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Bringing it all together: The new model for virtual workplace belonging

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.

This blogpost aims to bring together what I have found as what works, what does not work, the themes that emerged during my interviews and the internal communication strategies that design belongingness in the virtual workplace. I managed to bring them all together in a handy model which you can find below:

New model for virtual workplace belonging, Verschuur-Ballo 2021.

At the heart of the model is the intended result which is a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace. The result is encircled by the four elements of belonging which were the major themes from the interviews.

IC is in the arrows

The four arrow points behind the circle refer to the role of internal communication under each element of belonging. Next to these points are strategies that internal communication can pursue to design a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace. These strategies answer the research question of this study.

At the top of the model are non-transactional actions in the workplace, both serendipitous and planned. At the bottom of the model are workplace actions with expected transactional results. In all interviews, these showed to be important in having a sense of belonging in the workplace. There has to be a human connection but also a purpose.

Up and down, left and right

The top can also be interpreted as the human side and the bottom, the business side. The goals of the top actions in the model include employee engagement and positive workplace culture through human connections and role modeling of acceptable behaviours by leadership. The goals of the bottom actions include understanding the organisation as quickly as possible, performing one’s job autonomously, and being able to deliver results connected with business goals.

While all of these actions are fulfilled by human beings, Authenticity and Support require a real individual to complete the action at the time that the action is done. This part is labeled ‘interpersonal’ in the model (left side). Care and Empowerment on the other hand, while designed or planned by humans, can be fulfilled by technology or other forms of mediated communication such as flowers, cards, writing, email, or Easter eggs. This part is also labeled as ‘mediated’ (right side).

Full circle

The arrows within the circle suggest where the process of belonging of a newly-hired employee begins, which is Empowerment through organisational onboarding as discussed under ‘IC strategies that work’. This is followed by Support where IC trains managers on how to communicate with their employees and activates the employee network to encourage mentorship. The sense of belonging of new employees is nurtured through teaming events which creates spaces for social communication. Finally, it is sustained through caring behaviours and empathetic leadership.

Next up

In the next blogpost, I will write the conclusions and recommendations from this study.


  • You will find a full list of references here.
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