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5 ways to help build communities in the modern workplace

Years from now, when we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, one area that will most certainly stand out will be the great work that companies have done to create connections and communities. So great in fact, that I have a white board in my office that’s been completely filled with post it notes of all the innovative and effective ways that this has been done.

These ideas have been born out of an urgent desire and need for connection and community. With so much uncertainty and fear in the world, these connections and these communities can help in meaningful and powerful ways. And with statistics showing an increase in loneliness and mental illness, this is more important now than ever before.

“Coronavirus and social distancing has forced all of us to look loneliness in the eye. So recognising the signs and tackling the stigma has never been more important.” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

To help you as you continue to develop ways to connect your workforce and build communities, let me share with you five of the key themes and trends:

1. Ramp up communications

One area that’s had a huge impact when it comes to connecting employees is communications. Companies have really ramped up their employee communications, tapping into existing communication vehicles and/or creating new and innovative ones to provide a lifeline between the organisation and their workforce. Here are a few examples of what companies have done:

  • CEO blog - Companies have realised and seen the importance of having their CEO step up and communicate more frequently throughout the pandemic. Many have created a weekly blog where the CEO provides their first-hand thoughts, perspectives and information on what’s happening at their company.

  • Live Q&A sessions - Another great communications tool has been live Q&A sessions, which companies have found to be useful in providing employees with the opportunity to raise their questions and concerns and have immediate responses.

  • Meet the executives - Another example is something called “meet the executives”, which a company I interviewed added to their weekly All Hands virtual meetings. Executives shared pictures from their childhoods, including awkward teenage photos, and told stories of pivotal moments in their lives that made them who they were today. By doing this, it showed the human side of their executives, showing vulnerability, sharing stories and acting in a way to bring the team closer together.

2. Share stories

A key part of communications is storytelling, something that many companies have leveraged as a way to connect their workforce to the business and to one another. Here are a few examples of what companies have done:

  • Post stories - In a previous HRD blog, I shared an example of a company who put in place a “Happy Monday” campaign as a vehicle for employees to share positive stories on their online communications portal to connect and support one another. Other companies have done this in similar ways, encouraging employees to post stories either in written format or in videos.

  • Online channels - Other companies have set up online channels (e.g. Slack), where employees can share stories on a continuous basis, having “drive-by” conversations.

3. Organise company-wide events

Companies have quickly embraced the new digital world, and have moved company-wide events online. Anything from weekly briefings to quarterly or annual meetings, companies have found that it's important to keep this aspect of ‘business-as-usual’ going to maintain connections and communities. One of my favourite examples is a company who sent employees a voucher to order pizza for their annual meeting as a way to replicate the face-to-face experience.

And it’s not just meetings, companies have truly put their innovation hats on when it came to organising fun company-wide events. From chess lessons, to mindfulness sessions, to cooking or cocktail making classes, to magic shows, and even virtual murder mystery events, there certainly has been something for everyone. And the extra benefit of these events is that they’ve increased connections between employees, with them interacting with and building relationships with new members of the team.

4. Organise company-wide competitions

Who doesn’t love a competition? Which is exactly why many companies have used them as a way to connect and get their workforce involved. I’ve seen competitions for anything and everything, ranging from the best office, to the best pet, to even the best design to be used on posters explaining how to safely wash your hands. And the great thing about these competitions is that many companies involved children, which gave their employees a way to connect with their children and their children to connect with their company. Anything from a children’s poetry competition, to designing a recognition eCard, to Easter crafts, again, the sky was the limit to these competitions.

5. Create networks

And finally, companies have gone above and beyond to create networks, ways to create connections and all-important communities within their workforce. Many companies did this before, but as in the other areas, they ramped it up to ensure that there were communities for a broader range of areas and topics. One example is parenting networks, where parents can share their challenges and work together to share solutions. The key here, as in the other areas, has been to offer a variety of options that employees can connect with, allowing them to pick and choose what works best for them.

So as we move on, and as we continue to fight this battle, let me encourage you to continue to use the power of connections and communities to support your business and your people. For as Helen Keller, American author, said “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”.

This blog was originally posted on HRD Connect.


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