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 findings and results section.
Data shows that there are four elements that can make belongingness in the virtual workplace a possibility. It also shows that when the tangible structures of an organisation are eliminated, as we have experienced during the pandemic, those working virtually will have to overcompensate in other ways. Belonging in the virtual workplace setting is no longer about a place but about what makes up that place for individuals. It is about identification with the organisation itself and its people, mattering, being seen, and feeling cared for.
Employee interviews have shown that one of the strategies that work in creating a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace is an effective organisational onboarding. What could be IC’s role in this?
Support learning of new hires
Onboarding new employees helps them learn quickly about the organisation and their colleagues. My research suggests that it is this learning (about their organisations, the culture and colleagues) that helps create a sense of belongingness in the workplace and onboarding is the initial activity in the journey of a new employee which makes that happen. The role of onboarding in an employees’ successful integration in the workplace has been studied and is in accordance with literature (Hall-Jones et. al 2018; Klein and Weaver, 2000; Bauer and Erdogan, 2011). Studies also consistently showed that organisational identification is important to have a sense of belonging (Bartel et al. 2012; Belle et al. 2015; Willis 2016).
Take some load off line managers
Since line managers usually conduct onboarding, employees identify with them more than the organisation. However, this is not always successful due to a lack of awareness, time or skills of line managers. Internal communication professionals can take some load off line managers by making onboarding a matter of organisational identification which is an IC responsibility (Welch and Jackson 2007), thus the name ‘organisational onboarding’.
Alignment is key
Making information about the organisation readily available and accessible to newcomers in one place such as the intranet can help them identify with their new organisations and teams. To give them a sense of colocation, the internal communication team can host virtual tours of the office for new team members. To make them feel like a winning member of the team already, internal communication can explore gamification and create onboarding quizzes among new employees who started at the same time.
Connect leaders with employees
To get to know the leadership team, internal communication can also host virtual organisation-wide ‘meets and greets’ with new hires and executives.
To really help newly-hired employees identify with their organisations, integrating them needs to be aligned with organisational strategy. Internal communication can mobilise this, reduce the pressure on managers and make new team members more informed than they could be in an organisation as they will offer organisational intelligence larger than work procedures alone.
This also gives IC’s contributions a direct impact on business goals as several literature has found a direct connection between onboarding and employee retention (Ramlall 2004; Hillman 2010; Das and Baruah 2013; Carucci 2018).
In the next blogpost, let’s take a deep dive into what IC can do in terms of creating a supportive network.
- You will find a full list of references here.