Collaboration and community – the glue that holds us together

24 May 2022
Julie Graham, CEO of Ingeus’s Employment Services, gives us her take on why community and collaboration is so important for building a good company culture.

Community. Togetherness. A sense of belonging. Team building. A shared purpose. Cross functional collaboration...

Call it what you like, but ‘community’ and ‘collaboration’ are not just top scorers in that covert game of Buzzword Bingo employees are playing while managers are speaking.

These are the glue that can hold an organisation together, creating agile teams ready to take on new objectives and adapt to changing circumstances.

But if you were struggling to create these before the pandemic, then that mountain has become a little harder to climb. This is because remote, or hybrid, working is here to stay and that risks blowing a hole through any ‘one team’ culture you are building.

A recent study by professional services network PwC found that only eight per cent of employees surveyed want to return to the office permanently and 83 per cent of employers viewed the shift to remote work a success. But what does that mean for those colleagues working from home, and those rattling around in half-empty offices?

To begin with, I believe full-time remote working for traditional, office-based roles is less favourable for most organisations. Bringing people together face-to-face is important for building connections between colleagues, stimulating creativity and building company culture. 

Some of my ideas for creating more collaboration and a sense of community include: 

•    an informative and fun onboarding process to ensure new starters understand the company culture
•    a mentoring or office buddy system
•    regular, honest and open communication for all employees so remote workers do not feel they are missing out on vital information
•    listening and responding to what people are saying and what they are not saying – don’t assume silence is a sign of contentment 
•    making virtual meetings as much like the ‘real thing’ as possible. Encourage people to have their cameras on, and start or end the meeting with some general chatter (health, holidays, kids, weekend) just as happens when people gather or leave a real meeting 
•    don’t let virtual sessions drag on – research shows that after 18 minutes, people’s minds begin to wander during remote meetings; instead consider short videos for key messages, followed by a virtual discussion
•    creating company-wide channels where employees can ask questions, share ideas or discuss what’s happening in the business outside the formality of a meeting.

Workplaces are often where friendships are made and experiences shared. Mental Health Awareness Week which took place 9-15th May, took a look at loneliness as its theme, and presented a good opportunity to think about what we can do to ensure our remote colleagues don’t feel isolated and alone.

Employees want to share what’s happening in their lives - funny moments and jokes - and build relationships with their colleagues. Encouraging online social channels is one way of trying to replicate those water cooler moments.

It’s important too, that when involving remote workers, online interactions are truly interactive. Try weekly Netflix watch parties, trivia quizzes, plant growing contests, photography challenges, bake-offs, art classes or open mic sessions. I even know of businesses that have organised comedians and magicians to put on virtual shows. Others have sent the ingredients to join an online cocktail making masterclass to the homes of employees.

Of course, loneliness does not just affect remote workers. A London Psychiatry Centre report stated that at times up to two thirds of employees feel lonely in their workplace.

Top of the agenda in combating this is to make sure your line managers know the signs that an employee might be struggling and how to approach them about it.

As well as diverse teams, open-planned offices and buddy systems, a third of workers believe more social events are the answer.

At Ingeus we have held coffee-blending team events in tandem with one of our partner organisations, and while I don’t think Starbucks has much to worry about, it certainly created lively conversations well beyond the event itself . . . even after the coffee aroma had finally disappeared!

But don’t just recreate what you’ve heard other companies have done - ask your teams for their ideas. Which brings me back to my starting point – that collaboration is a great way to build a sense of community.

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