By the speed of its spread, the pandemic has challenged even the most prepared organisations, forcing leaders to make high-quality decisions about how they support remote working at scale, how to implement new arrangements for front-line employees and how they ensure business continuity. The new working conditions that have arisen have impacted social interaction and challenged the workforce communities that once existed. Employers need to understand the importance of rebuilding and maintaining this sense community, to ensure their organisation stays united through these difficult times and into an uncertain future.
The drastic and sudden shift in the way we work has meant that workforce communities have been challenged by physical and relational distancing imposed at dizzying speed. Self-isolation and home office working have led to lower levels of social interaction for remote employees, as they communicate and collaborate through virtual technology. Similarly, new work arrangements for front-line staff mean avoiding colleagues in the hallway and respecting physical distancing on-site.
As we have been focused on trying to keep going and operate as normally as possible during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations may have neglected the power of community and why they need one. And yet, from senior leadership communications to local shop signs, the most frequently seen and heard slogan has been “We are in this together”, reinforcing the point that community is the foundation we return to, to help us persevere through challenging times. We need organisations’ employees to come together and work towards a common goal; we need to re-engage them as individuals and as teams and communities to just do that and thereby increase the probability of successful business outcomes.
Rebuilding community as a resource to help in time of crisis
To support a strong sense of belonging, employees must be reassured that they have the freedom to express their feelings and views. To ensure group cohesiveness, they should feel they have some influence on the decisions that are being made about customer solutions, roles, resources, processes etc. This will affect their willingness to be part of the future of the organisation. My colleague, Kim Bantegnie, describes three levels of trust, which are key to unity and community cohesion: “Trust in senior leaders that high-quality decisions are made for the wellbeing of the organisation and its employees; self-confidence through being trusted and empowered to do your job to the best of your abilities; and, thirdly, trust that other employees share the organisation’s vision and purpose and are ready to work together to make it a reality.”
To this end, particularly in the Coronavirus interruption, I believe that the community needs to be championed by strong, engaging senior leadership on one hand, and fuelled by engaged employees on the other.
Organisations can take a number of steps to help rebuild a sense of community:
- Reinforce the sense of belonging: One common behaviour in engaging leaders is their ability to establish direction and shared purpose. This is needed to underline a sense of belonging. Encourage senior leaders to reinforce a unifying vision and mission for the organisation, so that everyone can contribute and work towards the same purpose. Being part of something bigger helps people cope more constructively with pressure and difficult emotions.
- Build trust by adapting communication style: Provide frequent updates on steps the organisation is taking to protect and better support employees. Try implementing targeted communications to each employee population for greater impact and to show support on areas that really matter to them. For example, remote workers may benefit from information regarding work/life balance, how to disconnect from job pressures and how to feel closer to colleagues. Moreover, being open and transparent is what it is expected from leaders and even more so in challenging times.
- Create spaces of emotional safety that reinforce the sense of caring: Facilitate active listening, by providing a space where employees may express their opinions and feelings. In moments that matter, leaders must have dialogues with employees to understand how they truly feel.
- Reinforce that employees matter to one another and to the group: Leaders need to recognise and celebrate group achievements. Focus on the “quick wins” that can be seen by employees for more impact. It may seem like a small thing to implement, but it is the accumulation of these that will make the difference to the business and workers’ lives.
- Involve employees in (re)building the organisation’s future: Employees will have great, actionable suggestions and valuable insights to ensure that the organisation continues to go in the right direction. Make sure you have the mechanisms in place to hear and act on these important ideas and recommendations.
During times of change,employees value the support of their co-workers and wish to be part of the dialogue with leaders on the future of the organisation. This desire is amplified many times in the current unprecedented crisis.
It is integral to maintaining the sense of community and needs to be reinforced to ensure that the organisation stays united through adversity and come out with a stronger bond than ever before. Building this sense of community can only be sponsored by engaging leadership and empowered by employees.
If well-managed, even a hugely disruptive event, like Coronavirus, may be an opportunity for leaders to align business and talent strategy by listening, caring and involving its community members.
Jenny Merry, Market Leader for UK, Ireland and France at Kincentric