This blogpost is part of the “Belonging is a mindset” blog series derived from my academic research on ‘internal communication and belonging in the virtual workplace’ for the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. The data from this study was collected from new hires who started their jobs in the middle of the pandemic and internal communication practitioners. This blogpost is part of the conclusions and recommendations section.
The workplace has changed many times and in many ways since the coronavirus pandemic introduced lockdowns in the early part of 2020. With so many lives taken and workers pressured to perform behind their screens while balancing families and careers, mental health has been put under the microscope. This includes an employee’s sense of belongingness.
By describing the employee journey of newly-hired employees in the Netherlands, determining changes in internal communication practice, and documenting the lived experiences of these employees, I discovered possible strategies that IC professionals can explore to design a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace.
The following conclusions can be derived from the data collected from this study:
1. The internal communication strategies that design a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace include onboarding that promotes organisational identification and learning, activating the employee network for mentorship, developing regular events that gives employees a sense of achievement and creating spaces for serendipity, and encouraging nurturing and empathetic leadership which makes employees feel valued.
2. There are four elements that are necessary to design belongingness in the virtual workplace. These can be called Authenticity, Care, Empowerment, and Support. Among these elements, Authenticity, which refers to serendipitous encounters, as to how it is experienced in the colocated workplace, seems to be most difficult to replicate. However, there remain opportunities for internal communication in creating spaces for non-transactional small talk through teaming events.
3. Line managers are vital in creating a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace because they conduct onboarding processes, the first step to a new hire’s organisational identification. However, this is not always successful due to a lack of time, skills, and unwillingness on their part. Internal communication can take the load off line managers through organisational onboarding and activating mentors in the employee network.
4. With on and off lockdowns and no certainty of the end of working from home in sight, newly-hired employees have to make do with virtual coffee breaks instead of organic moments of connections that automatically happen with colleagues in colocated workplaces. Their sense of belongingness suffers when there is a disconnect between them and their managers. Internal communication tries and is skilled to provide solutions to these challenges but is not always empowered to do so. During the pandemic, IC has done this through experiments such as virtual events but these are small and temporary compared to the bigger transformation needed to alleviate the increasing isolation in the virtual workplace. To achieve belongingness, sustainable change is required and IC professionals are aware of this and are willing to play a part.
In the next blogpost, I will write some recommendations for practice.
- You will find a full list of references here.