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.
The data I gathered 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.
Connected with this, employee interviews have shown that the following IC strategies work in creating a sense of belongingness in the virtual workplace.
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.
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’.
New hires in the virtual workplace have a hard time making connections with colleagues and know the informal rules of the organisation especially when their line managers fail to onboard them properly. This shows that managers can benefit from training on how to onboard employees, inform them on organisational goals, and include them to be able to reach these goals.
Part of the onboarding process could be an organisation-wide buddy system and mentorship programme which internal communication can set up by creating a group of employee advocates where to pick employee buddies or mentors to pair with new employees.
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).
Employee interviews demonstrated that they value feeling cared for and being empowered to work autonomously in the virtual workplace. This seems logical if they are working from home and some of them, alone. This provides an opportunity for internal communication to promote a culture of empathy and trust in the virtual workplace through the messages they send or the activities that they choose to promote in the workplace.
It can be the job of internal communication to listen to employees, recognise their needs, and tailor activities and actions to these needs. Neill and Bowen (2021) highlighted the need for organisational listening during the pandemic in their study where they suggested that to provide emotional support to employees, listening is a necessary skill.
In the next blogpost, let’s take a deep dive into the role of internal communication in organisational onboarding.
- You will find a full list of references here.