The third dominant theme that appeared during the interviews is Empowerment. I chose this word because these are actions that empower employees to do their jobs autonomously from home. It is an important element of the virtual workplace where employees are expected to be independent. These elements include technology, a good onboarding to an environment of safety and trust where they can speak up or make their own choices.
Belonging at work
The second dominant theme that came out during my research is called Authenticity. This pertains to spontaneous, non-transactional, organic moments of connection such as chats before and after meetings, virtual coffee chats, small talk or virtual catch-ups, bumping into someone in the watercooler in a physical office, events that are serendipitous. I used the word Authenticity to code this theme because these are actions that bring out the authentic self in people and relationships.
Support, referring to a human support network that is mostly led by the line manager in a newly-hired employee’s experience, is the most dominant theme of all four themes. This could also be performed by a buddy, a colleague, a mentor or HR. This theme was most dominant in the interviews with nine of the 20 employees interviewed and the second dominant theme for seven of the interview participants.
The main data for this research came from 20 newly-hired employees from Netherlands-based organisations. These employees were hired between March 2020 – June 2021 when working from home was forced to continue in the Netherlands. With on and off lockdowns, these employees were onboarded only virtually and have not met their colleagues face-to-face as they would have before the pandemic hit.
This crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic provided internal communication the space to play a strategic role. That insight preceded the pandemic. Dewhurst and Fitzpatrick (2019) refer to internal communication as a behaviour driver and asset grower of an organisation, along with being a content producer and supporter/facilitator.
Research on internal communication and employee identification suggests that “both symmetrical internal communication and leaders’ use of motivating language, including meaning-making, empathetic, and direction-giving languages, induced employees’ perception of a positive emotional culture of joy, companionate love, pride, and gratitude, which in turn enhanced employees’ organisational identification”.