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 random virtual socials can be uncomfortable while teaming events might do the trick.
Virtual is uncomfortable
While virtual socialisation events are not seen as highly engaging with some employees calling it uncomfortable, virtual events that give a sense of achievement are highly-appreciated. Carrying out tasks together creates a “we” feeling and the space for serendipity that employees working virtually are so hungry for. Being invited, connecting with colleagues, and doing work together are three of the six elements that form part of belonging at work as McClure and Brown have discovered (2008).
Create a book club
One of the ways IC can do this is by finding out the personal interests in the organisation and forming groups who have the same interest. One such example is a Book Club for book lovers. This opens up horizontal and vertical connections which are breeding grounds for spontaneity. In a Book Club, people go because they want to not because they have to.
Scale it up
This can be scaled up to other interests inside or outside the organisation such as developing more female managers or climate change. Organisations can create small projects and give time for employees to work on these projects for, for example, half a day per week. Having this time together can create the spaces for social communication where employees get to know each other better. It also creates an environment where it is safe to talk about employee concerns beyond business. Social exchange theory suggests that trusting relationships are based on interchange that evolves over time (Cropanzano and Mitchell 2005).
Have time for check-ins
In the mandatory events that they host (e.g. all-staff meetings, CEO town halls), internal communication can add an extra fifteen minutes to check in on employees whether before or after talking about the official business agenda. These extra minutes during mandatory meetings create the space for serendipitous moments as employees have also expressed and experienced.
In the next blogpost, let’s take a deep dive into nurturing leadership and how IC can play a role.
- You will find a full list of references here.