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This study found a direct relationship between belongingness and the quality of an employee’s relationship with his/her manager. However, it seems that line managers are either reluctant, unavailable, unaware, or unskilled to create a sense of belongingness in their teams. It might thus be interesting for future researchers to explore the real cause of this disconnect and find out how internal communication can help make this relationship flourish.
Every internal communication programme starts with a baseline. It is therefore useful for IC professionals to determine where their workplaces are in terms of a sense of belongingness before they aim to improve or strengthen it. To make sure that belongingness for new hires is taken on board, IC can conduct an initial survey to design a programme that can lead a transformation. They can do this via a questionnaire or random focus groups in the organisation.
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.
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 I call the new framework for workplace belonging.
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?
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.
The fourth dominant theme that showed in the interviews is Care. I chose the word Care as the overarching theme for when employees feel cared for. For example, employees appreciate receiving surprise packages on their doorstep and being given the feeling that their contributions are valued. It makes employees feel thought of and taken care of even from afar.
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.
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.