseas, worldwide events have taken a toll on employee mental health.
While it’s sometimes hard to see the positives during contentious times, doing so can go a long way in establishing and growing community.
For example, In 2017, two separate storms left BOK Financial (BOKF) employees without access to email, banking systems, corporate website, or their automated phone systems. While BOKF expected their intranet to help them disseminate important information, they hadn’t anticipated the emergence of such a caring and connected community. BOKF was able to promote a disaster relief fund, where almost 600 employees donated more than $88,700 to their fellow employees.
Humans are not meant to be alone. Community provides a supportive group to help employees cope with difficult challenges, band together to solve problems, and celebrate life’s lighter moments.
If you have been feeling down, go out and make some new connections. Having a supportive group in your life can have a powerful effect on your overall well-being, provide a sense of purpose, and can help alleviate stress.
We all need to socialize, and we all need community.
Have questions? Get in touch! We're always happy to hear from you.