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How To Build a Sense of Community in the Workplace

When your employees feel they’re part of a community, you see a happier, healthier, more engaged workforce—and a better bottom line. And right now, community in the workplace is critical as we adjust to a new, hybrid world of work. If you’ve been wondering how to build a sense of community in your workplace lately, check out the ideas below.

Organizations with healthy workplace cultures know that the time and effort spent fostering community pays off. As we discussed in last week’s blog , feeling part of a community at work increases belonging, helps people feel connected to their work, makes workers more engaged and likely to stay, combats loneliness, and can even improve health. And it’s critical to every business’ bottom line.

There are many examples of community in the workplace that create and maintain meaningful connections between coworkers. What’s important is to be authentic and intentional, and provide a variety of ways to connect—as not all employees will be able to engage in the same way. For example, parents and caregivers may be unintentionally excluded if activities happen after the workday. Community-building activities also need to offer options for both in-office and remote workers.

And if you’re not sure what employees want, just ask! Conduct a few focus groups or send out a quick pulse survey to gauge employee opinion on what’s important to them. Also, simply creating an event will not create community. All levels of leadership need to participate and be visible in the activities and events that you establish. Having a robust number of events with zero leadership involvement can do more harm than good, as employees will wonder if it is okay to participate in the event. They may wonder why leadership does not participate in the cultural community aspects of the organization, creating an unintentional divide amongst the employees.

If you are unsure where to begin, here are some ideas to get you started:

Volunteer together.

Pick a cause that’s close to your organization’s mission, a local charity, or even an employee’s passion project. Get employees excited about participating with lots of communication beforehand and a t-shirt to wear during the event. Can’t get together in person? There are many virtual volunteer opportunities to check out.

Institute a “5-minute catch-up” rule.

It’s tempting to launch right into a meeting agenda, but to create community, we need to devote a least a few minutes to honor the fact that we are humans first and employees second. Encourage employees to intentionally connect with others—ask people how they are or what they did over the weekend, talk about your pets, discuss hobbies, whatever energizes them!

Make sure the physical workspace offers places to connect.

Employee expectations about what workspaces should look like are changing. Microsoft predicts “organizations will require a mix of collaboration, meeting, and focus space, in addition to spaces that encourage informal social interactions.” People want to come to a place that creates the feeling of community they can’t get working from home. Otherwise, they’ll opt to stay remote. If in-person work is important to your company, it’s something to consider.

Use storytelling.

People are culturally and biologically predisposed to love stories. Storytelling at work can help people empathize with one another and feel connected, especially during times of change. During the height of the pandemic, we witnessed how powerful stories could be in bringing us together. So whether you solicit employee testimonials or ask leaders to weave stories into their communication, don’t overlook the power of this tool to create community.

Support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

ERGs provide a safe place to connect and share with like-minded coworkers. ERGs work best when they have the autonomy to create and maintain their own groups without feeling too much oversight from leadership or HR. I’ve come across some popular community-building resource groups like networks for diversity and inclusion, women, working parents, interests in sustainability, advocacy, young professionals, book clubs, and more!

Leverage digital tools.

Slack channels or workplace social media interest groups can be a great way to stay connected to other employees and build community. For example, at WebMD Health Services, we recently set up chat channels for employees working from the same state to talk about local goings-on and plan a meetup if they wanted to.

We also rolled out a new social media tool for clients in WebMD ONE called Community, which connects employees based on their well-being interests and goals—like exercise, nutrition, sleep, and social connectedness. Once in a group, participants post questions, share stories, and provide encouragement.

Host fun after-hours events.

Whether it’s a happy hour, twilight hike, or potluck picnic in a park, scheduling events after work hours helps coworkers get to know one another more deeply. If your company also works weekends, consider scheduling some events on weekends, too, when those with caregiving responsibilities may have more flexibility.

Establish mentor or peer-coaching programs.

Mentorship has been associated with increased satisfaction at work and greater feelings of acceptance within the organization, and naturally creates a different type of bond between employees. Mentorship also provides much-needed support to underrepresented groups in leadership like women and people of color, thereby helping create a more diverse and inclusive community.

Pay attention to your onboarding experience.

Welcome new employees into the community with intentional activities designed to create connection. Schedule coffee chats or lunch with a different team member each day during their first week, or send a personal note from a senior leader welcoming them to the organization. The goal is to make the new employee feel like they’ve joined a caring community.

Create rituals.

If you don’t already have them, it’s smart to create a few rituals that employees can look forward to. This could be anything from celebrating work anniversaries or birthdays to hosting healthy Taco Tuesdays, movie/TV show reviews Mondays, or First Friday pizza. At WebMD Health Services, we have biweekly virtual Water Cooler Chats where anyone can join to take a break, talk about non-work-related topics, and meet new people.

Provide regular recognition.

Praising people formally or informally gives them a sense of accomplishment, makes employees feel valued for their work, and is a great motivator. Both manager-to-direct-report and peer-to-peer recognition can positively impact a sense of community. There are many ways to recognize employees—from formal recognition platforms to simple handwritten notes. The important thing is to make it a regular part of the culture.

Celebrate organizational wins.

Whether it’s onboarding a new client or having an outstanding quarter, celebrate these accomplishments. It could be as simple as toasting a win with a morning cup of coffee or a more elaborate celebration with champagne or cake.

Build cross-connections.

Too often, we only really get to know the people in our direct department. But “weak ties” are also essential to nurture community. Some organizations set up random meetings between coworkers who don’t typically work together. At WebMD Health Services, we recently launched a peer coaching program, where people are assigned a partner from a different department and discuss their goals for professional growth.

Communicate often.

Organizations that maintain regular communication with employees tend to have stronger communities. Our experience with the pandemic is a good example—companies who regularly communicated and were transparent with employees built trust and loyalty versus those who kept employees in the dark. Leadership communication is vital. Leaders can create community by regularly sharing the organization’s mission and how employees’ work ties into it.

Sponsor an athletic team.

Sports aren’t for everyone, but company-sponsored teams are still a good way to create community as they encourage those cross-connections between employees of different departments. Those who aren’t playing can even come out to cheer the team on!

Host a workplace wellness challenge.

Workplace wellness challenges encourage people to stay active and rally the community around a common goal. Clients find that wellness challenges, like our Invitational Team Steps Challenge, strengthen corporate culture by motivating people to get outside, get social, and engage in a little healthy competition. Check out these other wellness challenge ideas for inspiration!

Involve the family.

During the pandemic, we had great success both with our clients and internally by involving kids and pets in our programming. We held yoga classes, family cooking demonstrations, art and photography contests, cutest pet awards, and more. It was a fun way to connect on a more personal level.

So that wraps up our two-part series about building community in organizations. I hope you have found the discussion interesting and maybe even walked away with a few ideas for how you can strengthen community in your workplace. For additional help, visit our website or contact us at connect@webmd.net.

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