We spend a third of our lives at work, so it’s only natural to want to be at a workplace that feels supportive, inspiring, and positive. The healthiest and happiest modern workplaces have strayed from the cold, corporate feel and are offering employees the opportunity to build community with their teammates.
Community is the lifeblood of a successful organization. It makes people feel they can bring their most authentic selves to their work and it makes job candidates want to work for and further the mission of the company. It also makes employees believe in the work they’re doing, leading them to more successful careers and fulfilling personal lives.
You may be thinking this all sounds nice, but what does it mean for productivity and profit at an organization? It turns out, companies lacking a positive sense of community are more likely to see high turnover rates, low employee morale, and unnecessary workplace drama, gossip, and power struggles. So it’s safe to say it’s a pretty important factor not just for employees to consider but for employers as well.
Read on to learn more about why community matters in the workplace and how you can help foster a healthy one in your office.
The Basics of Company Culture
Every company has its own unique culture which largely influences its capacity for creating a healthy community. This culture is determined by a variety of factors but ultimately starts with one foundational piece — a strong mission.
When a company has a strong mission, employees feel they are working towards a greater goal and can use it as a source of inspiration within themselves and the community each and every day. Discussing this mission with interviewees is essential to ensuring new hires are truly interested in supporting the mission and therefore want to be part of the community.
Back in April, writer Ashley Cullins wrote on the Kenzie Academy blog about why company culture should be a factor in your job search. Here’s an excerpt we think sums it up perfectly:
“Company culture is made up of factors like mission, values, expectations, goals, and work environment. You can think of company culture as a company’s ‘personality.’ While some organizations are warm and laidback, others are fast-paced and competitive. Some are more mission-driven than others. And for every company encouraging work-life balance and occasional fun, there’s a company expecting employees to make their career the priority.”
Just like with people’s personalities, a company’s culture is going to determine what kinds of people are attracted to and enjoy being involved with the organization. Hiring managers should keep this in mind when evaluating candidates for new positions as each new hire is an investment in the community.
For those on the job hunt, knowing the kind of company culture an organization possesses is an essential way to determine what kind of community it will provide.
Company culture is the foundation upon which we build a workplace community.
Why Community Matters in an Organization
Community matters for a couple of reasons. For starters, according to a 2018 survey by Clutch, nearly 50% of office workers said they value community in the workplace (and these numbers trend a bit higher among millennials). Organizations which emphasize community create a sense of belonging and foster transparency while reducing feelings of isolation.
Creating a Sense of Belonging
Do you remember being a kid in elementary school? You likely craved a sense of belonging. You wanted to feel understood and appreciated by your peers, your teachers, and your family. When you didn’t feel understood, it probably felt devastating. You may have cried when someone teased you or didn’t see the beauty in your latest art project. Though our emotional intelligence matures as we get older, the desire to be understood and appreciated doesn’t go away. In fact, this desire is a major reason why we seek out communities in various forms throughout our lives.
In our social groups, relationships, and workplaces, we still crave community. A sense of community makes workers feel like they belong. At an organization with a strong sense of community, employees won’t have to wonder if they’re just filling a seat or acting as a cog in the machine. They’ll know their value and will feel seen and heard as human beings (because after all, that’s who they are first — a good CEO will never forget this fact).
Fostering Transparency and Reducing Isolation
Henry Mintzberg of The Harvard Business Review wrote about rebuilding companies as communities back in the summer of 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession. Considering we entered another recession this year, reading this piece in 2020, you might not notice it wasn’t grabbed from our current news cycle if you didn’t glance at the date.
Henry uses the subprime mortgage problem as an example of what can go wrong when companies rely on hierarchical separations between leadership, management, and employees. He writes:
“Many of their executives adopted what has become a pervasive style of “leadership” in America: They sat in their offices and announced the goals they wanted others to attain, instead of getting on the ground and helping improve performance. Executives didn’t know what was going on, and employees didn’t care what went on. What a monumental failure of management.”
Why does this matter? Largely, if a hierarchical separation exists between the varying levels of a company, you’ll have employees at all levels who feel disconnected from the organization and their work. When this disconnect exists, people are less likely to care.
The tech industry as a whole has done a good job of moving away from this encouraged isolation and categorizing of employees — instead, we’re an industry that largely encourages community building and transparency between leadership, management, and employees. This trend can be found in many younger companies and startups. It’s the reason why workers in the millennial and Gen Z generations are so attracted to the startup life to begin with.
Healthy workplaces prioritize community building through transparency and embedding belonging into the fabric of their culture.
How Community is Built
Now that you’re sold on why community building should be a priority in your workplace, you’re likely wondering how you can transform it from idea to reality. Here’s how.
Focus on Building Traits of a Positive Workplace Culture
Community can’t exist in a toxic work environment, so establishing a positive, healthy workplace culture is key. According to UrbanBound, companies can build positive workplace culture in a couple of different ways. Altruism is one method cited by Abby Baumann.
“Research conducted by Shawn Anchor showed that ‘work altruists were 10 times more likely to be engaged […] and 40% more likely to receive a promotion.’ These people are the ones who are so connected to the mission of a company that they increase social interaction during a crisis, rather than decrease it.”
You can foster altruism and positivity by showing gratitude for employees, lending support when it’s needed, and celebrating people’s work wins (and recognizing their life wins too!). Increasing communication and transparency are also key ways to foster a non-toxic workplace.
This can be achieved through regular company-wide and departmental meetings. Think of the traits that make up a healthy personal relationship (clear communication, empathy, boundaries, etc.). You’ll want those traits to exist within your organization too.
Offer Opportunities for Team-building
Team-building activities can include things like company retreats, happy hours, or service days. At Kenzie, we have a weekly happy hour at a local bar where we can all get to know each other outside of the office (though we’ve been hosting it via Zoom the last few months). We also like to volunteer together. Last year, we served with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. These opportunities help to humanize your team, increase trust, and facilitate better communication.
Encourage Diversity and Radical Acceptance
It’s clear now more than ever, diversity needs to be a top priority in dismantling the systems which have kept BIPOC, and more specifically black people, from achieving success in this country and other western nations for hundreds of years. Creating equity in the workplace and in our education systems is going to be key in righting the wrongs of past generations.
Workplaces with a strong sense of community will not tolerate hate speech, discrimination, or bias. They’ll make people feel welcome no matter their differences. They will not be “colorblind” but instead, they’ll work to listen, learn, and educate. They’ll have systems in place around diversity and inclusion training as well as safe ways to report instances of discrimination without repercussion. Even further, they’ll pay people across genders, races, and sexualities the same wages. There’s much work to be done in terms of fixing the injustices so deeply ingrained in our American way of life, but those in positions of power should be encouraged because they will be leading the charge in changing these things on an everyday level through our workplace communities.
Building Community in Remote Workplaces
Like we mentioned in our piece on “How Employers & Employees can Thrive in a Remote Economy”:
“Just because your team is dispersed, doesn’t mean you can’t foster those all-important water cooler interactions. According to Spark Hire, creating camaraderie within your organization not only fosters employee satisfaction but is also crucial to organizational success. Whether it’s by creating Slack channels for non-work related chatter or hosting happy hours via Zoom, creating casual spaces for employees to continue fostering connections with each other can keep your workforce afloat while operations go remote.”
Community in the Future of Work
Overall, community-focused workplaces have one major thing in common: they’re pro-people. If the events of the last few months have shown us anything, it’s that the ever-changing work world and culture at large are ready for a more human-centered approach to the way we live, work, and relate to one another. At Kenzie, we’re excited to see how organizations move forward with this in mind.