It's no secret that when we are working from home, company culture becomes significantly harder to maintain, grow, and develop. But what does science say about giving us a sense of community and belonging? Research by McMillan and Chavis demonstrated that there are critical characteristics to having a sense of community, and additional research by neuroscientist Paul J. Zak has shown that these cues for belonging correlate to higher performance across all critical business metrics, e.g. stock value, productivity, etc. So what it is that will allow your team to feel connected and productive when you are probably separated by miles?

Do they have a sense of membership?

In a strong company culture, there is a clear boundary between those who are on the outside and those who are on the inside. The problem is, when people work from home, they have a very limited view of their organization. They can no longer bump into people in the hallways or grab a seat with them at lunch and talk about their work. With companies like Google having extended work from home until July 2021, we need to find ways to bring people from across an organization together, to bump into each other. This could be as simple as:

  • offering biweekly Zoom lunchrooms that allow you to meet fellow co-workers or just sit back and hear some ambient noise while enjoy your meal;
  • holding office hours where managers block off time for anybody to enter a designated Zoom meeting link; or
  • creating a central hub with company activities and topics so that people can jump in and participate in anything from book clubs to happy hours.

The popular unconference Kinnernet had great success with this model. They provided numerous conference tracks on a single landing page and by clicking the topic you were brought into a virtual hangout to hear ideas and explore conversation. The key is to give people non-work-specific opportunities to engage and connect around mutual points of interest, and to keep this within the company so that it provides a sense of membership.

Do they have a sense of influence?

For people to have a sense of community and company culture, they need to be influenced by the organization and feel that they possess influence over the organization. Especially in times when the world feels out of control, providing your team with the feeling that they can influence their work provides a sense of stability.

  • Do you have an open call for employees to organize events, games or happy hours?
  • Do you host town halls where anybody can speak, present, or at least enter a question?
  • Do you have a functional suggestion system so that people can make improvements or a public list of problems that you invite the community to tackle? e.g. Any advice on how to manage eight hours of video calls while raising two kids?
  • Do you recognize people for their suggestions or ideas?

Chances are that there is somebody in your organization who could provide a solution if only they knew their colleagues were tackling these problems alone.

Do they feel their journey aligns with the company?

Unless the organization's goals are aligned with where employees are looking to go, then their engagement and participation will be inauthentic. When the team is constantly putting out fires and dealing with the latest emergency, it is easy to lose sight of the organization's vision, and that people are connected to it. It wouldn't hurt to regroup and realign to make sure that everyone is on the same page and you are heading in the same direction. Otherwise it may feel like we are working without a purpose.

Regardless if you are part of a large organization or have a small startup, it is your company culture that will define how we make it through the changes brought on by Covid-19. While many companies will fall apart, the teams that develop a healthy culture, will bring them closer together and increase their success.