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Belonging at work

IC strategies that create a sense of belonging in the virtual workplace

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.

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Belonging at work

Surprise packages make us feel like we belong

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.

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Belonging at work

Tech can increase your sense of belonging

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.

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Belonging at work

Belonging is organic

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.

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Belonging at work

Is your sense of belonging down? It must be your manager.

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.

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Belonging at work

What works in a virtual workplace?

As the newly-hired employees reflected on their experiences in the virtual workplace, they talked about what is currently working, what is not working, and what they would like to see change.

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Belonging at work

Where I sourced my belonging data

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.

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Belonging at work

Opportunities in the virtual workplace

Good communication is key for teams to work effectively and efficiently. This is even more important in the virtual workplace setting where the usual practices in a colocated workplace no longer work.

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Belonging at work

Challenges in the virtual workplace

As far as crises are concerned, the coronavirus pandemic is like no other. At the onset of the pandemic, employee trust in leaders was low (Syed 2020). As the workplace moved to a virtual space, traditional command-and-control leadership could not function effectively.

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Belonging at work

Internal communication and belonging

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.

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Belonging at work

Internal communication during crises

As far as crises are concerned, the coronavirus pandemic is like no other. At the onset of the pandemic, employee trust in leaders was low (Syed 2020). As the workplace moved to a virtual space, traditional command-and-control leadership could not function effectively.

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